Cleaning Rags to Riches

A career as a successful writer can be a long time coming. Before hitting it big, writer David Sedaris didn't just pop into an employment office and ask, "Will you get me a job as a best-selling author?" He took the same crappy gigs any college dropout might take. He was a mover, an apartment cleaner and, most famously, a Macy's Christmas elf in unsightly green tights.

Sedaris's horrid experiences as a corporate children's punching bag inspired him to write SantaLand Diaries. In '90, Ira Glass, the producer of National Public Radio's Morning Edition, saw Sedaris read the story in Chicago and went ape, inviting him to read the piece on the show. After the broadcast, Sedaris received writing offers from the soap operas Loving and Guiding Light and the sitcom Seinfeld. But he decided to stick with his own projects. "These people are really nice for calling," Sedaris told The New York Times. "But just because I write what I do doesn't mean I can be a television writer."

To date, Sedaris has written three best-selling books -- Barrel Fever, Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day -- and he'll be putting out a new book in June of next year. He also contributes to Esquire magazine and has collaborated on a number of plays with his sister, Amy Sedaris (of Comedy Central's Strangers with Candy). The siblings call themselves Talent Family; one of their plays, One Woman Shoe, received an Obie Award, and another, The Book of Liz, was published in book form by Dramatists Play Service in fall 2002.

Named Time magazine's 2001 Humorist of the Year, Sedaris is no one's elf anymore. He's one of NPR's most popular commentators, and his readings sell out venues across the country, including Carnegie Hall. Early in his career, he continued to clean homes in Manhattan by day and wrote by night. He claimed he couldn't write during the day and needed something to occupy his time.

The second of six children in a big, fat Greek family, Sedaris now has homes in Paris, Normandy and Manhattan -- and little time to clean any of them himself. He resides primarily in Paris with his partner, Hugh Hamrick. "I tricked him into being my boyfriend so I could live in his house in France," Sedaris explained to The Advocate. "I got him over to my house under false pretenses. Then I got invited to his house and hid notes in his fridge and freezer and his shoes telling him to be in love with me."

Playing down sexuality as an issue, Sedaris has said that whether someone is gay or straight shouldn't make a difference anymore. As for "coming out," he suggests telling one friend you're gay; that friend, he's sure, will pass it on, and the word will get out on its own.

The author finds it distasteful when journalists write investigative-type articles exposing the sexual preferences of celebrities; after all, he says, it should be their right to divulge that they're straight or gay or whatever, not some journo's. Closet-door opener, it seems, is a job too odd even for Sedaris.

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Eric A.T. Dieckman