9 November 2015

Sedaris’ Paris and American Movies

Podcast: The City of Lights in the Dark (6:56)
In this podcast, David Sedaris uses humor to give his writing an authentic tone.

When I first read “The City of Lights in the Dark” by David Sedaris, I enjoyed its deadpan humor. The entertaining tone is immediately established by the diction in its opening sentences: “carton of ticket stubs” and Sedaris “groans beneath its weight”, the list of American movies, and his knowledge about Paris being gleaned from “Gigi”. I know I am in for an unusual treat, sensing a fish-out-of-water kind of story. Who would not go see the landmarks such as Louvre or the Pantheon in Paris but instead binge-watching American movies? As I read on, Sedaris’ dry sense of humor continues to make me laugh out loud. He changes the movie title “Saving Private Ryan” to “It is Necessary to Save the Soldier Ryan”; and rebuffs tourists’ rejection “I didn’t come all the way to Paris so I can sit in the dark” with “but this is the French dark. It’s darker than the dark we have back home.” Sedaris compares and critiques two different cultures through his sharp observation and candor. He pokes fun at the talking heads of the movie theaters back home; marvels at the availability of the titles and good prices and mom and pop “revival houses” in Paris; and is bewildered of the tipping for the hostess of the theaters in Paris. By zooming in his personal lens to a popular media across cultures, Sedaris drives home his point of view with hilarity: “Sitting in Paris and watching my American movies, I feel the exact opposite of homesick.”

I also think Sedaris’ reading of his own work extends the point he sets out to make. To me, he does not try to be funny; his detachment and seemingly non-emotional involvement makes the piece funnier. His delivery is subtle, such as the slight tonal change and pause before he reacts to his friends’ comment, “Yes, this is French dark…”; and the subtle accent of the theater talking heads. His calm narrative voice is the opposite of over-the-top performance. He does not shout or scream or swear to be heard and to be funny.