Author David Sedaris shared with the Wood River Valley his rare ability to find humor in the mundane as well as tragic situations of life, drawing laughter from topics ranging from his childhood to religion to traveling abroad.
As the Sun Valley Center for the Arts' opening speaker for its 2009-10 Lecture Series, Sedaris filled Sun Valley Resort's Limelight Room on Sunday evening, with about 700 people attending the largest lecture in the center's history.
It didn't take the best-selling writer and frequent National Public Radio contributor to demonstrate why the tickets sold out weeks in advance of his appearance.
Like a literary form of the Seinfeld TV series, Sedaris' work, mostly in the form of nonfiction essays, takes an irreverent and insightful approach to what most people would hardly notice in the course of their day.
"It's like Canada in a thong," Sedaris quipped about Australia, reading from his story "Laugh, Kookaburra," which amalgamates anecdotes from his childhood with a visit to the "bush" on the other side of the world.
Of course, his subject matter frequently crossed over from innocuous personal history to more controversial, slightly macabre fare, often falling outside the boundaries of political correctness with cringe-while-laughing results.
"I'd like a Jesus so fat, he broke the first cross," Sedaris read from a recent entry in his diary, which he's notably kept for over three decades.
From his tone and context, this comment was not meant to disparage a religion, but rather a wry observation about people and how we are more prone to worship someone with washboard abs than a paunch and a comb-over.
His predilection for this kind of humor extends beyond his own oeuvre, evidenced by his recommendation that audience members looking to fill out their reading lists should pick up "Our Dumb World" by the Onion. Reading excerpts from this book, which comes from the writers of the popular fake-news Web site, Sedaris continued to find humor in war- and diseased-ravaged parts of the world.
"Yes, we're laughing at other people's misfortune, but why split hairs? At least you're laughing," Sedaris said.
Answering questions at the end of the two-hour talk, Sedaris said that while he usually doesn't get the opportunity to explore the cities and towns he visits for speaking engagements, he was able to walk along the bike path into Ketchum.
"It was a perfect day, with perfect fall weather, the leaves and mountains," Sedaris said.
Sedaris said his morning routine of push-ups presents a unique method of judging his accommodations on the road.
"You get a chance to smell the carpet and it smelled good here."