Why does David Sedaris hate ‘Santaland Diaries’?

12:13 p.m Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017 Go Guide
Essayist David Sedaris has made a career out of finding humor in his improbable life. His newest book, “Theft By Finding Diaries 1977-2002,” which he will discuss in front of an audience Sunday at the Fox Theatre, takes that gaze to the granular level, with excerpts from 25 years of his obsessive diary entries. Photo: Ingrid Christie

You may think you’ve already read David Sedaris’ diaries.

His droll autobiographical stories — about growing up Greek in North Carolina, picking fruit in the Northwest, and serving as an elf at “Santaland” in a Manhattan department store — put him on NPR, on the best-seller list and in the same company as Mark Twain and S.J. Perelman.

But you’ve only scratched the surface. Even his newest book, “Theft by Finding Diaries 1977-2002,” a 528-page sampler of his journals, uses only a fraction of the 8 million words Sedaris has scribbled or typed over those 25 years.

During a phone conversation from London, (near his home in West Sussex, England), Sedaris talked about looking back at his life, about his upcoming performance at the Fox Theatre Oct. 22, and about why he hates “Santaland Diaries,” the play based on the essay that took him from an itinerant laborer and floor refinisher to international acclaim.

Q: It’s a half-hour past midnight in London and you’re doing a telephone interview with a newspaper. Why are you up so late?

A: This is the time of day that I can kind of relax because I live at the mercy of a Fitbit and an Apple watch and they want me to walk between 18 and 22 miles a day.

Right now I’ve walked so much that I’m in the process losing my big toenail. It’s just on a hinge right now. I can pull it off, but I just want it to fall off on its own.

If I were at home in the country right now I’d be out walking right now. My whole life is about picking up trash out on the road.

(Sedaris voluntarily picks up litter along the roadways near his West Sussex home, an activity that earned him a nomination to be honored at Buckingham Palace among a few hundred other do-gooders. At the ceremony the other do-gooders were throwing their ice-cream wrappers behind the bushes, causing Sedaris to marvel. “People were littering right there in Buckingham Palace!”)

Q: I understand you don’t go to performances of “Santaland Diaries,” (the theatrical comedy based on his essay.)

A: I saw the production they did in New York. I had to sit in on rehearsals and stuff … Once it was on its feet in New York I went three times. I’ve never seen another production of it. I’m just not interested.

I feel like there are a couple of times in my professional life when I haven’t followed my instincts, and (licensing that story) was one of them. Now it’s done every year, it’s done all over the country, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I would if I could.

It’s just not for me. I wouldn’t go and see a production of it if you said young Antonio Banderas was going to do it nude.

Q: You portray yourself in your early years as a kind of a waste case, but you were still writing and producing art.

A: Art kind of saved me. I used to wake and bake. I’d wake up and start getting high. Then, when I started writing I realized I can’t write when I’m high. I started waiting. I would get high after I wrote, I was able to do that. In a sense, writing came first. (And eventually pushed drugs and alcohol away.)

Q: So you’re a disciplined person?

A: It’s not the kind thing you want to say about yourself. But I’m a very disciplined person and always have been. I started writing and have written every day since I quit doing artwork.

Q. What’s in your notebook from today?

A. It wasn’t like a huge day. I saw a goose eating chestnuts. I went to this decorative art and antiques fair and bought three presents and wrote down how much I spent. Sometimes with the news, I’m not saying anything that one of your cousins isn’t saying. But sometimes if you’re reading my diary you wouldn’t even know that the news took place.

What was interesting to me about the shooting in Las Vegas was the relief everyone felt that it wasn’t a Muslim, that it was just a crazy white person. Let’s lay some flowers, talk about how resilient Las Vegas is, and then go on until the next shooting.

Q: What’s the deal with your wacky clothes lately? What are those pants you’re wearing in the New York Times?

A: They’re Comme de Garcons. They look exactly like pajama pants but they have a zippered fly,

I don’t know what’s going on with me. I will wear anything. I bought a jacket made out of two hideous jackets sewn together, one side has tails, the other side doesn’t have a tail.

Q: Do you mourn that your mom, who always supported you, never got to see your wild success?

A: If my mom was alive and in good health I would bring her on tour with me. I would have her introduce me and moderate question-and-answer time. My mother really deserved an audience. She would have taken to it and felt comfortable. She would have done a good job,

Q: Your father, on the other hand, was never one to lavish praise.

A: I’m on the Colbert show, he calls me up, and says ‘You’re up there, you got no personality whatsoever, you’re just a rag.’ (When Sedaris rises to No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list, his father reminds him “You’re not number one in the Wall Street Journal.”)

What’s weird is I was at his house a few weeks ago, and my father’s house is chaos … We stopped by to see him, and the whole dining room is dedicated to me and (David’s sister) Amy. Magazines, newspaper clippings. I don’t know where he gets this stuff, and it’s not like he would ever say anything nice to us. But he’s got all this stuff.

David Sedaris at the Fox Theatre, 7 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 22; Sedaris will read from his work, answer questions and sign books; $45.50, $53.00, and $60.50 plus fees; 660 Peachtree Street NE, 404-881-2100, foxtheatre.org