On writing: Giving your laughter a bit of weight

I finished the first installment of David Sedaris’ diaries a few months back. I would only recommend it to the most rabid of Sedaris fanatics. After all, they are, in fact, the Sedaris diaries. They are not categorized by subject or topic — there’s no attempt to add a coherent theme or an organizing principle of any sort. It’s just the Sedaris diaries, which for most would be uninteresting, perhaps a form of torture, even; but if you want to know the life of Sedaris and get an even better sense of his writing process, then it’s worthwhile. I had a good deal of fun with it, listening to Sedaris himself narrate the audiobook.

I also stumbled across a short six-minute video, linked below, of Sedaris discussing the diaries. In the vid he tosses out a few bits of writerly wisdom.

“..you need sorrow to give the laughter a bit of weight..”

~David Sedaris


Sedaris talked about how at the outset of his writing career, he worked hard on comedic bits, stuff to make people laugh. As a writer Sedaris is a bit unique in that a good deal of his material were bits that he read aloud. He would then document what worked and what didn’t work with his live audiences. As such, he developed a knack for humor writing. In the vid, below, however, he says, you need sorrow to give the laughter a bit of weight.

“..usually it’s the worst thing about yourself that people can relate to..”

Sedaris is also famous for his self-deprecating humor. In the vid clip below, Sedaris talks about how writers tend to pull back a bit when it comes to sharing the worst parts of themselves or their bad behavior. I’d say that’s true for me, as a writer. Maybe it’s not true for all writers, maybe a good deal of this depends on our personalities, but I think that in a general sense we writers tend to think that our bad selves will be received badly. It might be counterintuitive, but according to Sedaris, this isn’t true.

Usually it’s the worst thing about yourself that people can relate to, he says. Of course, it depends on how one presents it. There’s a delicate craft to writing about one’s broken self. It’s one thing to bombard a reader with one’s failings, it’s another thing to use one’s most embarrassing and vulnerable moments as part of a greater, compelling story.

Published by

Jonathan Erdman

Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

Consider this post an invitation, an invitation to comment and collaborate ~ In Solidarity, JE

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