Category Archives: Comedian

Drawing a giraffe is the least bizarre thing David Sedaris’ done

David Sedaris

Writer David Sedaris

David Sedaris (web | wiki) is a comedian and essayist known for his numerous memoirs including Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000) and When You Are Engulfed in Flames (2008). His latest book is Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls (2013). Even if you don’t know him by name, I can guarantee you’ve heard him on National Public Radio and This American Life.

I first read Sedaris’ work years ago when, traveling through Denver, I bought When You Are Engulfed in Flames. Passing through for a wedding and not feeling particularly social, I’d escape to my hotel room or an abandoned broom closet to read. Family hunted me down, telling me to put it away, but this only led me to smuggle the book around as illegal contraband. I’d hold it beneath tables and spend more time in the bathroom than was necessary.

Like everyone’s first time, though: The experience was shorter than I’d wished (and laughter was involved). C’est la vie.

Since then, I’ve read most of his books and to this day regard him as the master of the personal essay. In fact, when feeling literary, I’ve written my most memorable GDBPWSNBDG articles with him in mind. I hope it shows.

On November 8, 2014, Sedaris was in Houston as part of a 39-city tour. As his visit coincided with my twenty-fourth birthday, I thought it’d be a nice treat. So my partner K. and I bought a pair of cheap tickets that placed us a few feet from the back wall, three stories up, in a theater that could seat nearly 3,000 people. When he came out to speak, he was merely a white beam of light in the distance — a little, soft-spoken angel telling us vagina jokes:

A woman goes to her gynecologist, and after getting in the chair, the doctor takes a look. “You have the largest vagina I’ve ever seen,” he says. “You have the largest vagina I’ve ever seen!”

“You don’t need to say it twice,” the woman answers.

“I didn’t.”

When not telling jokes, Sedaris read a few unpublished essays and told off-the-cuff stories about his experience on tour. What I’m relaying can only be described as “Herculean” (and a little gross). So bear with me.

“At one of the early signings, a man approached me,” Sedaris began, “and he had holes in his head. Seeing some spots on the side of my face, he told me, ‘I know what that is — it looks like melanoma. You should really go to a doctor.’” This Sedaris did, being told they were just liver spots and nothing to worry about. Still, the doctor burned them off, leaving two blisters that –- the next day –- popped on the airplane.”

That’s medical injury number one.

For a while now, Sedaris has had a benign tumor near his ribs (“The size of an egg”) and chose not to get it removed because no doctor would let him keep it (“I mean, it’s mine. I made it.”). The reason for this, dear reader, is because he wanted to feed it to snapping turtles (that’s another story). When he mentioned this fact at a reading, a Mexican woman approached him saying she worked at a clinic for low-income families and could have it cut out in forty minutes. When the book signing ended around 1:00 a.m., the pair crossed the border (“The border to New Mexico, I mean”), did the deed, and then went to find the woman’s partner to “borrow” painkillers. Eight stitches.

Lastly, mere hours before his Houston reading, he had a root canal. Houston was his fifth stop.

“And I’m still going,” he concluded, “Can you say ‘Entertainment Industry champ’?”

What I’m trying to convey with this story is that Sedaris is an insane son-of-a-bitch and asking him to draw a silly picture is pretty low on his absurdity scale.

Unlike other signings I’ve attended, Sedaris is a conversationalist, often asking questions, bantering. Other writers I’ve met merely scribble their name, say “thanks” and push you along. This is why his events carry into the early-a.m. as he refuses to leave until everyone’s had their book signed.

When it was our turn, K. and I saw he was trying to eat his dinner set in front of him. “How are you feeling right now?” K. asked, handing over her copy of Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk (2010). Before the night was over, he was probably asked that question no less than two thousand times.

David Sedaris Knife Art Drawing

The first in my spin-off website: Knives Drawn By People Who Draw Knives Unprovoked.

“Let’s see,” Sedaris mused, taking a bite of chicken. As he chews he lists everything he’s been through: “I have a hole in my face, eight stitches, and had a root canal today. I’m pretty fucked up.” While speaking, he draws in the book an outline of a knife, which he proceeds to color with the markers he keeps in a flannel pencil bag. Though doped up, he moves in spurts — tucking his arms into his body and poking around the bag. He reminds me of a hen pecking for seed.

“Did you really run off with a stranger to have them cut a tumor out of you?” I asked, incredulous that such a thing even happens.

He looked up from his drawing, nodded, and returned to his art, adding a drop of blood to the silver blade. As he does so, I’m awed by his presence. Of every professional writer I’ve met, Sedaris is no doubt the most entertaining. Though my instinct is to dismiss his demeanor as an act, as if he was playing the part of the character he writes about — nope: He really is the character. When he tells stories of odd exchanges he’s had at book signings, polls he’s conducted, and so on, he’s serious.

Finally, I asked him to draw a giraffe, making the standard pitch, while he patiently looked up with another piece of chicken in his mouth. Before I finished he reached out to grab my notebook (my diary) from my hand and flatten it in front of him. Holding his sharpie like a knife, he stabbed the page and drew lines so thick they bled through. Handing it back, he shoved another piece of chicken in his mouth as we moved along.

Before leaving, I turned to look back at the hundreds of people snaking up several flights stairs. They were just as excited as we were. No doubt they’d ask for wilder things than a giraffe drawing.

In that moment, I wondered which story he’ll tell next that begins here.

David Sedaris Giraffe DrawingHe was clearly on drugs.

Author and Essayist Sarah Vowell

Author Sarah Vowell

Sarah Vowell (Wiki| Web) is an American essayist. She is the author of six books whose covers you definitely recognize, including The Partly Clouded Patriot (2003) and The Wordy Shipmates (2009). She’s a brilliantly talented writer and for many years was an editor for This American Life. Check out her TAL stories here.

