Humorist and hometown hero David Sedaris returned to the Triangle over the weekend, performing two readings at the Durham Performing Arts Theater on Saturday.
Before a friendly crowd of smitten fans at the 3 p.m. matinee preceding the evening show, the author delivered 90 minutes of consistently funny — and frequently filthy — stories, spiels and gags.
Currently on an extended speaking tour that will take him across the country, Sedaris is the rare author whose speaking engagements play out like A-list stand-up comedy concerts. These days Sedaris tends to perform in the same size theater venues as comedians like Louie CK or Chris Rock, and the vibe of a Sedaris reading is surprisingly similar.
Sedaris began the show with a short monologue about the public art installation Cloud Gate — that giant bean-shaped mirror thing in Chicago's Millennium Park. It was a gentle sort of lead-in for the show; the kind of loopy Sedaris character bit that pokes fun at human vanity.
Then things got pleasantly weird. The author's next two readings, drawing from the seven new stories he's currently workshopping on tour, pinged around various topics and eras from Sedaris' life. Before the crowd knew what was happening, they were deep into a saga about rogue surgery, fatty tumors and snapping turtles — typical Sedaris territory, really.
Several passages referred to the North Carolina coastal community of Emerald Isle, where Sedaris spent summers as a kid and where his family recently purchased a beach house.
The local material generated knowing laughs, particularly when Sedaris zeroed in on cultural oddities specific to North Carolina — like the regional retail experience of being wished a "blessed day" when you're buying groceries or gasoline. ("That line doesn't get a laugh in other states," he said.)
The presentation's funniest moments, by far, came when Sedaris set the stories aside and instead started reading entries from his diary. As the increasingly raunchy anecdotes and one-liners built their own momentum, Sedaris seemed to be reading the room like veteran comic, gauging just how much he could get away with.
In the post-show Q&A session, Sedaris laughingly admitted he hadn't calibrated the material for a matinee show. "I just realized reading all this stuff — that's a lot of filth for the afternoon,” he said. “How do you face the daylight after something like this?"
At the beginning of the show, Sedaris brought on author Blake Bailey — known for his literary biographies of John Cheever and Richard Yates — to do a short reading from his new memoir, "The Splendid Things We Planned." Both authors signed books in a meet-and-greet session after the reading.
Saturday's show proved that, aside from his success as an author, Sedaris has become a wily old veteran at the art of the theatrical reading engagement. The guy knows how to work a room. And by launching so many hilariously uncomfortable zingers around sex and death, he celebrated another longstanding comic tradition: Literary humorists, like court jesters and stand-up comedians, reserve the right to say anything.