David Sedaris on organs, rubbish & the House of Commons

David Sedaris - photo by WBUR

David Sedaris – photo by WBUR

David Sedaris, American humourist and bestselling author, talks to Getintothis’ Jamie Carragher ahead of his show at the Liverpool Echo Auditorium this Saturday.

After three sell-out runs in London, two sell-out Edinburgh Fringe Festival stints and a sell-out UK 2014 tour, American author David Sedaris is today appearing at the Liverpool Echo Auditorium. We caught up with him ahead of his book signing.

Getintothis: David, you’ve been on tour for much of this year. Have you accumulated much material out on the road?

Sedaris: I do get a lot of material out of it… I was so lucky on my last tour of the United States, I just came away with so many weird little encounters and things that I was able to write about and talk about on stage. I get to talk to people and they tell me things sometimes that are just – I don’t know – surprising or funny or shocking.

Getintothis: You’re the non-medical Oliver Sachs. People come to you with their weird stories.

Sedaris: Sometimes people come to me with a story that they want to tell me because they think I’m gonna find it shocking or interesting but usually those are not the stories that I find shocking or interesting.

Have a little conversation with somebody and they can wind up saying something …I was talking to this young man in the United States, he was 16, and I said “Oh, are you gonna have a job this summer?”, and I was signing his book, and he said “No I can’t because I have to spend most of the summer in the hospital because one of my kidneys is dead inside of me and they have to remove it.” And that to me is completely fascinating. That you can have a dead kidney.

Getintothis: Vital organs should always come in pairs.

Sedaris: I met a Mexican kid who donated a kidney to a complete stranger.

Getintothis: Wow!

Sedaris: I think he wanted to become a citizen. I couldn’t believe they didn’t make him one. I couldn’t believe they didn’t move him to the front of the list. Because he came to America, he was in America for two years, and then he gave a kidney to an American. He didn’t send it home to Mexico, he gave it to a complete stranger.

Getintothis: Weren’t you plugging an organ donor charity on your last tour?

Sedaris: Yes: I showed up to a theatre one night, and they were there in the lobby. It’s a group called Love Hope Strength. What they do is they get people to register to donate bone marrow. The reason that I did things with them is because they will let me tell the most outrageous lies about them and they don’t care.

I started telling people that if you donate bone marrow, you get to have sex with the most attractive person in the cancer victim’s family. And that they cannot refuse you. Then I was trying to get more women to donate so I said, “You might not realise this but bone marrow is very dense. A pint of bone marrow weighs 30 pounds.”

Getintothis: If you want to be beach body ready you’ve got to get rid of that bone marrow.

Sedaris: I was getting tonnes of people to sign up, it was great. And then I also said “If you sign up to donate bone marrow you can come to the front of the book signing line.” And that was the real clincher. Because in the United States anyway the book signings can really go on for a long time. And if you have the opportunity to donate a leg and to go to the front of the line then you would do it.

Getintothis: How do you compare doing a book tour to doing a lecture tour?

Sedaris: You sign more books in a book store than you do in a theatre. I don’t care how big the theatre is. The biggest theatre I’ve ever played is in Chicago and it’s 4000 seats and I think the book signing, last time I was there, maybe lasted 4 hours. Whereas I was in a book store in Chicago and signed books for 10 and a half hours.

Getintothis: That’s amazing.

Sedaris: In a book store though, people leave and they go out for dinner and then they come back, or, they leave and they go out to dinner and a movie, or, they leave and they start a family and then they come back. They think ‘Oh, he’ll be there when I come back’ and I always am. 

Getintothis: David let’s talk about your littering bugbear. You live in Sussex and you’re well-known in your local community for picking up litter every day for hours at a time. You’ve even had a bin lorry named in your honour. You were invited to speak in the House of Commons about the problem of litter…

Sedaris: My god. That was the biggest mistake I ever made in my life.

Getintothis: Really?

Sedaris: I was trying to explain the litter: I don’t see people throw rubbish out their window so I was trying to put together a portrait of – who are these people? – I look at the things I find and I’m trying to figure out who this person is – and so some MP tweeted that I said poor people are responsible for rubbish and I never said that.

The point I was trying to make – and I’m sorry I know this is boring – there’s a Waitrose and there’s a Tesco equal distance from me. And I hardly ever find Waitrose bags and I find a lot of Tesco bags. I’m just telling people what I find. I find more Red Bull cans than any other kind of can. I find more Lucozade bottles than any other kind of bottles. I’m just telling you what it is that I’m finding out there.

Anyway so then it turned into this thing and I just wasn’t prepared for that. And I said from the very beginning, “You’re talking to the wrong person, you should be talking to people who throw shit out their window and try to figure out why they do it, otherwise you’re just wasting your time.”