This giraffe comes from Mr. Will Moore who met Vowell when, in spring 2013, she spoke at St. John’s College in St. Peter, MN. As he put it:

Sarah was hesitant, looking nervous and unsure the whole time, self-depricating in her normal fashion — but she went with it.

Sarah Vowell Giraffe

Author and Comedian John Hodgman

John Hodgman is a comedian and writer whose most recent book is That is All (2011). Odds are you have probably seen him on The Daily Show or may recall the fact that he played the “Windows PC” on those “I’m a Mac; and I’m a PC” commercials. If those are the only mediums you know him from, I would encourage you to check out his contributions to NPR’s This American Life, which are actually pretty good.

Recently Mr. Hodgman (wiki; Twitter) did a show in Morris, MN, and even though I was unable to make the first two hours (I had to speak at a banquet) I was able to cut the drive back a bit short and make the last 45 minutes or so. Unfortunately, after the show when I was approaching him for a giraffe, my colleague Lucas Felts beat me to the punch – and what was I supposed to do? Ask for a second giraffe?

Please.

Let’s not flood the Hodgman giraffe market, now.

He’s trying to look grumpy. I just have chronic grump-face.

So I simply sunk away, thinking that I would never get a chance to share a few words with one of my favorite comedians (I was actually invited to have lunch with him before the show but couldn’t make it as I was at the aforementioned banquet). After hanging around long enough chatting with friends, I ran into someone I knew who was Mr. Hodgman’s guide around campus and he was willing to let me into Mr. Hodgman’s green room  to get an autograph.

This is the conversation as I recall it; I assure you it is neither interesting nor funny. If anything, it provides insight into how awful of a conversationalist I am (hence this website’s ability for me to BS small talk).

Closing the door behind me, I leaned in to shake his hand: “It’s a pleasure to meet you, John.” As the words slip from my lips, my inner Southern Gentleman regrets being so informal. Who am I to refer to him by his first name? It’s not like we’re friends. I’m just some dude. Now I feel like I have to overcompensate: “Uh, well … I was hoping you could sign my copy of … The Chomsky-Foucault Debate (2006).”

He looks at it for a moment, silent.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t actually own a copy of your book,” I say. It was either Chomsky-Foucault, which is actually a pretty good read, or Augustine’s Confessions.

Studying the cover, “Of course. In fact, I shall sign it in this orange crayon that happens to be lying right here.”

Yeah, we’re clearly a public school.

“Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault … And John Hodgman”

Unable to think of an exciting question, I remembered that he had referenced in his set the fact that he went to Yale. “When you studied at your own accredited four-year institution, what was it you studied?”

“I studied literary studies, so this isn’t exactly too far removed of what I did. I don’t remember this debate specifically, but it was this kind of stuff that came up a lot.”

“Yeah, well I would like to thank you for taking the time to sign my book. Also, I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed your show … even though I didn’t feel as though there were enough Foucault references.”

Hell, there aren’t enough Foucault references in general.

“Oh ….”

“… So it goes, I guess.”

“Well, next time I’m around I’ll be sure to throw some in just for you.”

“I’d really appreciate that. It was a pleasure meeting you, sir, and I’ll be sure to get out of your hair because I know you have to fly out in the morning.”

We snap a photograph. He makes an effort to appear grumpy. I have chronic grump-face and can’t help it.

“It was nice meeting you, sir.”

“It was a pleasure meeting you as well.”

And that’s the time I told John Hodgman he didn’t reference Michel Foucault enough.

Also, it was when I realized that tea cup pigs are freaking adorable.

Writer and Comedian Paul Provenzas Pretty Awful Giraffe 4 22 11

Comedian and Filmmaker Paul Provenza

Paul Provenza is a comedian, filmmaker and writer perhaps best known for his long list of acting roles and 2005 documentary The Aristocrats, which is about the infamous joke of the same name. For those who may be not familiar with it,

Comedian and Filmmaker Paul Provenza

“The Aristocrats” is a longstanding transgressive joke amongst comedians, in which the setup and punchline are almost always the same (or similar). It is the joke’s midsection – which may be as long as the one telling it prefers and is often completely improvised – that makes or breaks a particular rendition [Wikipedia].

For those in the audience comfortable with vulgarity in its many films, it’s something that I would recommend; for the queasy, you should probably refrain. Here’s the trailer [SFW]:

So following my traumatic experience with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder, I have actually become a little nervous when soliciting giraffes (and yes, I am not blind to the irony of this). Thus I have been working to develop new approaches that will (hopefully) make me feel like less of a tool in my quest to Catch ‘Em All. Obviously it’s a work in progress, but my experience with Provenza may have led me on to the slyest approach yet ….

One of the guests at the 2011 America Atheists Convention, Provenza did a brief reading from his book ¡Satiristas! (2010). Catching him as he was leaving the room, I pulled him aside to ask a few questions about his work (his documentary was a Holy Grail of Naughty in my neighborhood). Slowly edging himself away to make a book signing, I seized the opportunity and asked him if I could have his autograph. Happy to do so, he wrote a nice note (“Fight the Imaginary Power!”) punctuated with what I can only assume to be his name. While he still had the pen in hand, I decided to strike:

“… And draw me a giraffe?”

He looked up from the paper, “what?”

“A giraffe. It’s for the internet.”

He just looked at me. What else was there to say?

I’ve never tried to do the Aristocrats joke myself, but I’m sure it would go something like this: “A family of giraffes walk into a talent agency hoping to be a part of the best agency in the country, capable of scheduling a meeting without much delay (they’re fucking giraffes i.e. hard to miss) one agent asks to see their act … [UPON REFLECTION – DELETED] … And that’s why this giraffe’s neck hurts.”