When humorist David Sedaris came out on the stage of the Mahalia Jackson Theater with just a bottle of water and a notebook April 29, the audience might have been primed for the sort of outrageous family tales that made him a best-selling author and an NPR star. Instead, they got outrageous essays and stories, which were no less funny for being fictional. In "Just a Quick Email," a chipper, passive-aggressive yuppie sends words of encouragement to a much less fortunate friend ("You can either live in the past as a bitter, broken paraplegic, or ..."). Funniest of all were two selections from a forthcoming collection of essays Sedaris described as a bestiary. In one, a suburban Irish setter contemplates his unhappy marriage — his wife is having an affair with the bulldog across the street — and his immense relief when her puppies find new homes ("I don't care what you hear about stepparenting; it is different when they're not yours").
Sedaris also read selections from his diary (a story about getting a haircut in a black women's salon in Memphis was the best), and took questions from the audience, which turned out to be time that could have been better spent on more storytelling — such as his squirm-inducing wait in an endless airport line next to a proper old lady, while in front of them stood a teenage father with a baby under his arm and the words FREAKY MOTHAF***A printed on the back of his T-shirt. (Sedaris' explication of the choices the teenager might have found less acceptable for a flight had the audience roaring.) There were a few walkouts when he delivered some mild political material and ruminated on why you never see an unattractive Jesus on a crucifix, but the vast majority of the crowd loved it all and tromped happily to the lobby afterward for a booksigning. — Kevin Allman