I went to see a prominent literary humorist, probably the most prominent literary humorist- I’m not thinking about Billy Collins, either. If we travel in anything close to the same circles, you probably have an idea who I’m talking about. This writer is an affable, cuddly little man. Even in my usual prickly and neurotic state I still wanted to give him a hug. He seemed humble enough. Ticket prices didn’t require me to sell my mother’s organs; he didn’t have some academic sycophant felate his public persona before coming on stage; neither did he seem arch or snide as, frankly, many of the best writers are. He just read his amusing essays, a “whimsy” and even some journal entries. The packed audience was all smiles and laughter. Not to be too obvious about it, but Mr “Mason Aadaris” is a natural humorist. Where stand-up comedy meets literature, there he is. It might be that he is best described as a comedian. Apparently the humor gene is active in the family genome. Forget I mentioned that. The best performers make it look effortless, so that may be why I’m a bit confused, hung-up on this man’s status. You see, looking around the crowd, I saw primarily young and attractive hipsters, arty queers, (probably their to conspire with their fellow) and what I can only describe as the N.P.R. crowd-middle age, academic, staid in demeanor. These are all groups of people who choose their outings carefully. You aren’t likely to catch them at the Aerosmith Farewell Tour, nor would I have picked too many of them to buy tickets to see Chris Rock at the stadium nearby. I realize that I’m generalizing here, plenty of exceptions of everywhere, but I think most people would have described the crowd in similar terms and had the same perceptions. So why would we haughty types see this man and not Chris Rock. Mr. Kevin Sataris struck some his best blows using wordplay jokes about German pornography, resenting his dad, birds shitting in people’s mouths, (don’t second guess what I wrote, I heard what I heard) being gay, sperm-bank jokes, and quarreling with sist-brothers. This man is an old style humorist who simply writes funny little diddies and then goes on the lecture circuit! So how did the "cultural elite" deem him literary enough to be admitted to the high-art club? I guess I haven’t read much of him, but what I heard was a reinterpretation of a lot of stand-up.
Mark Twain did the same thing, and I don’t dare to impugn his (or Mr. Gadaris’s for that matter) literary credentials. I’ve read some description of Mark Twain as our nation’s first stand-up comedian. Twain said “Fine literature is like
. My writing is like water. Everybody drinks water.” That modest (cynical?) self-assessment may be the key. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were written in spare, authentic style which reflected the region that inspired it. His concise, sometimes journalistic style of writing was influential. From Hemingway to Hunter S. Thompson, you can see his influence. To be sure, Twain’s "The Damned Human Race” and a lot of his other non-fiction is brave and hard-hitting, but it may be that his populist style of writing is why we know his name today. Is that what I’m missing with S—daris? That his yarn-spinning seems so effortless and casual simply because he is such a literary genius? Is it his work that has inspired countless other non-fiction humorist/essayist to fuse writing with stand-up? Or maybe Sedaris’s true genius is taking the piss out of snobs by getting them to laugh at shit. Champagne