53-year-old David Sedaris took the stage before a full house at the Arlington Theatre on Monday night. After fiddling with his papers, he launched into a slapstick routine at the expense of sign language interpreter Katie Ingersoll, who was stumped repeatedly by his use of the word “pussy wagon.” It was a telling start to an evening of Sedarian humor — crass, undeniably funny, and shot through with a vein of cruelty.
He began by reading from his upcoming book, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary, which is slated for release this coming October. An angry, territorial rabbit smashed in the heads of the other forest creatures in one very child-unfriendly bedtime story, while “The Faithful Setter” was written from the perspective of a purebred dog experiencing marital challenges with his mixed breed spouse. Both of these tales took one darkly surreal twist after another. In the former, a gentle unicorn woke to find himself surrounded by gold shavings — the only remnants of his magical horn thanks to Mr. Evil Bunny. In the latter, a neighbor dog “bit a kid in the face — practically took it right off,” prompting the reflection, “Even if you hated children, you’d have to be sorry for her.”
Following it all, a first-person essay about airplanes and airports grounded readers in a more familiar territory. This piece delivered the odd satisfaction of hearing our own judgments of others voiced aloud, but also the discomfort of some deeply uncharitable descriptions of teenage parents and Middle America types.
It was when he moved to his own diary entries that Sedaris delivered the freshest and funniest material of the evening. There was the American health care industry’s haunted vision of “…Europe, where patients lie in filthy cellars waiting for aspirin to be invented,” and a fabulously funny retelling of a visit to a Parisian doctor whose refused to show concern about anything from a deep cut to a fatty tumor. In these short reflections — not crafted stories so much as isolated incidents — Sedaris did what he does best: reveal his quirks and insecurities in a way that allowed his listeners to recognize their own — and to laugh out loud at them.