David Sedaris, Ira Glass And 25 Years Of 'Santaland Diaries' Writer David Sedaris talks about the 25th anniversary of the radio piece that launched his career. Ira Glass, who produced it for Morning Edition, knew when he recorded it that it was special.
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David Sedaris, Ira Glass And 25 Years Of 'Santaland Diaries'

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David Sedaris, Ira Glass And 25 Years Of 'Santaland Diaries'

David Sedaris, Ira Glass And 25 Years Of 'Santaland Diaries'

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

I can't believe how much time flies. Amazing, but it has been 25 years since MORNING EDITION listeners first met a very un-merry Christmas elf named Crumpet.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

DAVID SEDARIS: (Reading) I wear green velvet knickers, a forest green velvet smock and a perky little hat decorated with spangles. This is my work uniform.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

That's writer and humorist David Sedaris reading from his "Santaland Diaries," the story of his time working as a Macy's department store elf. That reading was first heard on this program back in 1992. The "Santaland Diaries" catapulted Sedaris into a career as a best-selling author and playwright.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

SEDARIS: (Reading) I don't know that I could look anyone in the eye and exclaim - oh, my goodness - I think I see Santa. Or, can you close your eyes and make a very special Christmas wish? It makes one's mouth hurt to speak with such forced merriment. I think I'll be a low-key sort of elf.

Gosh, what strikes me when I hear that is how young I sound, which makes sense because I was 25 years younger then. It's like the same relationship I have to my high school yearbook picture. I mean, I just see it, and I wince.

IRA GLASS, BYLINE: (Laughter).

GREENE: I don't know if you recognize that laugh or not. But that laugh came from Ira Glass, the host of This American Life. He actually produced the "Santaland Diaries" for MORNING EDITION.

MARTIN: So we brought Ira and David Sedaris back together to talk about recording this. Twenty-five years ago, Sedaris was a struggling writer who occasionally read his work in nightclubs. Ira Glass was doing a local radio show in Chicago.

GLASS: I had seen you read onstage and always had thought - from the very first time I heard you read - like, oh, this guy would be great on the radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

SEDARIS: (Reading) I'm going to have you fired. I had two people say that to me today. I'm going to have you fired. Go ahead. Be my guest. I'm wearing a green velvet costume. It doesn't get any worse than this. I'm going to have you fired. And I want to lean over and say, I'm going to have you killed.

GLASS: I was always intimidated to approach you to ask you to record it because so many of your early stories are from the point of view of somebody who is nice to people when they meet them...

SEDARIS: (Laughter).

GLASS: ...But very mean underneath. And so I was just always a little scared of you.

SEDARIS: Well, if you say to somebody - I'm going to have you killed - I mean, that's one thing. But doesn't everybody think it? I mean (laughter), you're allowed to have wicked thoughts. Aren't you? And that's always been interesting to me that people over the years have come up and said, oh, "Santaland" - you know, I hate Christmas, too. I love Christmas. I mean, I thought it came across in the story - love it.

GLASS: I remember I booked you into NPR's New York bureau to record it. And I remember listening to you read it. And it was going so well. And I remember we got to the part where you sing like Billie Holiday. And I had no idea that you were just going to like break into song and sound exactly like Billie Holiday. Like, I was a pretty experienced radio producer at that point. And, like - I was like, this is a good one. (Laughter) And so I remembered that so clearly, that moment of being like, what's happening? Like, what is this thing?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

SEDARIS: (Singing, imitating Billie Holliday) Away in a manger, no crib for a bed.

GLASS: I also think that "Santaland" has - you have a weird relationship to it because there was a phase in your early career as a writer where that was the thing that people knew you for. And I just remember it took years for you to outrun that. And so the fact that it just reruns every year on MORNING EDITION - I don't know. You must have very mixed feelings about it.

SEDARIS: Well, I realize you're lucky if you have one thing that people appreciate. You are a lucky, lucky person.

GLASS: Yeah.

SEDARIS: And I guess if you sat down and you thought about it and you thought - huh, what can I write about that people would respond to? Well, everybody has to deal with Christmas. And it's either going to torment you or delight you. And maybe that's why it resonated with people - because it affected everyone. But I think if I sat down to do that - if you said, OK, I want you to - you've got a month to write something that will touch everybody - I wouldn't be able to come up with anything.

(SOUNDBITE OF VINCE GUARALDI TRIO'S "WHAT CHILD IS THIS")

GREENE: David Sedaris with Ira Glass. I hope this got you excited for the 25th anniversary broadcast of the "Santaland Diaries," which will be tomorrow right here on MORNING EDITION.

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