For a long time, the art of the humorous semi-autobiographical monologue was dominated by the magnificent, one-of-a-kind Spalding Gray; but paradoxically, his 2004 suicide, which might have been seen as its death-knell, opened up the field to a much broader population of monologists. Some of today’s best practitioners had their baptism of fire in the world of stand-up comedy; others came up through the ranks of broadcast journalists who were experimenting with the new possibilities offered by the internet, such as audio blogs and podcasts.
Public radio’s openness to experimentation with programming that follows no proven commercial formula played a major role in this happy trend. The Moth Radio Hour, which spotlights non-celebrities recounting personal anecdotes sans notes, has become a huge hit; but it couldn’t have existed if This American Life hadn’t been there first. It’s a bit flabbergasting to realize that Ira Glass’s extraordinary show, originating on WBEZ but now heard everywhere via the Public Radio Exchange, has been around for 21 years already. This American Life has garnered practically every journalism honor out there – including no fewer than five Peabody Awards so far – with its oddball recipe of themed magazine-format programs blurring the boundaries among factual reporting, personal memoir, spoken-word performance, editorial analysis and humor.
Of all the careers launched via regular appearances on This American Life, none has captured the limelight quite so winningly as the quirky commentator David Sedaris. His classic, only-slightly-exaggerated account of the travails of a Macy’s Christmas elf, The Santaland Diaries, was quickly picked up for rebroadcast on NPR’s All Things Considered and made Sedaris an instant star. Since those days he has become a best-selling author, his printed works including Barrel Fever, Holidays on Ice, Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary and Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls.
Sedaris is a very funny satirical writer, but one of his greatest gifts is his speaking voice, his tone and delivery at once dry, understated, gently caustic and bemused by the world’s absurdities. If you want to experience his observations full-force, you need to hear him – or better yet, see him live. Fortunately, Sedaris does a lot of touring, and has a reputation for sticking around after all his shows for as long as the venue will let him sign books and schmooze with his fans. His visits to the Bardavon have become a regular treat for mid-Hudsonites, and on October 7 he’ll be making his debut appearance on the stage of the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts’ Sosnoff Theater at Bard College.
David Sedaris’ performance at Bard begins at 8 p.m. on Friday, October 7. Ticket prices range from $45 to $70. To order, or for more information, call the Fisher Center box office at (845) 758-7900 or visit http://fishercenter.bard.edu.
David Sedaris, Friday, October 7, 8 p.m., $45-$70, Sosnoff Theater, Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Bard College, Annandale-on Hudson; (845) 758-7900, http://fishercenter.bard.edu.