By Jenna Purcell
It was Oct. 26. For most students that meant nothing more than sudden cold weather, the midterm grind, and impending Halloween ruckus.
But thanks to collaboration between UC Santa Cruz Arts and Lectures, Bookshop Santa Cruz, and Mayor Ryan Coonerty, the otherwise average autumn evening brought with it a favorite visiting performer: author David Sedaris. In case anyone in the 2,000-plus crowd was wondering why, aside from pure entertainment, Sedaris would be lured to Santa Cruz once again, a smiling Coonerty clarified, “There really aren’t any benefits” to Sedaris’ appearance — just the opportunity for students to come back and see him year after year.
And year after year isn’t far from the truth. Sedaris, a bestselling author and Grammy-nominated humorist, has visited Santa Cruz three times in the last six years. This most recent appearance was at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, the smallest locale Sedaris will hit on his current tour.
“Because of the relationship built between Mr. Sedaris and Arts and Lectures over the years, he decided to be a part of our series despite the smaller venue,” said Jeanette Pilak, Arts and Lectures director. “It is a privilege to have the reputation of bringing nothing but the best in artists.”
Much of Sedaris’ comedic material is autobiographical. It covers his upbringing in North Carolina, education, drug use and homosexuality. This time around, Sedaris’ repertoire ranged from the troubles of undecided voters to the embarrassment of walking through Costco with nothing but an oversized box of condoms.
For audience member Kaylie Caires, a second-year at UCSC, topics like these made Sedaris’ performance very memorable.
“Sedaris comments a lot on the current events and common happenings of today, which really makes his work personal,” Caires said. “It’s as though he’s talking just to you — not to mention the fact that he’s stunningly hilarious.”
Many of those in attendance were longtime Sedaris fans, like Caires, but it appeared that Sedaris was able to rope in some new fans as well.
“Before attending the lecture with David Sedaris I had never before read any of his work, but now I am eager to do so,” said Leslie Winsor, an Arts and Lectures intern. “I think that his humor and writing style is a perfect match for Santa Cruz.”
While Sedaris’ wit has been considered universally infectious, this most recent engagement suggested a special connection to younger audiences. Throughout his performance, Sedaris made it clear that he had great respect for the college set, noting that he often brings small tokens of appreciation for them on his book tours.
“Teenagers have fun at their fingertips,” Sedaris said. “They could be taking bong hits out of a stolen car or getting pregnant in a neighbor’s tool shed. But instead, they choose to come listen to a middle-aged man read out loud. And for that they deserve my gratitude.”
More often than not, that gratitude is expressed with those infamous Costco condoms being handed out by the dozens to adoring fans. Another sign of his gratitude for fans: Sedaris usually starts his show by paying a brave young person $20 to get onstage and speak freely about a topic of his or her choice before the headliner takes the stage.
Referring to this tradition during his performance, Sedaris revealed that, despite the many amateur comedians he has brought onstage over the years, his favorite guest performer to date — with a very interesting choice of opening topic — came out of Santa Cruz.
“I will never forget that teenager in Santa Cruz who talked about rectal bleeding,” Sedaris remarked with a chuckle. “Now whenever I tell [an opener] they can talk about whatever they want, I mean rectal bleeding.”
Perhaps given the place Santa Cruz appears to hold in Sedaris’ heart thanks to that discussion of rectal bleeding, Sedaris allowed the recent show to break from tradition, putting Coonerty onstage to open the night.
During his repartee, Coonerty announced that from then on out, Oct. 26 would officially become David Sedaris Day in Santa Cruz. Whether the holiday will stick remains to be seen. Either way, it seems Santa Cruz will have trouble forgetting David Sedaris.
“We believe that [bringing Sedaris to Santa Cruz] allows all of the community to gain a deeper understanding of global and cultural issues we all grapple with,” Pilak said. “The fact that Sedaris does it with such insightful humor makes it all the more memorable.”