The Lefsetz Letter: David Sedaris At The Vilar

It’s a comedy show.

I’ve seen Sedaris twice before, but this was the first time I realized that first and foremost people come for the jokes, they come to laugh. I’d say they come to get away from everyday life but that would assume that Sedaris made no political comments, refused to take sides, but he did.

Now the most astounding thing I saw all night was Sedaris signing books BEFORE the show. There are so many lessons to learn from this, even if you’re a musician, even if you don’t believe in laughing, which we all do, which is part of Sedaris’s magic.

Sedaris has perfected the art of the anti-star. This used to be the province of musicians, but in an era where every act wants to be a brand, that has been forgone. Sedaris positions himself just like you or me, but a little different. And those differences are not hidden, like his homosexuality.

So I was stunned to see David in the lobby before the lights went down. Why not? Otherwise he’d just be sitting backstage alone, twiddling his thumbs. The people were there, why not work?

This is part of Sedaris’s shtick, after the gig he sits and signs books for hours, wants to hear stories and jokes, and not only does this make attendees superfans, it delivers Sedaris material.

So I thought Sedaris was a writer. That it was all about reading his pieces on stage. But really, like I said, it’s about the jokes. But the jokes are not delivered in traditional standup fashion. In other words, Sedaris has created his own niche.

Wow, this used to be the province of musicians. The acts all used to sound different. You found your sound and pursued it, the rest of the landscape be damned. No one can imitate David Sedaris because there’s only one of him. Oh, I guess you could imitate him poorly, but could you draw a sellout audience live? No.

And it is all about live. The goal of a standup comedian is a TV special, maybe their own show. A special would be detrimental to Sedaris’s act. In other words, it’s positively old school, you have to go to know. It’s a club. And members tell newbies they’ve got to go and the whole operation flies under the radar.

And Sedaris paid his dues for decades. This is the antithesis of today’s music model. Hell, I get videos from parents of “artists” who haven’t yet hit double digits. They believe the ability to sing is enough, as if worldly experience was irrelevant. Sedaris has been broke, he’s struggled, he’s worked lousy jobs, and all of that informs his art. He’s been there, he’s done that, and he DOESN’T GIVE A F@CK!

That’s one of the best aspects of Sedaris’s act. He’s lived long enough to feel entitled to speak his truth and he doesn’t care what you think and this honesty is absent in politics and most of music and therefore it is enticing.

Talk about crossing the line… If a musician told some of these jokes, it would be a national scandal. Of course, Sedaris has the advantage of being a short, gay man when he tells jokes about women and sex, but everyone knows he’s not being evil. Today everything is a litmus test, the gotcha police are out in force, but somehow Sedaris goes unscathed. I think this is because he’s not eager to be part of THEIR world. He’s not dying to be more, to have more, he’s satisfied where he is. You know the musicians, they’re afraid of offending someone, hurting their career, after all you don’t want to eliminate half of your audience. They’re so busy protecting their “brand” that there’s not much brand there. They’re famous, they get on stage, and beyond that… I did a podcast with a successful comedian who refused to talk politics. How have we gotten here, why is everybody so afraid? Would David Crosby and his passing be such a big deal if this guy didn’t own his opinions? That was part of his magic. He spoke his truth and he didn’t care what anybody else thought. There’s a huge lesson there.

And Sedaris is constantly crossing the line into taboo. Dissing his dad, feeling released now that he’s dead.

This guy is a star. And I don’t think there’s a single person who’d go to his show and be offended, never mind dislike it. It’s like Sedaris transcends the rabble-rousing into our best self, and we are eager to get some of that. That’s what musicians used to provide, a beacon. And those of us in the trenches of everyday life desire that, need that.

And Sedaris is singular, he’s not commanding an army, he may speak to many, but he doesn’t want to unite them, he doesn’t want to mobilize them.

And the MONEY!

All we hear is artists bitching about the cost of the road, the buses, the trucks, the staging, the personnel. Whereas, Sedaris packs a suitcase, and that’s it. Travels by car. AND KEEPS ALL THE MONEY!

I mean he pays an agent, but after that…

Maybe a hotel room is part of the deal, maybe it’s not. But what is that, a grand a night? There are places Sedaris appears that there aren’t even hotels that charge four figures. Sedaris legendarily loves a good hotel room, being on the road is hard enough. Everybody else is trying to poor-mouth, saying they’re just like you and me, whereas Sedaris is owning his success and somehow ending up even more like you and me. I mean if it was free, or I was making a fortune, wouldn’t I like a nice hotel room?

And Sedaris does not have to conquer to succeed. He kept praising Fran Lebowitz, telling attendees to see her imminent performance at the Vilar. And he hyped Susan Orlean’s book. In other words, he broke all the rules of stardom while evidencing enough talent to be a star. He didn’t have to tell us he was a star, it was obvious.

And like a comedian, he points out the absurdities of life, and that which gets under his skin. But the cadence is different, the stories are longer, but not with the endless hesitations and self-laughing of Dave Chappelle. I mean Chappelle is very talented, but Sedaris is closer to the heart of America, and that includes the extremes.

It’s really quite something to see, something to experience.

I can only envy him. I know I can’t be him, I’m not a comedian, but the fact that he’s built it essentially all by himself, by writing words on a page…whew!

Just like everybody tells me to write a book, Sedaris says his limit is only a small number of pages, he doesn’t go beyond that. In other words, Sedaris knows who he is, is not trying to be somebody else. He doesn’t need world domination, his own vertical is enough, and it’s plenty wide.

And Sedaris puts all his quirks and failings on display for others to see. This is the opposite of the musicians getting plastic surgery and lying about it. We all age, as does Sedaris. He’s living life, and trying to laugh about it before it’s over.

Really, the next time Sedaris is in town, go. It’s not cheap, but it’s not expensive. And although he does sell out, it’s not everywhere. Not that there are any stiff shows. In other words, you don’t have to worry about getting frozen out during the initial Ticketmaster on-sale. You can go, if you care, if you take action.

In other words, David Sedaris is more of a rock star than most of the rock stars, if not all of them. He’s not doing endorsement deals. He’s not employing carpet bomb publicity. He’s not bragging about his grosses, the breaking of records. Rather, like I said above, he’s being David Sedaris, and that’s enough.

Sedaris is just like you and me, but different. Not better, not worse. And this is his magic. He’s us. We’ve all got opinions, we’ve all got insights, we think no one else feels what we do, is frustrated the way we are, but Sedaris shows us this is untrue.

Don’t stumble through life blindly. Don’t just jump through the hoops. A little bit of thinking, a little bit of life will pay untold dividends. Don’t be so busy working that you miss it, that you have no perspective.

Be more like David Sedaris.

But you can’t.

And that makes a star right there.

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