David Sedaris wants to hear your jokes — the raunchier the better. "Don't be afraid of a filthy joke," he told his audience at the Brown Bookstore Wednesday night. "It can't be too dirty for me."
Sedaris, a humorist and author known for his deadly satire and a delightfully dark streak, visited the bookstore as part of a tour to promote his book "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk," a collection of animal-themed essays. He explained that, while on tour, he often picks one topic or question to ask all of his audiences — the theme of this latest tour has been to ask everyone he meets for a joke. As part of the reading, he shared some of his favorite fan-provided jokes, cracking up right along with the audience seated on the bookstore floor.
"What is the difference between an erection and a Camaro?" he asked. "I don't have a Camaro."
Sedaris also read "The Motherless Bear," one of the essays in "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk." "The Motherless Bear" tells the story of a bear who loses her stepmother and milks the situation for all the sympathy she can get before an ill-fated encounter with a performing bear gets her muzzled for life. As with many of the stories in Sedaris' new book, the animals in "The Motherless Bear" are honest, cringe-inducing reflections of the best and worst in human nature, depicted with Sedaris' trademark combination of humor and pessimism.
Sedaris explained to the audience that he first started writing stories for "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk" about seven years ago when he was given a collection of South African folktales. "I thought they were just awful," he said. "I said, ‘Hell, I could do better than that.' " Since then, he has written several animal stories each year and ultimately chose 16 to include in the book.
Sedaris also read aloud a story that did not make it into "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk" but is included on the audio book — a joyfully nasty story in which two flies talk over a lunch of vomit in a bus station. He read the story with gusto, relishing in the groans and disgusted squeals of the audience.
While the crowd of students, professors and community members were presumably at the bookstore to hear Sedaris read from his new book, he seemed to have the most fun telling jokes from previous tour stops and reading random observations from his diary.
Copies of "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk" were sold along with tickets to the reading, beginning on Oct. 21. Only 250 tickets were sold, which Director of Bookstore Administration Steven Souza said reflected the maximum number of people allowed in the upstairs mezzanine of the bookstore according to Rhode Island fire codes. Despite the limited space, the event was held at the bookstore at the request of organizers of Sedaris' book tour, which Souza said required the rearranging and clearing out of chairs and furniture from the upstairs space.
Souza said the event "ranks among the biggest" events the bookstore has hosted, possibly second only to former President Bill Clinton's visit in 2005. Before the event, Souza told The Herald he anticipated there being much more than 250 present, as even those who had not purchased a ticket were able to attend a book-signing session following the reading.
"Everyone's invited," he said. Sedaris "has a reputation of staying to meet his fans. As long as students are willing to stay, as long as he's willing to stay, we're going to stay."
Sedaris followed the reading with a brief question-and-answer session before moving down to the first floor of the bookstore to meet fans, sign books and, of course, learn some new jokes.