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Enjoying an evening with David Sedaris

BY ALIX ZACHOW | Feature Writer

No one knew what to expect upon attending “An Evening with David Sedaris” Saturday night at the Ford Center.

Half of the audience clambered in late due to heavy traffic from the Rebels’ matchup against Alabama, and the performance itself didn’t start until 20 minutes after its scheduled start time.

None of that mattered when Sedaris, a petite but sprightly man, came on stage.

Dressed in a crisp white shirt and dark jeans, Sedaris, a veteran of the cult-favorite radio show “This American Life,” is the author of several popular books, the most recognizable of which being “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” a collection of humorous autobiographical stories from his life.

Sedaris read several of his short stories, entries from his diaries and a sampling of “animal fables” from a upcoming collection of his which will be published some time next year.

Perhaps the audience was trying to make up for its tardiness, but there was tremendous applause after Sedaris finished reading each piece, while he smiled and quietly marked a “note-to-self ” on his papers. Not that this applause wasn’t deserved.

Even if it wasn’t always the sort of humor that merits loud guffaws, Sedaris’ wry turn of phrase made everyone present feel as if he was in on a joke that no one else was.

What truly made it “An Evening with David Sedaris,” rather than “David Sedaris Reads,” was when Sedaris finished his reading.

He finished early and entertained questions from the crowd.

Although his reading was well-received, it was during the direct interaction with the crowd when Sedaris was at his funniest.

When asked what he thought of Oxford (after a lengthy recommendation for the YMCA pool in downtown Memphis), he replied that he hadn’t seen much of the town, but he really preferred to talk to the people of a town anyway.

There is no doubt that Sedaris talked.

When the event at the Ford Center was over, he invited people to a signing at Square Books, where he promised to sign books as long as there were people.

Less than 20 minutes after the event was over, there were people surrounding the outside of Square Books listening to commentary from those who had chosen to devote time to other pursuits that evening and were incredulous as to why such a large group of people would stand in line to get a book signed.

Two and half hours later, the last of the people in line who were starting to doubt themselves met Mr. Sedaris.

He engaged in a conversation with each person whose book (or books) he signed, while gracefully shoveling shrimp and grits into his mouth and chattering away about anything and everything.

Sedaris managed to make everything funny, and therein lies his mass appeal: whether commenting on his family or that of an audience member, everything is funny.

It can be sad or awful, but there’s always something funny about the situation Sedaris tells.