If you've walked into a bookstore or turned on a radio in the last 15 years, you likely know David Sedaris is one of the funniest people ever to get paid for wearing an elf costume. He's a frequent contributor to the New Yorker and This American Life, and his most recent collection of humorous essays, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, is his sixth bestseller. I spoke with Sedaris over the phone on the eve of his current book tour. ANDREW STOUT
MERCURY: So where are you right now?
DAVID SEDARIS: I'm in New York. I start my book tour tomorrow but I got to the United States early because Little, Brown, my publisher, invited their authors to the BookExpo here in New York. Have you ever been to a book expo?
No, I haven't.
It's basically a bunch of people getting free shit—and they don't care what it is. You could pile up rotting corpses and if someone put a sign on them that said "free," someone would take them. You could put feces in a bag—it could be a paper bag, even—and people would take it.
So with the book tour coming up, is it fair to say you're more in performance mode rather than writing mode?
My friends can't stand to be around me because I'm always acting like I'm being interviewed instead of realizing they're just my friend and they didn't buy a ticket to have dinner with me.
You made a very elite list in the June issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. They published a list of top places to go to meet guys and "David Sedaris readings" made the cut. Did the Cosmo people send you a certificate for that, or maybe even a grant?
No. That's interesting. But recently I've been allowing men 5'6" and under to get their book signed first, so maybe Cosmo may want to amend that: It's a good place to meet short men.
Why do so many of your colleagues speak about Ira Glass with such reverential awe?
Before I met him, all I ever wanted to do was have a book and write for the New Yorker. Just a few months after he recorded "SantaLand Diaries" for his radio show, Little, Brown bought Barrel Fever and the New Yorker called asking if I had anything to send them. So, it was as if he had a wand and floated into my life and said, "Here, let me give you everything you ever wanted." I owe him everything—I would not be in this hotel room if it weren't for Ira Glass.
And how is your hotel room?
[Laughs] Actually on the list of things to thank him for, this hotel room is not really near the top.