This article is from Issue 50: Mar/Apr 2011

The Curious, Hilarious Neuroses of Author David Sedaris

America's top literary humorist talks politics, writing, and religion.

David Sedaris’ droll, honest essays are making America laugh— and at a time when the country is sorely in need of some humor. Since exploding on the scene with SantaLand Diaries—his account of 45 days spent toiling as an elf at Macy’s—and his reading of it on NPR’s This American Life in the mid-’90s, he has gone on to share the most awkward, intimate and hilarious moments of his life with readers and listeners. In a string of New Yorker essays and books that have included Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim and When You Are Engulfed in Flames, he’s chronicled his family’s deepest secrets and his most crippling neuroses, which at turns is hilarious, cutting, cynical and touching.

But with his latest book, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, Sedaris has taken a different approach to his work. There are no personal essays here, but rather his own take on classic African fables centered on anthropomorphic animals who shine a light on the human condition. It’s a stark difference in his approach, but after 15 years of highly personal essays,
it’s a change he feels he’s earned.

Sedaris recently finished a national tour to promote the book, and sat down with RELEVANT to talk about being an expatriate in Paris and England, his opinions on a broad range of sociopolitical issues and figures, and why he doesn’t share his parents’ Greek Orthodox faith.

Why did you decide to do a collection of animal fables as opposed to your usual essays about your personal life and people you know?

Somebody gave me a collection of South African folk tales on audio, and I was really looking for- ward to listening to it. But it was really awful and lame, and I thought, “I can do better than this.” So I wrote a story about a cat who goes to a baboon [to get groomed] for a party, and I enjoyed it. So I wrote another one, and another one and another one. And I go on these lecture tours every fall and every spring, and if I’m going to read in front of an audience for an hour, I won’t read one single thing that takes an hour—I’d rather read five or six things.