John Lamb, Published November 11 2012
Sedaris scores lots of fans by reading from a book, but who else would you pay to hear read?
The best-selling humorist doesn’t (and doesn’t need to) dance, or juggle or wrestle bears or even sing – unless he’s doing his impression of Billie Holiday – to keep a crowd’s attention and win its affection.
The author may be a man of little action onstage, but his colorful storytelling needs only one aid – his voice.
Sedaris’ delivery – at different times questioning, sarcastic, sneering, sly, even vulnerable, but always engaging – has been his calling card since it was first heard by thousands, at Christmastime 1992, reading what has become his signature work, the essay, “SantaLand Diaries” on National Public Radio.
Since then, he has written six volumes of stories and essays and a collection of fables for adults, 2010’s “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk.” His new book of non-fiction, “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls,” comes out in the spring.
His voice – whether heard at readings, over the radio or on recordings, including a 20-disc box set – have become such a part of his stories that many fans now read his writings in his voice.
With followers paying $37.50 to see him read Tuesday, it would seem Sedaris is one of those figures people would indeed pay to see and hear read a phone book.
Which got us wondering, who else has a distinctive enough delivery that people would pay good money to see and hear them read some mundane listing of names, like a phone book?
As the proprietor of Zandbroz Variety in Fargo, Greg Danz knows more than a thing or two about books and readers and what makes people good at both. Danz also knows Sedaris’ work, selling the author’s books at his 2006 Fargo Theatre reading.
“Leonard Cohen,” Danz said of who he would pay to see and hear read. “He’s got good stage presence. And he does a lot of songs that are just like reading. Close your eyes and think of this old dude up there in his suit and hat. He’d do something cool.”
Musicians certainly understand how to command a crowd’s attention, making them popular picks for readings. Including the queen of the provocative, Madonna.
“She would somehow still put on a hell of a stage show,” says Mark Ilvedson, a Fargo native and writer, now living in Los Angeles.
Another provocative woman mentioned by the 40-some people who responded to a Facebook query was insult comic Lisa Lampanelli, who performs at the Fargo Theatre on Jan. 11.
“With a lot of sarcasm and vitriol,” requested Minnesota State University Moorhead librarian Brittney Goodman of the so-called “Queen of Mean.”
Ryan Lance of the Blenders is an old hand at working the Fargo Theatre stage. His vocal group The Blenders returns to Fargo for their annual holiday shows starting Dec. 20. But his pick was a political star, not a rock star. Or rather a great actor playing a great politician.
“Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln,” Lance says, referring to the actor’s portrayal of the Great Emancipator in Steven Spielberg’s biopic.
“I don’t think I could listen to that for long,” says Theatre B actor Scott Horvik, referring to Lincoln’s high-pitched voice Day Lewis creates in the movie.
Horvik performed the one-man stage adaptation “SantaLand Diaries” in 2005 with Theatre B, so his preferences are for actors with authoritative voices.
“Robert Vaughn,” Horvik says of the Minneapolis-reared actor best known for the 1960s spy series, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” “I’d pay $40 to hear Robert Vaughn.”
His other pick was grizzled character actor Sam Elliott.
“He just has a great voice, a great delivery,” Horvik says.
Other eloquent actors named by a number of people questioned included Sean Connery, Christopher Walken and Morgan Freeman, understandable since he played both the president of the United States (“Deep Impact”) and God (“Bruce Almighty”).
“Alec Baldwin,” said Fargo Public Library employee Nicole Hofer. “He makes everything sound good.”
USS Enterprise captains, or at least the actors who played them, William Shatner and Patrick Stewart, were also popular picks for the authoritative tones.
Not all of the voices had to be sonorous.
“Jacques Pepin, because his French accent is so cute,” says Fargo photographer Jill Ockhardt.
While some went with great leaders, one went with a great announcer.
“My choice is Vin Scully,” says Chris Dorsey, a co-worker here at The Forum. “I turn on Dodger games with no interest in the team just to hear him talk. Truly great.”
Even a journalist made the mix.
“Christopher Hitchens,” says Margaret McGlynn, better known as Dickinson-based singer Mousey McGlynn, of the late contrarian. “I could listen to him talk circles around people all day. Although, knowing him, he wouldn’t be able to get through a phone book without finding something to contest.”
The most requested voice is one known well to people in the area, indeed one that is heard every weekend: Minnesota author Garrison Keillor.
But some of those votes come with a caveat just to get the writer, not Keillor the singer.
“Just so he doesn’t
‘sing,’ ” says Catherine McMullen, an English professor at Concordia College. “Drives me nuts.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter
John Lamb at (701) 241-5533