David Sedaris is one hilarious homosexual. He’s a New York Times bestselling author who has sold millions of books, he frequently contributes his side-splitting anecdotes to the pages of The New Yorker, and he’s one of the most beloved guests on NPR staple This American Life. Today, he lives with his boyfriend in England and has a life he couldn’t possibly have imagined as a young, awkward, sexually confused boy in Raleigh, North Carolina. With a new book, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, on the shelves and a movie, COG, based on one of his autobiographical short stories, making the rounds at festivals after its premiere at Sundance, Sedaris sat down to talk about everyone’s favourite subject: David Sedaris.
Matt Thomas: In your new book you talk a lot about the tricky relationship you have with your dad. How does he handle your sexuality today?
David Sedaris: I have a friend named Evelyn who I lived with when I was in Chicago. She’s 10 years older than me and is the kind of woman who gets a perm and wears oversized glasses and has a sign on her office door that says, “You don’t have to be crazy to work here but it helps.” Lovely person. So I said to my dad a while ago that I was going to be in Chicago and that I was going to stay with Evelyn. Then he said, “God, she’s a great gal. You should marry her.” I’ve been together with my boyfriend, Hugh, for 20 years and you’re telling me to marry her, and you think that little of her that she would want to marry a gay man. Geez.
How does Hugh deal with your dad?
My dad came to France for Christmas this year, and I walked into the kitchen just in time to hear Hugh say to my father, “I want you to get the fuck out of my kitchen.” Hugh was having a hard time fitting the goose in the oven, and my dad was giving him all these suggestions on how to fit it in there, and you just don’t do that to Hugh. In North Carolina, there was this thing called Amendment One that made gay marriage unconstitutional, and my father could not wait to tell me he voted for it. “It sends the wrong message to children,” he said. “That would be what?” I asked. My sister-in-law is gay and she’s been with her partner for years and they have kids, and she can’t marry the mother of her children. What message does that send? He was like, “A lot of times you get these girls in college and they don’t know what they want.” It was then I realized he listens to crackpot talk radio and he doesn’t know better and he’s trying to keep things straight in his mind. It really made me mad. My sisters are always like, “But he’s 90,” but I’m not going to give him that break. It’s been a long journey for him, but you know what? It has been a long journey for me, too. Even though I don’t want to get married, I don’t think it’s fair that men like my father should get to decide that.
Sometimes straight people really don’t understand what it’s like to have everyone against you.
One thing I’ve been doing on this book tour that I’m not so sure about is eating dinner while I sign books. I sign books for six hours, and by the time you get to the hotel and order room service it’s like 3am, so I have to eat before. It all started in Reno a few weeks ago when I ordered a steak. I waited until a straight guy would come along to get his booked signed and I’d ask him, “Can you cut me a piece of my steak?” And then he would do it. Then I would say, “Can you fork it into my mouth?” I didn’t ask gay men to do it, and I didn’t ask straight girls to do it because they would do it by nature. I only asked straight men to do it, and I realized it was my 20-year-old self’s idea of success: to have his meat cut up and fed to him by straight men. But they were, like, cool straight men.
I read often that you don’t consider yourself a gay author and don’t feel like you have a big gay fan base? I know for a fact this isn’t true, but where did you get that idea?
I went to a reading in New York City I was invited to be a part of for a particularly racy magazine called Straight to Hell. I wrote something in the voice of a character who was writing into Straight to Hell saying, “I’ve submitted five stories to you but you haven’t accepted any of them, but here’s another.” And it was a story about brushing up against somebody’s arm. He was like a really square guy who eroticized the experience and was saying, Here’s all my contact information if you need to fact-check it or anything. And after I read, this guy got up and read his story, and it was like, “And his balls were bobbing against my chin,” and I thought, ‘Wow, you can actually read that in front of an audience. I could never in a million years do that.’ I don’t think I get that many gay men coming to my book signings, but maybe if I wrote, “His balls were slapping against my chin” I’d get more of them coming out, but also less straight people, too. That’s not what stops me from doing it; I just wouldn’t know where to start. But gay guys deserve that kind of thing. We’ve had to watch and hear about straight people doing it forever.
You talk in your new book about finally breaking down and buying an iPad. On that note, have you ever seen or used Grindr? [I pass my iPhone to Mr Sedaris and give him a brief rundown of the features and functions of the app.]
