David Sedaris’ evening at the Virginia

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By Lillian Barkley

David Sedaris has a key to the city and promised to steal Champaign’s riches while its citizens sleep.

The author was honored with the key by Mayor Don Gerard before his performance, “An Evening with David Sedaris,” at the Virginia Theater on Sunday.

“He was everything that’s advertised,” said Gerard, who is a long-time fan of Sedaris, as he waited to get his paperback copy of “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls” signed. “You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who was anything but delighted by this.”

The paperback release was the reason for Sedaris’ latest tour, which included tumors, ebola and turtles, all told in Sedaris’ anecdotal, humorous style.

Sedaris stood alone on the Virginia’s stage, wearing an owl-patterned tie and a turquoise pocket square with white dots.

The two hours he spent on stage featured him reading stories from individual sheets of paper. He said some of his acquaintances don’t refer to it as real work.

“Anyone can turn pages and read out loud,” he said.

But Sedaris is an essayist with a keen sense of comedic timing and cynical wit. With only his voice, he painted a unique midnight scene of a doctor he met after a show. She removed a benign tumor from his body and sent it on ice to his sister’s house.

He planned to feed the tumor to his favorite snapping turtle, Leviathan, after the tour ended in May.

The story didn’t have an official ending, since the tumor was still frozen at his family’s North Carolina beach-house.

Sedaris’ readings are constantly evolving throughout the tour.

“It’s sort of like a living art,” said Joy Phaphouvaninh, Sedaris’ fan and visiting assistant director of curricular integration for Student International Academic Affairs.

Sedaris said that in his free time between shows, he goes through his stories and edits them. When the audience issued a collective cough, he said it pointed out a detail that didn’t work.

One element of his show that changes most frequently is his diary reading.

“It was a lot edgier than I thought it would be,” Phaphouvaninh said.

The segment was so explicit that he scratched behind his ear to signal that sensitive audience members should cover their ears.

As he sipped water from a wine glass and told jokes that would make a sailor blush, a symphony of laughter filled the theater.

Even with his somber stories about his mother’s alcoholism and eventual death from cancer, there was always a punchline to make the audience smile.

“It’s honest. He somehow makes even the worst things in life and people laughable,” Phaphouvaninh said.

In the east lobby of the theater, the Illini Union Bookstore was selling paperback copies and audiobooks of his work, including New York Times Best Sellers “Naked,” “Holidays on Ice,” “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim” and “When You Are Engulfed in Flames.”

Audience members were also encouraged to have their book signed by Sedaris after the show. Ushers handed out slips of paper where fans could write their name and message.

“I think this is the most impressive thing,” Gerard said. “He’s going to spend more time talking with people individually than he did on stage.”

Indeed, the line’s movement was due more to people leaving than actually having their book signed.

But at the front of the line, Sedaris was engaging with each person who came up as he signed their book.

He addressed them by name, asking them everything from where they got their jacket to the best place in town for coffee.

The key to the city sat prominently by a pouch of Sharpies, and he even took time to draw it in one of the books he signed.

Sedaris is no stranger to honors: He was named Humorist of the Year by Time magazine in 2001 and has been nominated for three GRAMMY Awards for Best Spoken Word and Best Comedy Album.

His latest recognition is yet to come: He will meet Queen Elizabeth II.

When he’s not traveling, he lives in West Sussex, England, with his partner Hugh. He has earned the nickname “Pig Pen” for cleaning up litter, as well as an audience with the Queen.

For now, Sedaris will have to be content with the key — what is essentially a “cheap paperweight,” Gerard joked.

At least he will have a new diary entry to read at his next show.

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Correction: In the April 28, 2015 edition of The Daily Illini the article “David Sedaris’ evening at the Virginia” stated the portrait of Sedaris was courtesy of Hugh Hammerick and the photo of the book jacket was courtesy of David Sedaris. However, the portrait was courtesy of Hugh Hamrick and the photo of the book jacket was courtesy of Little Brown. The Daily Illini regrets the error.