Humorist and bestselling author David Sedaris has made a career not only with his words, but with his voice. Legions of fans have enjoyed his readings of essays, diary entries and stories on National Public Radio's Morning Edition since the early 1990s, and he can currently be heard on the radio program This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. His family—by Sedaris's account, colorful characters all—and his own career exploits and home life are the rich material from which he draws both hilarity and poignancy. Many listeners have been able to keep laughter going after the radio is turned off with the audiobook editions of his published works (Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Barrel Fever, Holidays on Ice and The David Sedaris Box Set) published by Time Warner Audiobooks. Sedaris also draws crowds all over the country for his readings/concerts; he routinely tours twice per year for a month at a time. Last year he played to an enthusiastic audience at Carnegie Hall, a performance that was recorded. The result is David Sedaris Live at Carnegie Hall (Oct.), a Time Warner Audiobooks CD featuring 70 minutes of that performance. Sedaris just kicked off his most recent 30-cities-in-30-days run in Providence, R.I., on October 1 and will end up in Palo Alto, Calif., on October 31. To help celebrate (and gain some presence on the tour, of course), Time Warner Audiobooks bumped up its publication of the CD by a month. Sedaris recently spoke with PW via telephone from France where he was vacationing (his primary residence is in Paris).
PW: What are your feelings about audiobooks? Do you listen to them? When?
David Sedaris: I love audiobooks. I will listen to anything. An editor friend picked up a lot of free listening copies at BEA and sent a box of them to me. I just finished the Sarah Brady book [A Good Fight] and an audiobook for children called The Misfits from a company called Full Cast Audio. It was unusual to hear an actor read a line like " 'Take your seat,' he said." But it works perfectly. I don't know if I'd want to hear them do Lolita that way, but for this one I would not have changed a thing.
We're in the country now, in Normandy, and I take a two-hour walk every day. I put on my headphones and listen to a lot of things then. I don't know how many times I've listened to The Complete Talking Heads by Alan Bennett; I love it. I recently listened to a Caedmon short story collection. It was perfection. There were some teenagers hanging out in a village that I walked past and I wondered what they thought I was listening to.
PW: Since you perform lots of your work on radio, one would assume you are comfortable with the way you sound on recordings. Is that true?
DS: No. I don't like hearing my own voice. I did a reading at UCLA once, it was a conversation with Bernard Cooper and they recorded it. Afterward I just listened to it for about a minute and I was horrified. My mouth was dry and I kept making this [sucking/clicking] noise. Now, if I read a lot I make sure I have a lot of water or liquids. That's something I never would have thought about if I had not listened to myself.
PW: Do you like to make recordings?
DS: I enjoy reading out loud. But whenever they say "we're taping tonight's reading," I make mistakes. When you're with a live audience you actually have something to feed off of. But when you're doing an audiobook you have to go back and fix every little thing. In the end, I guess I'm just left with the experience of it.
Last year I was looking for some volunteer work in Paris and I ended up being asked to record some things for the English Language Library for the Blind. They gave me an awful book. All I knew was I didn't write it; I didn't like it. If a city had a name I couldn't pronounce, I just made one up. I'm not so sure they'd ask me to do another one.
PW: Are you looking forward to your 30-cities-in-30-days tour? That's a pretty ambitious schedule.
DS: Well, I do these tours every April and October, and I'm used to it now. I don't really like a day off in between stops. The travel part has gotten to be a pain in the ass though, especially at the airport. Since I'm buying one-way tickets, I'm automatically in the computer as a terrorist. At every airport they say "step over here." And it really doesn't work to be unpleasant in that situation.
But I never really had a real, grown-up job, so I think of this as a business trip. I sort of enjoy it. Living in a foreign country, it makes it easier for me to think, "OK, a month from now I'll be in the States."
I have about 90 pages of new material that I'll be bringing with me. When I hear myself reading, I notice where I was trying too hard to be funny or where I'm not as clever as I thought. It's good for me. I don't like to have anything in a book or on the radio until I've read it out loud at least 10 times.
When people listen to me on the radio, that's a solitary pursuit. So when they see me live they feel kind of betrayed—they'll come up to me and say things like "I was the only person laughing" at a certain part.
PW: What's next for you, beyond the tour?
DS: Well the new material will be in my new book that's due out in June 2004. The title was going to be Repeat After Me, but I'm going to change it. My boyfriend had a dream that a man was reading a book called Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. He said it looked like one of those institutional books you can buy at Sears or someplace. I thought that was perfect. I'm going to use that as the title now.