Here are the few things I know about David Sedaris:
1.) He's Greek
2.) He's Gay
3.) He's Allegedly Funny
I say 'allegedly' not because I have a dislike for Sedaris, but because I've heard the essayist only once, on one of the worst programs in American history: This American Life. Only those who bother with National Public Radio have even heard OF it, let alone heard it. I imagine TAL host Ira Glass and I would not get along.
Glass strikes me as the type of man who not only would host salons where, over copious amounts of chardonnay, he and his minions (like Sedaris, John Hodgman aka the 'PC' guy from those television commercials, or Sarah Vowell--who always reminds me of a hyper-intelligent 12-year-old girl in her looks, dress, and voice) would get into an energetic argument over whether Jean-Paul Satre or Albert Camus was the truer existentialist, but would actually refer to these events as salons. He and his cohorts would take a look at me and say, 'There he goes, living in his little Matrix-like world, with his quaint ideas about such things as a literal existence of God or the "rights of the unborn" (as if there such a thing as...well, either). He certainly is not like us (and not just in skin tone, even though we identify with his 'people' and their struggle), here in our ivory towers where we get to look down on everyone, we who not only have read every word of Remembrance of Things Past (which we read in one afternoon) but who have the intelligence to celebrate Darwin-mas. Dear little man, who probably has made the mistake of voting REPUBLICAN at least once in his life'. I suspect that if I ever were invited to one of these soirees, it would be because they were short one Mexican waiter.
What does this diatribe against mild-mannered Ira have to do with Davey? Well, other than the opportunity to express my disdain for the godless Glass (which, given his atheism, is a completely accurate assessment), it's relevant because as I understand it, Sedaris is Glass' protege. Sedaris was taken under Glass' wings (and Glass' glasses) and become one of the stars of Ira's Follies. Yet, I digress. That one time I heard David Sedaris speak on TAL involved his efforts in music. My remembrance of this past thing I confess to being hazy, since TAL has an extraordinary ability to lull me into a pleasant slumber. From what I recall, Sedaris talked about his father, who loved jazz and wanted his son to be a jazz singer (where's Al Jolson, Danny Thomas, or Neal Diamond when you really need them?) So David dutifully took singing lessons, and the last thing I remember was an audition he had in which he sang the Bologna Song from the Oscar Mayer commercial in the style of Billie Holiday. There is the last memory of This American Life I have: a fifty-ish year old man attempting to sound like a drunk Holiday intoning "My bologna has a first name, it's O-S-C-A-R..." Personally, he sounded more like a drunk Truman Capote than Billie Holiday, but I digress. I don't know what happened afterward because at this time, I finally lost consciousness. From what I do remember, the audience was lapping all this up. I was only nodding off.
Now, I figure I might be extremely unfair to Mr. Sedaris. He might be an extremely humorous man. From what little I know he hasn't written any actual fiction; all his books have been essays and memoirs. The private life and adventures of Mr. Sedaris may be quite funny, or at least I've been told. I've decided to venture out again into the world of the unknown, which is why I have obtained a copy of the audio version of When You Are Engulfed in Flames. I go into it a complete virgin: I know nothing of what is contained within those CDs.
One thing I do admire about Mr. Sedaris (or at least from what I know/understand) is that his homosexuality is only a part of his life. David Sedaris isn't a gay man. David Sedaris is a man who happens to be gay. Is this splitting hairs? I think not. Too often today gay men/women are defined (or define themselves) strictly by their sexual inclinations, and from that flows everything about their worldview. Sedaris, from what I gather, is someone who is comfortable and accepting of his sexual orientation but who doesn't focus solely on that. The Billie Holiday story as far as I know had nothing to do with same-sex attraction. The distinction between "being gay" and "being homosexual" frees Sedaris up to write of things beyond sex.
I look at his face, and I think this man will be honest to me about how he sees the world, give me his taken on things that have occurred to him which will be different from how others will see such things. I note a sincerity and yet a certain sadness within it, as if the humor he gives isn't always the reaction he's expecting from the audience. Of course, all of this is pure conjecture on my part. Still, Sedaris has a couple of pluses in his favor. I tend to favor non-fiction, especially biographies (not so much autobiographies, given my own dislike of self-revelation). I also go into David Sedaris not knowing what to expect. Therefore, he gets my full benefit of the doubt.
Well, I confess: his adventures on This American Life (how I LOATH that program) do make me predisposed not to like him. Guilt by association I suppose. Still, David Sedaris isn't TAL. He's only a part of it. That being the case, When You Are Engulfed in Flames allows me to judge him based on his own one-man show, so to speak.
As it stands, I have so much listening and reading to do. I have Vince Flynn's Act of Treason, Truman Capote's Other Voices, Other Rooms, and David Sedaris' When You Are Engulfed in Flames. Since Flynn was in first I'm going to tackle that to begin with. Capote will be read after How The Irish Saved Civilization, but both books are rather short, so I figure I can get through those quickly. I am very excited about my new venture: I'm entering new worlds, discovering new things. What greater thrill is there than that?
I know only two Greeks who are funny: Zach Galifianakis and Arianna Huffington (though they make me laugh for different reasons). Even though Ira Glass and his Court probably wouldn't care for this bourgeois Hispanic Lutheran who isn't much for progressivism in its various forms (social/political), they might grudgingly approve of my venture to explore new things. If only they would apply that sentiment to their own lives...