We tried to explain the appeal of satirist/essayist/absurdist David Sedaris to our Turkish guide as our family exploded with laughter while passing around his latest book, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. Every time one of us put the book down, having just finished a chapter that dealt with his observations on China, or his father (new revelation: every night after work, Lou took off his pants and they stayed off, through dinner, unexpected guests, and the occasional disciplinary action against David and Amy), another of us would snatch it away.
“Oh, I see,” said our guide, “we have these kinds of comedians in the morning on the radio while we drive in to work.” No, no, we clarified. This guy is truly funny, while being a gifted storyteller and incredible observer. Things happen to him and his family that are side-splitting, while also being poignant. He’s a mordant, flamboyantly gay former druggie OCD storyteller who happens to be funny out loud. This somehow doesn’t translate well.
We debated among ourselves whether his writing is great without hearing it in his trademark whine. Yes, we decided—as the kids launched into a Sedarian chorus about their father’s predilection for finding odd-shaped mollusks in the Mediterranean. Our guide looked on, puzzled—fluent in English, but not getting the appeal—but definitely the voice.
At last, we found a way to explain. Our guide is a huge jazz fan. He had already heard our pale imitation of Sedaris. I sang for him the original Oscar Meyer Weiner song, then explained Sedaris’ tortured childhood, and his longing to sing the jingle a la Billie Holiday…then demonstrated as best I could. As the sun set and I saw my son grab the book from the seat next to me, we finally hit pay dirt. Our guide laughed along with my son, who was reading something about French dentistry and David’s attempt to communicate, along the lines of “They are serving mice on skewers!” Comedy does translate, if you work at it. As an English speaker, with Sedaris in hand, all you have to do is sit back and laugh through another crazy ride.