Friday, May 1, 2009 | 2 a.m.
If You Go
- Who: Author David Sedaris
- When: 8 p.m. Sunday
- Where: Artemus Ham Hall, UNLV
- Admission: $37.40-$64.90; (702) 895-2787, www.unlvtickets.com
David Sedaris, whose wryly comic autobiographical essays have made him into a best-selling author, reads Sunday at UNLV’s Artemus Ham Hall. And it promises to be a rare Las Vegas phenomenon — rarer even than snow on the palm trees — an author reading that sells out an 1,800-seat venue. Vegas, as I’ve noted before, doesn’t see many big-name authors stopping by on their book tours. But it seems a natural choice for Sedaris, who enjoys perversity and human oddities.
1. Sedaris’ books now automatically go to the top of the best-seller charts and stay there for weeks — seven million copies of his books are in print, and they’ve been translated into 25 languages. Sedaris also regularly publishes stories in The New Yorker magazine and has been a frequent contributor to “This American Life” since the show began airing on public radio in 1995.
At Ham Hall, Sedaris will read excerpts from his latest collection, “When You Are Engulfed in Flames,” and you can expect to get a preview of his next book, too. Sedaris, 52, usually test-drives new stories on audiences, noting what works and what doesn’t. He’s generous with his fans, answering questions after reading and signing books afterward with eccentric phrases. During his New York appearance, Sedaris spent up to nine hours in bookstores signing for fans.
2. Scalpers were reportedly asking upward of $300 for tickets to Sedaris’ New York appearances in December. This kind of hubbub over a writer hasn’t been seen — at least out West — since Oscar Wilde’s national tour made him the talk of the town wherever he went. But this Sedaris tour is more like a rock star phenomenon. On this leg of his tour, which began in June, he’s touring 34 cities in 34 days — including a jaunt to London — and Sedaris’ management says 80 percent of the dates have sold out.
3. When a new book by Sedaris comes out, I buy it twice: I get the hardcover copy and read it immediately, and I download the audio version from Audible.com. They’re completely different experiences, both laugh-out-loud funny. Read by the author in his distinctive, droll voice, the unabridged audio versions of his books are usually full of surprises, with guest appearances by his sister Amy Sedaris and others. The audio version of “When You Are Engulfed In Flames,” runs to more than 9 hours. Sedaris on the car stereo = the antidote to road rage.
4. Beginning with his first collection, 1994’s sui generis “Barrel Fever,” Sedaris has mined his family for material both humorous and poignant, including vignettes from his home life in France and England with his longtime boyfriend Hugh, and his darkly comic recounting of his mother’s death from cancer.
Sedaris told Entertainment Weekly that his kin are cool with it. “People will say, ‘Is your family still speaking to you after all those things you’ve said?’ And I answer, ‘Well, what did I say?’ I run the stories by my brother and sisters first and say, ‘Is there anything in here you want me to change, or want me to get rid of?’ ”
Sedaris’ sister Amy, a comic actress and author of the entertaining guide “I Like You,” doesn’t show up in his pages too often. But his other siblings, particularly his brother Paul, aka “the Rooster,” are benefiting from reflected fame. Paul, a fan favorite and the anti-hero of several stories, has a hardwood flooring company in the Sedaris hometown of Raleigh, N.C., and sells “You Can’t Kill the Rooster” T-shirts on his Web site.
5. Some critics have complained that Sedaris is losing his magic touch and that his observations are becoming formulaic. He’s in no danger of running out of material for stories. “The first three dates on this tour, David started passing a kidney stone. Huge pain, and he never missed a date,” says Sedaris’ agent, Steven Barclay. “In New York, when he went to the hospital, the docs in emergency gave him a bottle of pain killers that read ‘not to use when operating heavy machinery or when lecturing on stage.’ No joke! Then in Dallas, his hotel, the Adolphus, caught on fire.”
When Barclay asked Sedaris if he would see any shows in Las Vegas while he was here, he replied that he would have liked to see Cirque du Soleil.
“But only if the performers were naked.”