HOW DAVID SEDARIS FOUND THE FAME HE CRAVED

Liv­ing in the age of celebrity, he felt shut out. He was mis­er­able, drank and did drugs. Then some­one waved a magic wand

National Post (National Edition) - - THECHATTER - Robert Ful­ford Week­end Post robert.ful­ford@utoronto.ca

For many years, David Sedaris yearned for fame. He didn’t call it that, but a pleas­ant mea­sure of fame was what he hoped for. He felt he was a no­body and he wanted to be some­body, some­body who was talked about and well known. Liv­ing in the age of celebrity, he was shut out.

He did not like ob­scu­rity, that qual­ity movie stars of­ten claim to de­sire. He thought wist­fully of the time in the fu­ture when he might oc­ca­sion­ally spot his own name in a mag­a­zine. While do­ing rou­tine anony­mous work, like dec­o­rat­ing some­one’s apart­ment, he of­ten lis­tened to the ra­dio in­ter­views of Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air. To­day, he ad­mits to dream­ing about be­ing in­ter­viewed by Gross. He re­mem­bers well what it was like to be an un­known. It wasn’t fun.

To­day he can’t imag­ine that there was any­one else who so badly wanted fame. For that rea­son or some other, he was mis­er­able. He drank enough to qual­ify as an al­co­holic, and did drugs as well. He con­sid­ered sui­cide and wrote in his di­ary a list of rea­sons why life was (or per­haps could be) worth liv­ing. Fi­nally, by good luck, he found a way to mar­ket his work­ing life, his per­son­al­ity and his sense of hu­mour.

He was on stage in an ob­scure Chicago club, read­ing ex­cerpts from his di­ary, when Ira Glass of NPR heard him. At that point, he said re­cently, “My life just changed com­pletely, like some­one waved a magic wand.” Sedaris had briefly played an elf in Macy’s depart­ment store at Christ­mas. His talk about that ex­pe­ri­ence, San­ta­land Diaries, ran on NPR. In 1995, when Glass started his reg­u­lar pro­gram, This Amer­i­can Life, he as­signed Sedaris reg­u­lar ap­pear­ances. In al­most no time Sedaris had a con­tract with Lit­tle Brown for his first book of col­lected sto­ries and es­says, some of which had ap­peared ear­lier in The New Yorker or Esquire. Eight books fol­lowed. Me Talk Pretty One Day won the Thurber Prize for Amer­i­can Hu­mor. Naked won the Randy Shilts Award for Gay Non­fic­tion. Sedaris also has a Grammy for a com­edy record. He and his sis­ter, the ac­tor Amy Sedaris, col­lab­o­rate on writ­ing plays.

He con­tin­ues to search his own life for un­usual (and es­sen­tially comic) in­ci­dents. He is not above ec­cen­tric­ity. He is, for in­stance, a mil­i­tant ac­tivist in anti-lit­ter. When he’s at home in Hor­sham, West Sus­sex (where he lives with his part­ner, Hugh Ham­rick), he spends four or five hours ev­ery day pa­trolling the nearby high­way, pick­ing up trash that mo­torists have thrown from their cars.

This de­vo­tion to his prin­ci­ples has been rec­og­nized by the Queen. Ev­ery year, she in­vites vol­un­teer work­ers from across the king­dom to a gar­den party at Buck­ing­ham Palace. Re­cently Sedaris and Ham­rick were there to be feted. Un­for­tu­nately, Sedaris no­ticed that a num­ber of guests were plac­ing empty ice-cream con­tain­ers in planters or be­hind columns. Lit­ter­ing in the gar­den of Her Majesty! Sedaris was ap­palled.

In a re­cent in­ter­view (of course it was with Terry Gross) Sedaris was asked how his present life con­trasted with the no­body’s life he lived for so long. He now goes on tours across the con­ti­nent where peo­ple line up to get his au­to­graph on books they’ve just bought, he tells his sto­ries on the BBC, he’s de­liv­ered a con­vo­ca­tion ad­dress at Prince­ton Univer­sity. Was this ac­claim, Gross asked him on air, what he had in mind all along? Of course, Sedaris said, this is ex­actly what he dreamt of from the be­gin­ning. It should hap­pen just that way to ev­ery no­body.

RALPH ORLOWSKI/GETTY IMAGES

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