When David Sedaris appears at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa on Oct. 27, he’ll be signing copies of his latest book, “Happy-Go-Lucky.” He’ll be signing them for hours — his legendary book signings, complete with chats with fans, have lasted for as long as 10 hours — but don’t expect to hear him read from that book while he’s at the microphone.
The bestselling author and humorist relies on his stage performances to develop and test ideas for his future writing. If a joke falls flat from the stage, he said, it won’t work on the page. His audiences, he writes in “Happy-Go-Lucky,” are “that unwitting congregation of failsafe editors.”
Sedaris, the author of 11 books, including “Calypso” and “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” a regular contributor to The New Yorker and BBC Radio and an enduringly popular live performer, spoke with the Times from London, not long after the death of Queen Elizabeth in September. He and his partner, painter Hugh Hamrick, have long had a home in West Sussex.
“You have to be really careful here as an American,” Sedaris said. “There’s a certain kind of American woman who thinks if she wears a hat she’ll fit right in.”
He arrived in London after the ceremonies surrounding the queen’s death, he said. “I felt like I’d missed something. I’ve always been aware of her. She’s not my queen, but she’s been a presence all my life.”
He did come close to meeting her. “I got invited to Buckingham Palace about eight years ago. You know, the queen invites do-gooders for these ceremonies. So I saw her, but I didn’t meet her. I was maybe 6 feet away.”
Nevertheless, he said, it was an interesting experience.
“They give you rules when you come, like you should dress up. Duh. So I bought a new suit.
“They tell you, don’t bring a camera, don’t bring a phone. So everybody had a camera, everybody had a phone. Her guards were there, those big guys, the Beefeaters, and someone would take out their phone and the Beefeater would say, ‘Oh, love, could you put that away?’”
Sedaris said that lately he’s been considering becoming a British citizen. He and Hamrick have homes in New York and North Carolina, but because of his tour schedule, he says, he only spends about six months a year in the U.S.
“I’m looking at the U.K. in a different way. There’s free health care, but it’s also important to be able to get a real cup of coffee, so I don’t know.
“There are a lot of things to like. I was shopping in a Liberty department store, and the clerk who waited on me was such a total queen. He was like 50, and he had blond tips on his hair, and he was wearing four necklaces and a ring on every finger. I asked him about it, and he said, ‘We dress to serve you, my prince.’ Now I like that.”
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In “Happy-Go-Lucky,” Sedaris writes about how devastating it was for him to be unable to tour during the first part of the COVID-19 pandemic. His stage shows are not only a source of income, they’re a vital part of his writing process.
So he’s happy to be back on the road. “I went to 74 cities last fall, 42 cities in the spring. I’ve done a three-week book tour in the U.S. and a three-week book tour in the U.K.”
As he’s traveled, pandemic restrictions have eased, then disappeared, he said.
“On the first go-round, the theaters all required that people be vaccinated and wear a mask. Then people on the right said, to hell with it, and dropped the masks. Then people on the left did, too.
“A lot of these people, if they went to a diner and it had a sign that said no shirt, no shoes, no service, they’d probably go in shoeless.”
In several of the essays in “Happy-Go-Lucky,” Sedaris writes about his father, Lou Sedaris, who died last year at age 98. The son has mined their contentious relationship for humor (and occasionally pathos) in many of his books.
But as his father came to be affected by dementia, Sedaris said, “He just turned into this jolly, adorable man.”
That doesn’t mean his son spares him in “Happy-Go-Lucky.” If anything, he writes even more directly than he has before about his anger and resentment.
“Hugh will regularly mourn his father, who died 10 years ago,” Sedaris said. “But they had real conversations, a real relationship. I never knew that, not with the father I had.
“I was not allowed with my father to mention any success I’d had, or I’d pay for it. The first time one of my books was No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list, I thought, this is going to cause him weeks of sleepless nights.”
But, he said, “I’m not whining. He was a great character. I got a lot of great material. Some people are good people but terrible characters.
“My father was mean enough and funny enough to be a great character. I mourn the character of my father, but I don’t mourn the actual person. I’d had enough.”
Sedaris also writes in “Happy-Go-Lucky” about the stories fans tell him while he’s signing their books. Those stories often seem to develop a theme that recurs throughout a tour; on one, he writes, woman after woman told him about how much they hated wearing bras, and how taking them off at the end of the day was a little moment of relief and liberation.
He was astonished. “I grew up with all those women, so I don’t know how it evaded me,” said Sedaris, who grew up with a mother and four sisters in the house.
His recent tours have their own themes. “Completely by accident,” he said, “my U.K. tour became the vagina tour. I didn’t ask for it, but one woman after another would tell me a grade A vagina story.”
Sedaris’ performances are also notable for his stage wardrobe. The last time he appeared in Tampa, he was in the midst of collecting culottes. He promised not to disappoint.
“I just bought some more crazy tour clothes today,” he said. “I bought one pair of pants and thought, those aren’t culottes, they’re more gauchos. I’m not sure if they’re long shorts or short long pants.
“I have a pink shirt that comes between my ankle and my knee. It’s not a shade of pink you see too often. I asked the salesman what you wear it with, and he said, ‘Nothing.’”
By David Sedaris
Little, Brown, 272 pages, $27
If you go
An Evening With David Sedaris, presented by WUSF, starts at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 27 in Carol Morsani Hall at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. Tickets $39.75-$164.75 at strazcenter.org. Book sales on site by the Oxford Exchange.