You wouldn’t think it, but 60-year-old New York-born humourist David Sedaris likes to talk dirty. “I like going places for work because it gives you an opportunity to talk to people in a way you can’t when you’re just on vacation,” he says over the phone. “My most recent trip through Germany, Austria, Switzerland, I asked people what they say when someone cuts you off in traffic. In the Netherlands, it’s popular to call someone a ‘cancer whore’ … A Bulgarian woman told me they say: 'May you build a house of your kidney stones’. That’s really good. But no one beats the Romanians: 'Stick your hands up my arse and jerk off my shit’. Can you believe it?”
The comments come as a surprise and are wedged between remarks about where to find the best postcards (“The postcards of Germany are just the right thickness. You can be in any town; it’s a gold mine”) and where he prefers to shop (“Tokyo has the best shopping in the world. When you go to Paris or any other major city, it’s all chain places, but Japan has a lot of individual shops. It’s like, ‘Here’s my store and everything looks like a mushroom’. And you think, ‘How on earth do you stay in business?’ But I go back year on year and it’s still there. It’s full of shops you can’t find anywhere else”).
Sedaris is on the phone to talk about his latest Australian book tour this month, this time for Theft By Finding: Diaries Volume One. It’s made up of diary entries – covering 1977 to 2002 – by a singular and modern observer, and is brimming with personal insights and the mini-dramas of his everyday life. While he might now be a best-selling author known for his collections of autobiographical essays – including Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, Naked and When You Are Engulfed in Flames, as well as his regular articles for the New Yorker – the book describes a 21-year-old Sedaris before fame and success; hitchhiking around the United States, occasionally sleeping rough and dabbling in drugs.
These days, life for Sedaris is less dingy apartments, being broke and doing odd jobs. He lives in West Sussex, England, with his long-time partner Hugh Hamrick, and his book tours take him all over the world. “I travel in an average year to 90 cities. When I have a book out it’s up to 120 cities,” says Sedaris in his signature nasal voice, before adding, “For the most part I’m looking forward to it; I mean, I am not dreading going away.”
Asked if he finds that amount of travel challenging, Sedaris says it’s all about staying in good hotels (“My agent booked my trip to Australia. I usually pick the hotels, but I think he has it in the contract that it has to be the best hotel in town”) and, much to the chagrin of Australians, making sure his accommodation is near a Starbucks. “The thing is, I want a cup of coffee,” he says. “I don’t want a flat white; I don’t want an Americano; I want a cup of brewed coffee and that’s a hard thing to get in Australia. In Australia, you get a lot of lip – it’s like people saying: ‘You know, you have awful taste if you call that coffee’. I know what I want and the place to get it is Starbucks. That’s where I can get a tanker of coffee.”
David Sedaris speaks at the Arts Centre Melbourne January 20 & 21, 7.30pm. Get tickets here.
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