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Originally published Sunday, November 3, 2013 at 6:08 AM

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David Sedaris: the world’s most outgoing loner

David Sedaris opens up to Nicole Brodeur about being a loner, his friendship with the late Phyllis Diller and surveying his audience.


Seattle Times columnist

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David Sedaris is a bit of a loner.

“I don’t have that many friends, and I don’t make a lot of new ones,” the author told me over the phone the other day.

Surely, he’s joking, just as he does in his story collections, New Yorker pieces and readings — like the one that will bring him to Seattle’s Benaroya Hall Nov. 11 in support of his latest book, “Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls.”

After all, who wouldn’t want to hang around with someone who bought a beach house on the North Carolina coast and dubbed it “Sea Section”?

Someone who could recall hearing “Adolf Hitler” being paged in the Denver airport and ponder the weirdness of his picking up something called a “courtesy phone”?

Someone who gives fans hotel soaps and shampoo — and even condoms — like they’re fun-sized Snickers bars?

It is hard not to be taken in by Sedaris’ note-perfect satire, his deadpan delivery and the consistently charming touches throughout. Things just seem to happen to him as he travels through both time and place, from his childhood in Raleigh, N.C. to homes in Paris and now England, where he lives with his partner, Hugh Hamrick.

Even the great Nora Ephron wanted Sedaris in her life. The late writer and director was in the audience at his reading at Lincoln Center years ago when she turned to her companion and said, “We have to get him into our lives.”

Ephron died before that could happen.

“I was depressed for weeks when Nora Ephron died,” Sedaris, 56, said. “I didn’t know how much she meant to me.”

Still, he said he doesn’t do well meeting famous people: “I usually wish someone else would meet them and tell me about it.”

He made an exception, though, when it came to the late, great comedian Phyllis Diller. (She died in August 2012.)

About six years ago, Diller let Sedaris’ agent know she wanted to meet him. Sedaris, feeling awkward, declined.

“She was just one of those people who wouldn’t have it,” Sedaris recalled. “She insisted that we get together.”

They first talked on the phone, “and she was really, really cool. Most people that age are really lonely. But she had people help her out of bed and make her martinis for her. It was a constant parade.”

Sedaris became part of it, visiting her home in Los Angeles. Diller had her maid take Sedaris upstairs, where Diller’s paintings hung floor to ceiling — every one of them bearing a price tag.

Sedaris felt compelled to buy something, so he chose a paper place mat with a “bucolic scene” that Diller had embellished with seagulls in the sky and a mantra written in her “spidery handwriting.” He wrote her a check for $350 and took it home.

Over Chung King Chinese food and Neapolitan ice cream, the two talked about why something gets a laugh and how to control an audience.

“It was just great,” he said. “She was a real generous spirit.”

So, too, is Sedaris, who will likely try out some of his new material on the Benaroya audience — but probably nothing from the newest book.

“I read from it in 61 cities, and I’m good and sick of those stories.”

He may read something from a recent piece in The New Yorker about the suicide of his youngest sister, Tiffany, and how his family dealt with it on a beach vacation to North Carolina’s Emerald Isle. The story is titled “Now We Are Five,” and is classic Sedaris: moments of stark sadness followed with a fresh gust of familiar, familial humor:

“Compared with most forty-nine-year-olds, or even most forty-nine-month olds, Tiffany didn’t have much,” he wrote. “She did leave a will, though. In it, she decreed that we, her family, could not have her body or attend her memorial service.

“ ‘So put that in your pipe and smoke it,’ our mother would have said.”

A seasoned public reader who will stay as long as it takes to sign every book, Sedaris keeps track of everything he reads, and where, and how many people attended.

He also keeps a ready poll question for those he encounters on tour.

The current one? Well, there’s a story there, too.

Sedaris was signing books after a reading in Baton Rouge when a woman approached the table and told him, “You got me to put my bra back on.”

Once she takes it off at night, she explained, she rarely puts it back on. But for Sedaris, she made the effort.

“Then when I mentioned it the next night in the bookstore, the women laughed, but it was a laugh of recognition,” he said.

So the Sedaris Poll Question became: After you take your bra off, do you put it back on?

In England and Scotland, women told him they take their bras off on the bus home. In New York, women told him they keep sweatshirts by the door for when the food delivery guy comes — so they don’t see they’ve liberated themselves.

And in Seattle?

Sedaris will just have to take in the hall of 2,400 friends, maybe give out some shampoo and condoms, and ask.

Nicole Brodeur: nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.



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About Nicole & Co.

Every Sunday, I bring you a conversation with a local who is doing something great, or a great who is doing something local: media personalities, big thinkers, visiting artists, colorful characters and doers of all kinds.
nbrodeur@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2334

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