The Week In Radio: A flush of joy from painfully funny family portraits

 

Is it acceptable to talk on the phone when you're sitting on the toilet? The American humourist David Sedaris says not, though his sister Tiffany would beg to differ. "Don't mind me," she has been known to say, with the strained tone of someone engaging in heavy lifting, while clasping the phone to her ear. "I'm just… trying to get… the lid… off this… jar."

We've reached the middle of the third series of Meet David Sedaris and you'll have to trust me when I tell you that right now you won't find anything better, or funnier, on the radio. If I ruled Radio 4, I'd have it on every day, preferably just after the Today programme, and again after World at One, to help lift us out of our soul-sapping, news-induced gloom.

The series is composed from readings of Sedaris's short stories and autobiographical essays along with entries from a diary spanning several decades. His tales, which frequently revolve around his family, are funny, but darkly so and there is more to them than merely the eccentricities of those than inhabit them.

Sedaris, a writer for The New Yorker, deals in light and shade, and on the significance of the small things within the bigger picture. These light/dark, happy/sad juxtapositions have seen him likened to Mark Twain, though Sedaris identifies himself more closely with stand-up comics. This is apt given his delivery that radiates sweetness, civility and only slight disenchantment at the world when revealing the most excruciating personal humiliations. This is also why he works so well on radio.

This week's story centred on a taxi ride he took with his sister from the hotel where he was staying in Boston to her house on the outskirts of the city. The journey triggered memories of their childhood as well as observations regarding her current situation: a middle-aged woman living alone, travelling around the city in a home-made rickshaw and, encouraged by her landlady, trying to rid herself of excess fat every morning by rhythmically pummelling her stomach and thighs.

Tiffany's jam-jar story was particularly unsettling for Sedaris, as he thought of all the occasions he'd fallen for it. "Try tapping the lid against the counter," he'd suggested at the time, or "Rinse it in hot water." Eventually, after much huffing and puffing, she would let out a long breath, murmur "There we go", and thank him for his advice. "And I would feel powerful," he recalled sadly, "believing myself to be the only man on Earth who could open a jar over the telephone." Only Sedaris could tell of his sister's multi-tasking during a bowel movement, and still come off sounding needy.

He's not without spikes, of course. Last week, Sedaris recollected dangling his sister Amy's Barbie doll out the back of the family station-wagon as a child after swimming lessons, reeling it in at intervals to assess the damage. His description of the battered Barbie, shorn of half her hair, her nose ground down to a bump, was delicious in its cruelty.

He also recalled his 10-year-old self listening to his father pointedly singing the praises of a boy called Greg who was a star swimmer, despite having "legs no thicker than jumper cables", and we got a glimpse of Sedaris as the outsider within his own family, a sponge for his father's barely disguised disappointment. To deflect attention from Greg, Sedaris would crack jokes about his sister Gretchen's puppy fat. "It was a way of changing the channel," he observed. "Switching in this case from The Greg Show to The David Show, which today was sponsored by Gretchen's weight problem." His mother, who seems to have shared her son's way with words, preferred to call it: "Stirring the turd."

twitter.com/FionaSturges

Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments