In class we discussed the impact of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim being non-fiction. Personally I find non-fiction to be a richer and more valid form of literature than anything else. Blame it on my inability to take people at their word, but I feel as though as a reader I can learn more, or have more of an experience relating to a story that has more truth in it than fabrication. Sedaris’ humor seems to be personally targeting himself which has made me as the reader increasingly more uncomfortable as I read more so than if I, or some cultural/social/economic group I am connected to, had been the focus of his jokes. Having made me uncomfortable I can only laugh at the fact that Sedaris has turned my horror and sympathy I feel for him into nothing but worthless chuckles. Descartes had said that the act of laughing naturally leads to sadness, but perhaps it can work the other way as well. After reading Descartes’ theory on laughter I had reached the question of what happens when the laughter stops? I get the feeling that Sedaris hopes to never find out.
In “Put a Lid on It” Sedaris writes, “I can’t seem to fathom that the things important to me are not important to other people as well, and so I come off sounding like a missionary, someone whose job it is to convert rather than listen.” (Sedaris, 203) This rather personal confession gives the reader insight into the role of the joker. The joker runs the risk of coming off as a converter rather than an observant listener every time he/she begins to make their joke. Following this statement he pokes fun at his sister Tiffany saying, “I just worry that, without a regular job and the proper linoleum, she’ll fall through a crack and disappear to a place where we can’t find her.” (Sedaris, 203) Some readers may skim through this paragraph and chuckle at the uptight obsessive compulsive that is Tiffany, while others like myself find in it the fear that Sedaris is trying to repress.
The core of Sedaris’ humor is not rooted in the hilarious awkward moments that seem to be the main focus of each individual essay but rather in the incredible sadness and pain he attempts to gloss over with wit. I find that the non-fiction-“ness” of this book is the reason that his humor is so successful. If this novel had been fiction it would be easier to brush off the absurdities and uncomfortable moments as false, loosing the humor in translation. Having the novel be painfully accurate (albeit “3%” exaggerated) depictions of David Sedaris’ life forces the reader to deal with these issues along with the author.
I find this tool a sort of scape-goating tactic, rather than deal with the uncomfortable reality that these stories present for Sedaris, he sugarcoats them with humor and makes the reader deal with consequences while he escapes. Through this he creates a relationship between author and reader where both have experienced the same thing and therefore have both earned to laugh it off.