Image: Matthew Loffhagen
MasterClass offers perhaps unprecedented access to world experts on everything from coffee-brewing to creative writing. After you’ve poured yourself a cup of the former, join me for a sneak preview of the latter as we dip into David Sedaris’ MasterClass to see if you develop a taste for more.
Fireside chats with David Sedaris
Sedaris’ course ‘Storytelling and Humor’ is unsurprisingly charming and, well, funny. Much of the content feels more like an evening by the fire with a tremendously entertaining and classy friend than a rigorous writing course.
So if you’re exploring Master Class options in hopes of acquiring heaps of technical advice, this is probably not the course for you. Sedaris offers practical advice, but sort of in the way that stealthy mothers sneak spinach into brownies to give their kiddos a little extra nutritional boost. The brownies are awesome, the spinach is in there, but there’s no way you can pretend they’re eating a salad.
That said, if you’re in it for the brownies, Sedaris’ class is a lovely experience. Throw on something comfy but stylish – think Canadian – grab a glass of something non-alcoholic (Sedaris is a teetotaler), and prop your laptop in front of an armchair. You’ll feel like you’re in his living room having the most interesting conversation of your life.
The secret to being a great writer
… is leading a great life. I’m betting the reason Sedaris’ class is less instructional and more inspirational is because the way he writes derives from the way he lives in the world. A lot of the advice he offers is not about putting pen to paper, but about how to interact with the world in a way that will give you more – and better – material to draw on once you do.
Join Sedaris for his MasterClass and you’ll hear things like:
There are no ‘folk’ writers. You have to read.
Everything is funny eventually.
Observe the world, don’t correct it.
Ask tons of questions.
Say yes to experiences.
Be kind and generous and available and interested in other people.
If life is like a story, as Sedaris suggests, his master course reflects that. Sprinkled throughout the story are valuable tidbits that can boost your personality and your writing.
The work of writing
One of Sedaris’ writing habits we would be wise to adopt is persistence. Sedaris tells viewers that he ‘wrote every day for fifteen years before [his] first book came out’ and that he ‘throws away maybe a third of what [he writes].’ Moreover, he adds, that’s normal to him. The fact that he wrote daily for a decade and a half before publishing his first book didn’t feel like a drag to him; it felt normal. So when he wonders, about his own success, ‘why me and not someone else?’ the answer seems glaringly obvious: he wasn’t ever writing to be successful. He was writing because he loved it. Because it made sense to him.
If you want to be a successful writer, it can’t be about success. It has to be about the story. This MasterClass provides access to many of the stories that Sedaris turned into writing, but he wasn’t able to write them before learning to observe the world with love and acceptance and humor.
Humor is probably the thing Sedaris is best known for, and humor is tough to teach. Perhaps his best advice is to have eclectic experiences, and to be a good observer. He tells the story of a time he was on a plane and someone was talking about him in a language they assumed he couldn’t understand. The speaker was telling his wife that Sedaris was probably a pickpocket. At this point, most of us would have rather huffily defended ourselves and ended the story prematurely. By allowing the scene to play out, Sedaris garnered material for a future story, and moreover maintained his zen-like composure seasoned as ever with a sense of whimsy.
From the foundation of experience and observation, Sedaris builds humor in his writing through the tools of exaggeration and self-deprecation. His stories are witty, often because they are quick. He doesn’t stretch a story into more than its fair share of words – a bad habit that a number of writers struggle with when trying to ‘flesh things out’ that don’t have enough flesh to stretch.
Participants in this course are likely to be surprised by how much revision goes into masterful writing, though acclaimed writers are constantly reiterating it. Sedaris says that he rewrites everything 18 to 20 times before sending it to his editor. If you want to get a good feel for how much and what kinds of work yield levels of success like Sedaris’, his MasterClass will give you that. The companion workbook, besides taking notes so you don’t have to, breaks Sedaris’ habits into action items like this one:
Practice writing endings by giving yourself mini assignments, as David sometimes does: Write an ending that has the word oh in it; write an ending that repeats a single word three times; write an ending that ends with a line of dialogue; write an ending where the final line of your essay is the same as the very first line.– David Sedaris Teaches Storytelling and Humor, MasterClass,
But is it funny?
I appreciate Sedaris’ advice to write about people that you love and admire, not those that you dislike. Not everybody will agree with this, but it seems the practice has kept Sedaris’ writing light and drama-free. Though he uses plenty of sarcasm, and not all his stories are squeaky clean, everything he writes is tinged with affection.
More than that, his humor isn’t straight-up comedy. There’s a darkness to it, a bit of discomfort. As he says, ‘Sorrow gives weight to the humor.’ Instead of a break from reality, Sedaris’ brand of ‘funny’ is more like an excavation. He digs in and unearths some pretty raw and often painful emotions, but equips people to shoulder them with levity and a sense of their temporariness.
Is it worth your money?
Sedaris’ MasterClass is a fantastic resource, even if it’s not the vigorous, practical guide that many will expect. His advice on readings is worth the time you’ll dedicate to the course on its own, and while $90 may seem a steep price for one lecture, it’s one of many that justify buying the all-access pass for $180 a year. Under that stipulation, I’d say 100%: take this class. Bring pen and paper if you wish, but better yet; sit cross-legged on the floor and get ready for a good story or two.
You can find David Sedaris’ MasterClass here, but if you’re interested in reading more of our in-depth reviews of other MasterClass courses, check out the following:
- James Patterson MasterClass Review: Is It Worth Your Money?
- Dan Brown MasterClass Review: Is It Worth Your Money?
- Judy Blume MasterClass Review: Is It Worth Your Money?
- Neil Gaiman MasterClass Review: Is It Worth Your Money?
- R.L. Stine MasterClass Review: Is It Worth Your Money?
- Joyce Carol Oates MasterClass Review: Is It Worth Your Money?