Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
1 August 2017

David Sedaris Q&A: “Oh, the work I’d do if I weren’t so full of hate for Trump“

The writer and comedian talks House of Cards, abstract expressionism, and the cartoon character Jonny Quest.

By New Statesman

David Sedaris’s books include “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls” and “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim”. He has a rubbish-lorry named after him in Horsham, Sussex.

What’s your earliest memory?

I recall being three years old and throwing an epic tantrum on the kitchen floor of our apartment. My mother was there but, fortunately, not my father, who would have beaten me to death. With good reason.

Who are your heroes?

As a child I greatly admired a cartoon character named Jonny Quest who had adventures and hung out with a kid in a turban named Hadji. They were so brave, those two. Now I’d say that trans people are my heroes. I can’t imagine the nerve it takes to ignore all the stares and the name calling, to get up every day and be totally yourself, no matter what the world thinks of you.

What was the last book that changed your thinking?

Hunger, by Roxane Gay. It’s a first-person account of what it’s like to be super-morbidly obese, and it brought up a number of issues and predicaments I had never considered. It also explained tattoos, which I’ve never really understood.

What political figure, past or present, do you look up to?

I always loved Shirley Chisholm, a black American congresswoman with a very distinctive way of speaking. She ran for president, a real uphill battle in 1970s America.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

The short stories of Tobias Wolff. I’ve read every one of them umpteen times.

Content from our partners
Railways must adapt to how we live now
“I learn something new on every trip"
How data can help revive our high streets in the age of online shopping

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I’ll take postwar New York. I’d like to have witnessed all the excitement surrounding abstract expressionism, and to have snapped up Willem de Kooning and Philip Guston paintings for next to nothing.

What TV show could you not live without?

I’ll be very sad when House of Cards draws its last breath. I love how evil the Underwoods are.

What’s your theme tune?

“Midnight Sun” by Abbey Lincoln. I always play it before leaving for a show.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? Have you followed it?

“Hold on to your foreign rights.” My late agent, Don Congdon, advised me of that way back in 1994. Did I do it? Yes.

What’s currently bugging you?

I’m very troubled by Donald Trump. It’s not that he’s petty and morally bankrupt, but that he’s mentally ill. “Well,” his supporters say, “at least he didn’t have a private email server!”

What single thing would make your life better?

Donald Trump not being president. Oh, the work I could get done if my heart weren’t so full of hate.

When were you happiest?

The fall of 1998, when I first moved to Paris and got an apartment. It was exactly the sort of place I’d dreamt of.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

I’d be a visual artist, though not a very good one. My problem was that I’d make the same thing over and over again, too scared to take a chance.

Are we all doomed?

I’m afraid so, at least individually.

“Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002” by David Sedaris is published by Little, Brown. He tours the UK in September

This article appears in the 26 Jul 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Summer double issue