With more than 7 million copies of his books in print, humorist and satirist David Sedaris looks at the sides of life that most of us would not even notice. He has written about realizing he was gay, learning to speak French, his attraction to taxidermy and family dinners with his father dining in underpants. His latest book, Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, is a collection of essays.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper: What was it like at dinner with your family?
David Sedaris: I always considered myself very fortunate in that respect. Even when I was a child, I realized how fortunate I was.
There were six children in my family, and my mother was a great cook. We would all sit at the dinner table. My dad would leave the second he was finished. He would eat in his underpants, and then he would leave the second he was finished. The rest of us would sit around the table for hours and hours and hours, just laughing and talking.
There was no better place to be than around our table. That was the case when I was in the first grade, that was the case when I was in the seventh grade and that was the case when I was in high school. When I came home for college, for as long as we were all together, there was no finer place to be.
I remember watching those candles burn down, the candles in the center of the table. They in time became cigarette lighters. At first they would light a cigarette for my mom, and then eventually they became cigarette lighters for everyone. The room grew smokier and smokier. But it was just a wonderful place to be.
LRK: Why did your dad eat in his underpants?
DS: He came home from work every day and just took his pants off. Then they were off until he went to work the next day. It was the way that a woman might remove her high heels; he just removed his trousers like they were very confining.
Sometimes we’d be eating and somebody would come to the door. We would think, "Oh, no." He would answer the door in his underpants. You just hope that it wasn’t a friend of yours.
LRK: Better a stranger.
LRK: What’s the dinner table like for you today?
DS: I’ve been with my boyfriend, Hugh, for 23 years. He is a fantastic cook. He’s happy to spend 4 hours a night making dinner.
What I like about him is that he’s not a snob cook. He doesn’t judge other people’s food. If we’re invited somewhere for dinner and the person prepares something -- even if it’s really horrible -- Hugh will eat it all and never have a bad word to say about it. I think people who are confident in their ability can be generous that way.
For as long as I’ve known him, when we eat dinner, there are always candles on the table, the table is always set. We’re only allowed to eat dinner in front of the TV when the Academy Awards are on; that’s the only time we’re allowed to do it. Otherwise, we’re at the table just the way I grew up.
When I’m signing books, I’ll ask people, “Did you have dinner yet?” or “What are you going to do for dinner?” I’m appalled by the number of people who will say, “I’ll just eat a burrito in the car, or I’ll just have some crackers.”
I need dinner to look forward to. Maybe because I quit drinking and I quit smoking, so all I really have to live for is dinner.
LRK: Do you and Hugh throw dinner parties?
DS: You know how when you throw parties or something, sometimes it just doesn’t work out. You do all this work, then you have people over and it just doesn’t take off for some reason. Afterward you think, “What was it? Who was it? Can we blame any one person in particular? Was it the combination? If this person had been sitting at the other end of the table, would it have been better?” It’s a chemistry project, really.
LRK: Someone once said to me, who was famous for giving parties, that the thing she worked hardest on was who sat next to whom at the table.
DS: I think that’s a luxury problem from the days of yore, really. Because now, I think the problem is how do you even have a dinner party anymore? I mean one person is lactose intolerant, another person can’t eat wheat, someone’s a vegetarian, someone’s a pescatarian.
That was a thing I noticed in France. People eat stuff there. You can actually have a dinner party. We’ve never had that problem in France.
LRK: What about England?
DS: In England, it’s more of a thing.
LRK: You wrote a great piece in The New Yorker about the Fitbit.
DS: I got a Fitbit at the end of February. I’ve a friend who has one. She’ll eat lunch while hula hooping, sometimes she’ll go to the Y three times a week. She was really involved with her Fitbit, and I immediately became super involved with my Fitbit.
It wants you to walk 10,000 steps, which is, for someone my height, like 4.2 miles. Once you do, it tingles. Then it emails you and it says, “Ten thousand steps. That’s great. Do you think you can do 15?”
I said, "I think I can." In no time at all, an average day when I’m home, I walk between 14 and 17 miles a day because of this damn Fitbit. My highest so far is one day I walked 25 1/2 miles.
LRK: But doesn’t this make Hugh's wonderful abilities at the table even more tempting?
DS: It’s great because if you’ve walked 25 1/2 miles, you can pretty much eat whatever you want to. The Fitbit tells you how many calories you’ve burned. If you walked 25 1/2 miles, you can have all the ice cream you want.
But I’ve met a lot of people on this book tour, and they say, “I have a Fitbit too, and I’m completely obsessed with it.” And I say, “Well, I don’t see it.” They say, "I left it at home.” Then don’t say you’re obsessed -- I would never.
Sometimes I charge it -- you have to recharge it. I’ll put it back on to run to the bathroom because I don’t want to miss those steps.