Hmm, I’ve heard of this. I like to listen to Dan Savage’s podcasts, and I’ve heard people talk about it on there. To be on, you know on, all the time . . . I just don’t know. I can’t remember where I heard it, but someone said that when a guy wears a gold chain it means that he is always ready for sex, like always. There’s just something about that that seems almost exhausting to me, like a compulsion . . . (takes a pause as he scrolls through profiles). Wait, what does networking mean? Really? In France all these cafÃ©s are closing because people are texting each other and doing this kind of stuff and not meeting up anymore. It makes me a little sad. I just wonder what will happen when you forget how to meet people and shake their hand and introduce yourself. Maybe dating is a lost art. I never really dated anyone until I met Hugh. I just hung out with guys and had sex, maybe had sex a few times, and I always hoped something more would happen. I guess sex is always better with someone you don’t like, anyway.
The movie version of your short story COG stars the sexy, talented and openly gay Glee alumni Jonathan Groff, who plays the film’s main character, which is based on you. How has that experience been for you?
He’s a lovely guy. To see someone playing you in a movie — nothing prepares you for that. I gotta say I was glad they cast a gay actor. Whenever I see a straight actor play a gay character in a movie, I’m always like, “You couldn’t find a gay actor? I can’t walk down the street without tripping over a gay actor.” It would have pissed me off if a straight person had played me. The story itself is all about when I was living in Oregon and I was 20 years old, I lived in a trailer and picked apples and worked at the cannery and I was very lonely. The only people I knew were a born-again Christian who made clocks in the shape of Oregon and this guy who worked at the packing plant who I called Curly in the story. Curly lived in a trailer with his mother, and he brought me to his trailer one night, and in his bedroom he just had these dildos lined up on his dresser. Like big, huge dildos. And I thought, How do I get out of here? Corey Stoll, who plays him in the movie, also played Hemingway in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, and I remember saying at the Q&A at Sundance that if Curly had looked like Corey I’d still be living in Oregon, and I would be wearing adult diapers. I hate to be that shallow, but there you have it.
Speaking of teen idols like Groff, who was your first teenage crush?
A lot of those guys when I was a teenager, like David Cassidy, didn’t do it for me. Hmmm . . . Sergeant Carter on Gomer Pyle, USMC. I still think about him to this day. Everything about him, his voice, everything about him appeals to me.
In your new book you talk about the first time you ever saw gay guys having public sex in a library washroom, when you were pretty young, but when was the first time you ever told anyone about that story?
I don’t think I knew any other gay guys for a long time. I was still a virgin when I told somebody I was gay. The first gay guy I knew was a guy I went to junior high with, but I didn’t know he was gay then. He was a friend of my sister Gretchen’s back in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. My mother saw him and another guy making out at a high school graduation party we had at my house, and she didn’t say a word about it. Eventually, I knew some gay guys through a friend of mine and his boyfriend and their group of friends. These guys all had a house, and they called it The Manor. They were like – do you know RuPaul’s Drag Race and the terminology they use – things like “throwing shade” – this was how they talked, full-on. They were really funny guys. They weren’t the kind of gay guy I would grow up to be, but bless them. I was at a Denny’s in Montana recently, and my waiter was this 22-year-old boy with dyed blond hair and a big Chanel logo tattooed on his neck, and he was the biggest queen. And I thought, That kid is brave. When you think of what that kid’s life must be like. Brave.
Who was the first gay person you ever heard of?
Charles Nelson Reilly. I just thought he might be gay. Living in a small town back then nobody talked about being gay. There were no books and nobody ever admitted to it. Now a kid, even if you live in the smallest town, you might think maybe I’m the only gay person on my street or my village, but you know there are more out there. But back then you just really didn’t.
If you recorded an It Gets Better video for your younger self, what would you say?
I would say . . . that one day . . . one day men are going to cut you steak and feed it to you. It’s not going to be today, it’s not going to be tomorrow, but one day if you ask a man to cut your meat and feed it to you, he’ll do it.
Signed copies of Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls are available at Glad Day Bookshop, 598 Yonge St.
Catch COG at the Inside Out Film Festival on Fri, May 24, 7:15pm, at the Bell Lightbox, 350 King St W. insideout.ca, cog-movie.com