Author David Sedaris lends voice, insight to new stories

Thursday, April 9, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Lori and India McCullough drove from Sedalia to hear author David Sedaris speak Wednesday evening.

“We would have come from Munich,” said Lori McCullough, who has seen Sedaris live three times.

Sedaris, who is currently touring the country to promote his most recent collection of essays, “When You Are Engulfed in Flames,” spoke to a sold-out audience at Jesse Auditorium. The author, who is known for his humor, is a regular contributor to both National Public Radio and The New Yorker.

High-pitched giggles, guttural chuckles and deep belly laughs could be heard echoing throughout the audience. The unique peals of laughter reflected the wide variety of people who came to be entertained by the notoriously comical Sedaris.

“He’s very funny, sometimes poignant,” audience member John Blodgett said.

Sedaris spoke in a clear, nasally tone while delivering punch lines in unexpected places and injecting pauses to make the jokes more punctuated. By reading his stories aloud, Sedaris allowed the audience to hear them the way he intended.

“You get to hear his voice, his inflection,” India McCullough said.

The humorist started this tour with nine new stories. On Wednesday, he read excerpts from his diary and performed three new stories. He read poised at the podium with pen in hand, marking the places where the audience laughed.

“I chart the way a story moves,” Sedaris told the audience. “It helps me with re-writing.”

Sedaris used his voice as a tool to enhance the performance of the stories. Sedaris became the people in his tales, imitating the shrill, nervous voice of a college-aged radio intern and then mocking the way a house guest pretentiously over-pronounced the French language.

Wistful, self-deprecating and matter-of-fact, Sedaris at times seemed to give listeners a glimpse into his inner-monologue, speaking of things that many people wouldn’t say out loud, giving observations from everyday life.

“Nothing is as satisfying as collecting tips,” Sedaris read from a story about greed.

Sedaris tells stories that reflect a vivid imagination. He told a story in which he named the rabbits who ran through the yard of his home. There was a rabbit called Phil, another Screened In Patio and one that he referred to as Chagrin.

However outlandish some of his anecdotes are, he tells stories that people relate to, said Scott Holloway, who came from Kansas City to hear Sedaris.

“He takes the commonplace things we all do and spins them in a hilarious way.”

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