Listening to recently released memoirs written and read by famed humorists had me thinking about their commonality, though the two relate very different life experiences.
“Al Franken Giant of the Senate,” written and read by Franken (book from Twelve; audio from Hatchett) traces his career path from “Saturday Night Live” writer to the U.S. senator from Minnesota. Franken’s candor wrapped in the comedic is a winning combination. So are Franken’s other mixes – satire of others and self-deprecation, heartfelt concerns and humor, and the deadpan delivery that moderates the depth of his emotions. Franken’s love of words surfaces again and again. His political beginnings are marked by “dehumorizing” as he reins in his satiric wit. Later, with an ironic twist, he describes his opponents’ “dehumanizing” him during slur campaigns. Franken is dynamic and the book is peppered with laugh-aloud wit, evocative descriptions, and explanations of government complexities with metaphors that even “politiphobes” can understand.
Like Franken, David Sedaris is dry-witted and honest as he reviews the eight million words in he has written in 156 journals over 35 years. His “Theft By Finding: Diaries (1997-2002)” (book from Little Brown, audio from Hachette) provides perspectives that weren’t always pleasant – viewing the bleakness of his early adulthood, and marking with incredulity his inability to write the words “alcoholic” or “gay.”
Sedaris, who is at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books on Friday, is a master of words. (The same came be said of Franken.) in “Theft,” Sedaris strings of details combine random thoughts into fresh and sometimes startling views. The introduction, for example, notes a journalist’s process. You begin by trying to impress those who might discover your journals and see you as “civic minded/big-hearted/philosophical.” Later you write about more interesting subjects: “questioning fondue, or describing those ferrets you couldn’t afford.” Finally, you are true to “the person who people might turn away from: the me that hates my own child, the one that put my perfectly healthy dog to sleep, the me who thinks deep down that maybe ‘The Wire’ was overrated.” He reveals a comedic sense of timing by following the last comment with a whispered, “It isn’t.”
Like Franken, Sedaris’ low-key delivery and wry tones contradict the longing, hurt and joy in human connection. His quiet reflections contrast conversations with street folk who mumble to many, but speak loudly (and often profanely) to Sedaris. Hearing his years of suffering at menial jobs – house moving, cleaning and yes, of course, as a Christmas elf – listeners await the happy endings he does not yet know. Journal entries are the perfect form for Sedaris’ quirky non sequiturs. He respectfully allows listeners to draw conclusions. They view changes in his writing style from the “clunky” early days, the development of his sly humor, increasingly keen observations about the world and himself, and refrains that repeat regardless of Sedaris’ skyrocketing into fame.