NPR contributor and best-selling author David Sedaris conducted the people of Santa Barbara through his life stories and essays at the Arlington Theatre last Wednesday. Locker room talk, travels, and family history inspired his UCSB Arts & Lectures performance in its quick-witted puns and satire.
“Regardless of whether or not you voted for [Trump], I thought the president-elect’s identity, as a despicable human being, is something we could all agree on,” said Sedaris, and the roar of laughter from the audience forced him to pause. “He pretty much ran on it,” he finished.
Starting off the night, he explained “A Number of Reasons I’ve Been Depressed Lately,” a new essay of his inspired by celebrity-turned-politician locker room talk. Sedaris proved his dark humor to be powerful as he continued explaining his horrors of election night, indulging the audience in hilarious “horrible, horrible joke[s].”
After a tiring day of travel and being away from his loved ones, the election night’s results left him feeling isolated and emotionally drained.
“Staring at the ceiling wide awake, I suddenly think of Cher. I realize that what I’m feeling, she’s feeling as well,” Sedaris said. Neither reflections from his courses at the Art Institute of Chicago nor any lessons learned from his respected works came to mind, not even any special times with friends. “Oddly, it’s this woman I’ve never met or seen in person who brings me comfort,” he said.
Sedaris dealt with a family friend’s conspiracy theories and his father’s support of Donald Trump, which proved to be helpful and relieving as a listener. Familial relations as complex as the current political climate worked as an insight to understanding the way neoconservative America thinks. His laughable conversations with his father became assurance in a time of mass social discomfort and fear. No fan, in this night at Arlington Theatre, felt the loneliness and despair of election night.
The performance contained long segments about his family, especially focusing on the experience of dealing with an alcoholic mother. His mother’s alcohol consumption interfered with his ability to decipher between acts of love and impaired judgement. However, time proved her love’s validity to be true.
Although she had limited financial means and six children to care for, Sedaris’ mother “supported” him and his five siblings “in our far fetched endeavors.” Sedaris expressed compassion, saying “[sobriety] would’ve allowed her to hold her head up, to recall what it felt like to live without shame.”
His mother encouraged her children to do what they wanted, sending them checks and always feeling excited to have them visit. Despite never living to see the successes of any of the children, including Sedaris’ bestselling books, she showed them tremendous support.
“I was living in New York, still broke, [and] unpublished when my mother died,” Sedaris said. On one of her last birthdays, his financial state left him without the resources to buy her the finer things. “Whatever it is, I’m sure I’m going to love it,” his mother said, assuring Sedaris she does love him as the unpublished, penniless son without a proper gift for his mother on her birthday. Her interests were simply to be with her children, regardless of what they brought home.
Excerpts from his diary provided the most racy content of night. “I think it [the diary] teaches you what you’re most interested in. Eventually, you kind of verify your interests,” he said. Being a writer, Sedaris acquires interests from a wide range of content, especially in literary humor, pushing the boundaries politically and sexually. He spoke out about troubling gay rights issues in American society, growing up gay in North Carolina, and making a successful career that reflects these issues.
“I was never one to write about my feelings,” he said. Feelings would not describe his strengths. Sedaris opens up his listeners’ minds with his powerful honesty, which reflects the dark humor and harsh realities gay men face in America. Sedaris, too, fears for the future, but he knows fear well. No assault on religious freedom, intending to oppress, will silence the artist’s voice.
“Often during Q&A, I hear something completely fucked up and realize it was coming out of my mouth,” Sedaris said in response to a Dallas, Texas resident’s query about Sedaris’ experience “growing up gay in North Carolina in the 1970s.”
Sedaris showed Santa Barbara that honesty and humor are possibly all America has left to survive conservative domination; at least it gives some quick relief during challenging times.