Wednesday, October 1, 2008

David Sedaris: On Changing the World Through Writing

Last night I had the privilege of seeing one of my literary icons in his raw form, standing on a black stage with nothing but a podium and a stool that held a cup and bottle of water. So much joy sprung from me as I was able to see tiny sprite of a man unleash his fury of words many yet unheard in public forum on an anxious gala of listeners.

Firstly, I find it so impressive that a person is able to grip an entire audience through a story. I feel that the art of storytelling has become lost. Last evening David Sedaris read a host of new essays that have not been published, one of them he noted, amid chuckles, would be obvious why he didn't include it in his recently published When You Are Engulfed In Flames. The audience then expected a mediocre story, but settled in like a child at bedtime none-the-less. However, in my opinion this was indeed the funniest moment of the night. Sedaris spoke of the pretension that people place in their pissing contests of using accents on foreign words, and I feel that I have learned nothing from what he said, as i have chosen to write about it here. However, for those who were in attendance, I can assume that whenever we hear the word, Nicaragua again we shall have a wide grin spread across our faces. To catch everyone up, Sedaris once had a professor who spoke in boring monotones, however, when he came to certain words (often Spanish) he would add a flourish of accent to them. Thus in English we would say Nicaragua, and his professor would say Nee-har-aah-hwa, or some other phonetical spelling which I am unable to convey.

Now I know what everyone is thinking, GREAT, who cares about the show, that has nothing to do with improv or anything, in fact, I think you just want to brag that you went to the show. Congratulations, you found yourself amid the cultural snobby elite of Rochester, la-te-da. Well nay-sayers, I have something to say to your nay. What last night conveyed to me was how great live performance is. And as improv actors/comedians, we have the ability to perform in such ways all the time. We are a new form of storyteller, the only difference is that we don't know the story we will tell.

And to improve upon this, during the brief question and answer period a man (who had Sedaris as required reading for his Creative Non-Fiction class) asked the impossibly hard question, "What do you think that creative non-fiction is doing to improve the world an humanity? Which in and of itself is an absurd thing to ask, Sedaris first started to try to define creative non-fiction, which he summed up by saying something along the lines of: "In the story I read earlier about the train, the black man had told a lot of jokes, but when I went back to my diaries I had only written down three. I knew that there were others that were funny, and I needed a space for four jokes, so I found in my journals from later in that same year another joke that was funny, and just attributed it to that man, because it made more sense than to just say, 'and then the black guy told another joke that was funny, but I don't remember it.' So I guess that's creative non-fiction that fourth joke." Outside of that he had a hard time answering the question, and I don't know that he gave a solid answer, and I'm trying to connect that to improv by saying that we are working with what we have to make what is the best. We may not make the world an easier or better place to live in, but at least for a little bit of time each week or month or whatever, we make someone happy or we smile or laugh at some little bit of creation that up until that moment in time had never existed before, and that's kind of nice.

Oh, and by the way, that fourth joke was:

Q: What did the man with leprosy say to the prostitute?

A: Keep the tip.


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