David Sedaris on why having a mean dad might just be the key to success

FIrst aired on Q (21/05/13)

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David Sedaris is more than a celebrated American writer, essayist and humourist. His autobiographical tales act as a window into how funny and perverse the details of everyday life can be. Sedaris first gained attention in the 1990s with his darkly hilarious radio essays, and has since written several best-selling collections of personal essays, including Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day, and When You Are Engulfed in Flames. His newest collection is Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls, and he stopped by the Q studio this week to discuss the book with Jian Ghomeshi.

Sedaris is never without his notebook ("in case I thought of anything," he said), and he pulled it out at the beginning of the interview, making his host very nervous.

Like his previous collections, the essays in Sedaris's new book turn his idiosyncratic eye back on bizarre details from various points in his life and weave them together into poignant mini-memoirs.

An ongoing theme in Sedaris's writing is his difficult relationship with his gruff, but loving, father, whose affection is sometimes misread by his children as aggression. For example, when Sedaris was a young boy, he participated in competitive swimming (regular Sedaris readers won't be surprised to learn that he wasn't very good at it), but his father was always cheering the achievements of another boy on his team, while lobbing insults at his own son, telling Sedaris he was a "big fat zero," among other nasty things.

In retrospect, Sedaris said, it was an effort to toughen him up. Besides, Sedaris said, his mother was always very supportive and protective. "Having two supportive parents would have been...over the top," he said. "As it was, they balanced each other out."

Besides, Sedaris said, his father's hostility gave him something to fight against. "I always worked in opposition to my dad," he said. "That's what got me out of bed every day, thinking 'I'll show you.'"

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