Getintothis: Politicians eh?

Sedaris: What I wish that I’d done, because that politician, he said “So, Mr. Sedaris I see you live in Horsham, very wealthy part of the country, so tell me is somebody throwing a can out their window the biggest problem you’ve got down there?” and for the rest of my life I will regret not saying, ‘Oh God, no – the biggest problem is your mother’s whoring.’

Getintothis: *Big laugh* 

Sedaris: What would they have done if I had said that? Thrown me out??

Getintothis: We think it probably doesn’t comply with Commons’ etiquette… We’re not sure it appears in any of Winston Churchill’s most witty comments in the Commons.  As a guest, maybe you can say what you like.

Sedaris: After that I’ve never got more interview requests in my life – ‘Oh come here and talk’. After the third interview I said “Okay that’s it, there’s nothing I can do to fix this” and to all the people who said “Can you come and talk?”, I said “You know, I’m done talking about it, I’m just going to be at the side of the road picking up rubbish.” That’s the best place for me.

Getintothis: Speaking of politics, did your American tour purposely coincide with the election back in May?

Sedaris: One thing I do like about the United States is when it’s election time, you know who everyone’s voting for. People have bumper stickers on their car, they wear badges on their coats, they have signs in their front yard. My poor sister, Lisa, I went to visit her…and these neighbours who she loved all of a sudden put signs in their yard and it was like finding out your next door neighbour is a Nazi.

Everyone here is much more quiet and you don’t really know who your neighbours are for. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable going to any of my neighbours in Sussex and saying ‘Who you voting for?’ There’s a guy who is with the council who I go out and pick up rubbish with. He’s an elected official and I didn’t know for years even what party he was with.

Getintothis: At this year’s Hay Festival there was a big preoccupation with age and how that affects writing. What’s your take?

Sedaris: I think that as I get older, I think that my writing is better but that could just be me. If I were to look at a paragraph that I wrote last week, I would think that it’s much better than a paragraph than I wrote 20 years ago. But a lot of people don’t notice writing, they just notice the story. A lot of people will say ‘Oh you’re a storyteller’ and it’s like no actually I wrote that 18 times and I was very careful about which word went where. Writers are going to notice that. You can’t expect every reader to notice that and I’m not complaining about that but I think that my writing is better now, but people might enjoy what I wrote 20 years ago more than they enjoy what I write now but I don’t know, I don’t ask them…

Getintothis: You could spend all day wracking your brain about stuff like that.

Sedaris: It’s not a problem for me because I go on tour. The things that one writes about changes, right? Or the circumstances of one’s life changes, because I spend so much time on tour now, it’s kind of my job is to be on tour. And I know the magazine I write for, The New Yorker, doesn’t like me to talk about being on tour but it’s like if I was a doctor I could talk about doctoring. It’s kind of what I do at this point in my life.

Getintothis: Do you think the New Yorker, being so traditional, is scared of writers following the music model, having to make their money from live performance?

Sedaris: Well, I think -and I understand this – it’s like they don’t like you to write about writing. And I don’t like to write about writing, because it draws attention to the writing and then someone’s gonna say ‘Oh my god, you call that writing?’

I generally don’t like doing that either, but there’s a story I’ve been reading on this tour, and I can’t really see how it would work if I left the touring part of it. Because it makes no sense that I’m just telling this story and I’m in this city and then I’m in this city and then four days later I’m in this city. It wouldn’t even make sense if I made it sound like a vacation because if I went on vacation I couldn’t talk to people the way that I talk to people on tour…because I can ask people anything I want.

Getintothis: It’s an odd relationship. You’ve got the power to ask, haven’t you?

Sedaris: Yeah, I asked someone the other night, I was in Belfast, and I said “Are you going away this summer?” and they said “No we just bought a house” and I said “How much did your house cost?” and they told me. Whereas I couldn’t necessarily ask people in a restaurant. You know, if I went to Starbucks to get a cup of coffee and I said to the person behind the counter ‘How much is your rent?’ They don’t know me and they’re just going to think it’s weird and they’re not gonna answer.

Getintothis: Well, we wouldn’t open with it. Quick one: have you written any plays recently?

Sedaris: No I haven’t, it’s been a while. The difference is I used to write the plays but I was never in them. And, then I started going on tour and then I saw what it was like to be the one on stage, and to be the one getting the attention; I loved it and I haven’t written another play since then.

For the show at the Liverpool Echo Auditorium Saturday 13/06/2015: 


For more details about David Sedaris’ books and tours, see www.davidsedarisbooks.com.

Main photo courtesy of WBUR