David Sedaris and Andrew Sean Greer for humor, loss and books

THugh Andrew Sean Greer and David Sedaris met fairly recently – after Greer reviewed Sedaris my best In 2021 – they were already joking like old pals, each fighting to get the last laugh. The authors have a lot in common: they are celebrated for their humorous writing that brilliantly examines humanity and for making compelling observations about the world we live in. They also love to shop. The beginning of their friendship included a shopping trip in New York City. “Andy will try anything,” Sedaris says. Greer raises the stakes: “Everything!”

There’s one more thing these two authors have in common: they both travel a lot around the United States Jarir’s new novel Less is lostThe sequel to his 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel lessNow, it follows the successful but awkward novelist Arthur Not on a road trip across the country. Greer spent time on the road researching what such a trip might entail—and found himself traversing townships, visiting dive bars, and draped sunglasses in an effort to blend in with the locals. (The last story did not work, and the protagonist of his novel is going through a similar crisis.) These moments and more come together in a laugh-filled story of writing, privilege, and loss.

Reflections on similar topics can be found in Sedaris’ latest collection of articles, happy go lucky, which was published in May. in it, cedaris Describe his experiences wrestling with him epidemicA book tour of multi-city and the death of his father. While his book is non-fiction and a gritty novel, both explore what it means to be a person in America and how to deal with loss, all through a comedic lens.

Read more: 5 funniest books ever

In an international phone conversation, Jarir from San Francisco and Sedaris called from his home in Sussex, England, the authors discussed their recent travels, how they found humor at a loss, and where they look to learn more about the people around them.

Time: Both of your books feature travel around America. What is your favorite place to visit in the United States in the past few years?

David Sedaris: I was really surprised in Durango, Colorado. Looks like they filmed a file western there. They have a flowing river that feels like you can bend over and drink from. There’s a trail running on both sides for miles and miles and miles. I walk until my toenails turn black and fall off, so it’s great to get up in the city, go outside my door, use this lovely driveway, and all you hear is the gushing water. What is your place Andy?

Andrew Sean Greer: Bisbee, Arizona. It’s all the way to the south, almost on the border and near New Mexico. I was driving trying to get to Tucson and spent the night, parked an RV there. I went to a rock ‘n’ roll show and then went out with the singers to a bar. She was very charming without being hipster.

Sedaris: did you dance?

Jarir: I danced.

Sedaris: Do you dance wildly?

Jarir: I do. I often stop by if I go to a show. People around me will say, “Please stop dancing,” and the song that is playing is called “Dance, Dance, Dance.” I do what they ask me to do! But I am not aware of my surroundings.

Sedaris: What were you doing in the RV?

Jarir: This was the RV trip I took to research Less is lost. I went to every small town I could find on the map.

Sedaris: Then what do you do? Do you keep a diary?

Jarir: I do exactly what you do. You carry a notebook, right? And you write constantly? This is what I do. Like you too, I’m totally curious about people.

TIME: What is the best mode of transportation to learn more about people?

Sedaris: The bus! People’s phones don’t necessarily work on trains, but they do work on buses. It has changed a little. It was like back in the day, on a British bus, everyone was talking on the phone. You’ve never heard so many languages ​​spoken in such a small space. But now most people are texting or looking at Instagram, and all of their friends are like them. I wonder: do you pick your friends because they look exactly like you? Do my friends look like me?

Jarir: In Lyft’s early days, there was a fantasy that the kindergarten teacher needed some money to go to Spain, so she got into her car with her. I’ve been talking to everyone throughout the trip, and I loved it. It’s all gone now.

Sedaris: Why did he go? what happened?

Jarir: Others call their phones, so they expect they won’t talk to you anymore. But sometimes they do. The driver I got in New York the last time I saw you, we had a long conversation where I told him I’m gay and he said, “You really have to try this with a woman first before committing. You should go to Thailand and hire a prostitute.” I haven’t heard anything like this in a long time. I was like, “Tell me more! Where should I go?”

TIME: A thread in both your books is real and fictional David suffering many mishaps and humiliation. How do you use embarrassment to elicit sympathy?

Sedaris: Usually the most embarrassing thing you can come up with is what most people can relate to. We’re not that different, and if something embarrassing happened to you, it probably happened to a lot of other people.

Read more: The 33 Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2022

TIME: The past few years have been a tough time. What role do you think humorous writing should play when so much politics and even culture focus on doom and gloom?

Jarir: Well, I get all my news from late night TV clips. This is the way I handle things. They seem to be telling the truth more.

Sedaris: If you can get people to beat themselves up, you are already doing a public service. One day I was with a friend and she said, “Look at that guy in the corner. Look how privileged he is—you can only tell how he used to get his way.” She looked at the man she was talking about. Then she said, “Did I tell you? I went to my hotel room last night and they took all the small pillows out of my room when they did the turndown service. I called downstairs and said, ‘I can’t sleep with big pillows. I need someone to bring my little pillow back.'” She was just talking about How privileged this man is. Listen to yourself! There was a way to say it to her so she could laugh and realize that she was so privileged.

TIME: In your books you find humor in death and death. Do you find it easy to write about certain loss absurdities?

Jarir: It is funny by nature. My oldest friend’s parents have passed away in the past ten years. [After the deaths] They were sitting Shiva and could not move for days. They were crazily sitting there, non-religious Jews except for this funeral, and all they did was joke.

Sedaris: I did not find writing easy. Nothing is real to me until I write about it. It makes it manageable, in a way, and that seems to be the very definition of purge – I would never use that word. Like what Andy was saying, in a situation like this, people really want to laugh.

TIME: Are there things that you feel you can write after losing a loved one that you can’t write while they are alive?

Jarir: I remember writing about my grandmother when she was alive. I put someone like her in a story. She wore her bouffant ’60s hair through the ’90s. I said it was like a hot air balloon, and I was really hurt by it. There were worse things in the story, but that’s what worries her. I thought: I would never do that again.

Sedaris: If someone said to me, “Andy built this character on you in his book,” I wouldn’t read it. I will not read anything about me. Sometimes when people get upset, I say, “Well, why are you reading it?” People are actually more disturbed by it in the imagination than they are in the imagination.

Jarir: Do you think so?

Sedaris: Yes, because with imagination, people can decide if you build something on it. I don’t write many novels, but I had this book squirrel seeks squirrel And people were like, “He made that owl mean. He made me that owl.”

More must-read stories from TIME

write to Annabel Gutterman at annabel.gutterman@time.com.

Leave a Comment