A sold-out crowd filled the Wheeler Opera House on Saturday to hear David Sedaris talk about getting a colonoscopy.
It is a testament to the best-selling humorist’s brilliant comedic timing and uncanny eye for the bizarre that the capacity crowd sat rapt and laughing throughout the colonoscopy tale and the rest of Sedaris’ 90 minutes on stage.
Other topics included overseas dentistry, anti-abortion billboards in northern Minnesota, and Christmas shopping in England.
Sedaris read new work, including fictional forensics monologues from his forthcoming book, “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls,” along with more than a dozen keenly observed diary entries from his recent speaking tours.
The colonoscopy narrative ricocheted from a story about a dinner party in Amsterdam, where a high school student explained the likelihood that people will soon live to 200 years old, which led Sedaris to worry that his own father, 89, might live that long.
“That would leave him a whole other century to call at odd hours and ask if I’d had a colonoscopy,” the 55-year-old writer deadpanned. “This campaign started in 1978.”
From there, the story brought Sedaris to soliciting feedback from people about the invasive procedure, learning the legend of the “farting room,” and eventually his own trip to a North Carolina endoscopy center. There, after a series of wittily observed interactions with nurses, the writer is given an IV of Propofol — the sedative that killed Michael Jackson — which left him “blissed out and farting,” offering a fingerwave to a nurse (“the type a leprechaun might offer a pixie floating by on a maple leaf’).
“I realized it was no different than playing a wind instrument,” he said of the forced gas-passing that followed. “There were other musicians behind other curtains.”
One of the fictional monologues included a character’s hope that the next iPhone will include a Taser, “which would be one less thing for me to carry around.”
He mused on French dentists’ and doctors’ downplayed diagnoses and inadequate catering to the tragic American ego: “For my $50 I want to leave the office in tears,” Sedaris complained.
Sedaris’ long-form essays offered big comedic meals, while his punchy diary entries gave the audience small comedic plates, with stories and observations collected mostly from his life on the road: A clever Tourette’s syndrome T-shirt observed in Tasmania, a story about pooping in one’s hand he picked up in Georgia, a crude joke about fellating Willie Nelson that he regrettably shared with an airline ticket agent in Austin, Texas.
Those entries made you wonder what material he might be picking up in Aspen. When the lights went up for audience questions, Sedaris offered a glimpse: “It’s insane how good looking the people in this town are — and how rich looking. Not like, ‘I made my own money.’ But like, ‘My grandparent and my great grandparents…’” he offered. “I feel like I’m a toad [at the Little Nell]. I feel like a toad leaping through the lobby. I don’t think there’s another place like this.”
The evening with Sedaris kicked off the winter programming for the Aspen Writers’ Foundation, which picks up again in February, with events featuring acclaimed and best-selling authors like Kevin Powers and Tobias Wolff (Feb. 1), Gretel Ehrlich (Feb. 20), Tea Obreht (Feb. 7), Karen Russell and Elissa Schappell (March 4) and closing with Cheryl Strayed (April 12).