David Sedaris Talks Pretty on Hotel Rooms, Fleabag, and Hell

Published October 3, 2019

The author David Sedaris is known, perhaps above all else, for two things: his thoughtful sense of humor and his eye for surprising details. A bestselling author for books of personal essays like Me Talk Pretty One Day and Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls, Sedaris was famously discovered by radio host Ira Glass, who saw the author reading from his diary one evening and later invited him to read his essay, “Santaland Diaries,” on the air. The piece helped rocket Sedaris to fame. 

Along with his many books, the humorist has published many an essay on his family (his sister is the actress-comedian, Amy Sedaris), his relationship with his partner Hugh Hamrick, and the odd jobs he’s worked. In 2018, he released his latest collection, Calypso, for which he will begin an extensive book tour this month across the U.S. and beyond.

We caught up with Sedaris, who was staying at his home in a tiny U.K. village (“a hamlet with seven houses in it, outside of a village with 27 houses in it”) for a wide-ranging phone call. The conceit? A Rorschach Test (you know, inkblots). We asked the author about a series of topics ranging from death to the upcoming Presidential election to anal sex, and much more.

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HOTEL ROOMS

“Okay, I’m sorry. [Laughs.] You say ‘hotel rooms’ and I’m supposed to say what comes to mind? Suites.”

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THE PEANUTS

“Schroeder. I say Schroeder because that was one of the character’s names. I always thought that was such a good name. Sometimes someone is having a baby and they tell you what their baby’s name is and you just wince, you know? It’s one of those self-conscious names. But sometimes I worry that if I were to have a baby I would self-consciously name it Schroeder.”

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IRA (AS IN, IRA GLASS)

“Well, I mean, Glass would be my first association with ‘Ira.’ I only know one other Ira and that’s Ira Kaplan. Are all Iras Jewish? Probably if you wanted to, like, join the Klan, or something, and your name was Ira, they’d give you a real going over.

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DEATH

“I think being dead is just like being asleep—I hope. Wouldn’t it be awful if we found out there really was hell? We’d all go. But after the first, you know, 30 seconds, or something, you’d be waiting for it to stop. But then if it was an eternity … we can’t wrap our minds around the thought of an eternity. But to be in agony like that, twisting and screaming in pain for an eternity? I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist, though. Boy, are we going to be sorry when we’re wrong.” 

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TWITTER HUMOR

“Complete ignorance. I’ve never seen Twitter. I don’t even know what it looks like. I just feel like I’d have to either choose to have a life or to be on Twitter. I just don’t see how you can do both. I feel that way with all social media. Someone has to just walk down the street with his eyes up. I don’t have any kind of relationship with the telephone, like a cell phone. I don’t text people, none of that stuff.

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J-LO

“Oh, gosh. I just think of that Versace dress that she wore all those years ago. Remember it? It came down to the navel. It was years ago and she wore that dress and I guess she wore a variation on that dress for some fashion show last week. Her new movie? I live in a hamlet with seven houses in it, outside of a village with 27 houses in it. I don’t know where I would possibly go to see that movie.”

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YOUR SISTER, AMY

“What’s the first thing I think of when I think of Amy? Gosh! I just think of laughing really hard until … she’s the funniest person I know. Like, weapons grade funny.”

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MODERN ROMANCE

“Sexting. Isn’t that what young people do now? I’m always so amazed when somebody gets their phone hacked and then there are nude pictures of them. And I think, ‘Who on earth has nude pictures of themselves on their telephone?’ But I was in Norway a few weeks ago and I met this woman and she was talking about her daughter. I said, ‘Does your daughter take a shower after gym class?’ And she said, ‘No. She’s too afraid. The kids at her school are too afraid that someone’s going to take their picture with a cell phone and put it online.’ And I thought, “Wow, of course. That makes perfect sense to me.” I bet if you’re a celebrity, you don’t take a shower at the gym, either.

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PILATES

“Pilates, gee. Expensive. Amy goes sometimes. She told me how much it costs, and I was surprised.

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PHOEBE WALLER-BRIDGE OF FLEABAG

“Shocking! That first episode of that first season, it was just shocking to me. I can’t remember the last time I had my hand over my mouth for, like, five episodes! It’s hard to remember now, but wasn’t there a lot of talk about anal sex during the first episode? I didn’t expect any of it. And that was just … god, it was such a great feeling to watch a show and feel that way. Just completely so aware of my delight. Women talking about anal sex on television.” [Laughs.]

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MORTALITY

“First thing I think of is a tombstone. I mean, I don’t want a tombstone. I wonder—when I was in Norway last week, I went with a Swedish friend and she told me that funeral attendance is down 50% in Sweden since the early 1990s. And I said, ‘Why?’ And she said, ‘Oh, people are just too busy.’ I also imagine fewer people are being buried. But I thought that was so interesting that funeral attendance was down like that. Pretty soon people aren’t going to have anything to get dressed up for. You don’t get dressed up for work anymore. Funerals are, like, one of the few times that I think a lot of people ever wear a suit. So, now I guess you just say, ‘Well, I don’t really have the clothes, let’s just not go.’ I wonder if the same is true in the United States. Probably not, because church attendance. When you’re in Europe, nobody really goes to church here. I mean, they’ve got lots of churches. But they’re just kind of empty. No one goes to church in France, man.”

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THE UPCOMING U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

“The first thing that comes to mind would just be: vote! I’m so mad at people who didn’t vote in the last election. I feel like they’re the reason we’re in the position we’re in. You know, they had some minor problem with Hillary Clinton, so they stayed home. And look what happened.” 

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BOOK TOURS

“What is my feeling about book tours? Well, I went on a book tour in June and then I went on a book tour last June. Then I went the June before that. I like book tours. I’m happy to go on a book tour. Gee, but if I had to reduce it to one word, I guess I would say: stickers. I always have my eyes peeled for stickers. When I make a mistake in somebody’s book, I cover it up with a sticker. And I’m always looking for good stickers. Sometimes people give me stickers and it’s just not a good sticker, you know? Like, it’s too glittery, or something like that. But if you can find a really good sticker of a horse, or something? That’s perfect.”

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YOUR LAST WORDS

“I think I would just say, ‘Bye now!’ With a now on the end of it. That always seems like a good way to sign off. But I cannot imagine how anything I’ve said has been satisfying to you.”