Surviving the Holiday Party It's holiday party season again, and Talk of the Nation unwraps its guide to surviving the festivities. Amy Sedaris offers up some tongue-in-cheek advice on throwing the perfect bash.
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Surviving the Holiday Party

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Surviving the Holiday Party

Surviving the Holiday Party

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington. Neal Conan is sick.

It's December, and that means party season is in full swing. Holiday parties are supposed to be fun, occasions for good cheer and good will to all, but it doesn't always work that way. Whether it's the obligatory office party or the family Christmas gathering, there's a host of party pitfalls to navigate. How do you stay cool as your hostile mother-in-law criticizes everything from the eggnog to the table setting? Or how do you gracefully retreat from one of those polite but uncomfortable conversations with the boss? And don't forget the lecherous guest or the guest who's had too much to drink but doesn't know it.

Today we've invited some experts to help us survive the season. Comedian Amy Sedaris has just written a book on the art of hostessing. Steve Kleinedler, an editor at the "American Heritage Dictionary" has some advice on how to sound smart at your next event. And advice columnist Amy Dickinson gives us the lowdown on mingling.

Later this hour, a massive search and rescue effort is underway in Oregon. We'll talk about how these searches are conducted and what hikers and climbers should do if they get lost.

But first, surviving the holiday party. Are you in the midst of planning a party or getting geared up to attend one? What's your holiday dilemma? Give us a call. Our number here in Washington: 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. And our e-mail address is

(Soundbite of doorbell)

NEARY: Ah, there's my first guest now. Why it's Amy Sedaris, and you know she's the talk of the town these days. She has a new book out called "I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence," and she's joining our little soiree from the New York bureau. So glad to have you here today, Amy.

Ms. AMY SEDARIS (Author, "I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence"): Thanks for having me, Lynn. I like that doorbell.

NEARY: You like that?

Ms. SEDARIS: Mine's like ehhhhh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SEDARIS: Mine's really annoying. You're like, oh, who could it be? I'm not here. Don't pick it up.

NEARY: (unintelligible)

Ms. SEDARIS: And, wow, search and rescue. I like following that. If you get a coffee can and you stick a whole candle in it, that'll provide warmth.


Ms. SEDARIS: So when you're traveling, I suggest having a can of coffee, empty can of coffee in your car and a big old candle.

(Soundbite of laughter)


Ms. SEDARIS: That's my tip, OK?

NEARY: Thanks, OK, you're not leaving now are you? Because, you know...

Ms. SEDARIS: That's it, bye-bye, ehhhhh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: would be really sad for my first guest to go right away. Are you throwing any parties this holiday season, by the way?

Ms. SEDARIS: I'm never throwing another party again in my life after this book. People have expectations now. But it does allow me to actually be slack, because when you do throw a lot of parties or you are that person, then you can just be lazy. Because you're like, hey, I've had you over how many times?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SEDARIS: You know, so I didn't bring anything, so....

NEARY: You know, I - now there's a party pitfall that most of us won't have to face, that we've written a book about it and therefore are going to be judged on the basis of what we've written.

Ms. SEDARIS: Yeah, therefore I'm really going to be bad at it, so I'll really give them something to talk about. Can you believe her?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SEDARIS: You know, she - I'm missing some change. I'm going to get a bad reputation.

NEARY: Well, what do you think makes a really good party?

Ms. SEDARIS: It really is who you invite, I think. It - you know, I refer to it in my book as casting a party. You know, because you want the right combination of people, and the more you're prepared is always better. You know, I mean you're going to have surprises that, you know, you weren't expecting, so the more you're prepared the better.

NEARY: What about like during holiday seasons people tend to have big parties, as opposed to sort of small, intimate parties.

Ms. SEDARIS: Fools, they're fools.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SEDARIS: I know, well, that's the different thing, too, like the big office party, which I don't really have to - I don't deal with, you know, that kind of situation where you've got all kinds of characters. And you do have to worry about keeping the ball up in the air as far as conversation or if you do get stuck with a bore or the person who's making a beard out of the cheese dip you just made and, you know, all kinds - it's like a jungle, those office parties.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SEDARIS: I'd love to talk to somebody who has to go to one of those.

NEARY: Well, we have someone who wants to join this little party on the line, wants to ask you a question, so...

Ms. SEDARIS: Oh, really?

NEARY: Let me see if I can...


NEARY: ...ring that person up here. Heather in Kansas City. Hi, Heather.

HEATHER (Caller): Hi.

Ms. SEDARIS: Hey, Heather.

HEATHER: I'm actually going to a party tonight. I'm getting dressed for it now.


HEATHER: Yes, and...

Ms. SEDARIS: You're where right now, at the airport?

HEATHER: No, I'm at home getting ready for the party.

Ms. SEDARIS: OK, don't have to yell.

HEATHER: (unintelligible)

Ms. SEDARIS: OK, Heather, I'm just kidding, OK.

HEATHER: Anyways, they are - he works for the city, and it's - we're going to mayor's Christmas party tonight, but we're Mormon and we don't drink, and we don't know how to handle everybody pushing drinks in our face...


HEATHER: ...exactly politely, you know.

Ms. SEDARIS: Right.

HEATHER: So it's like, oh, you know, here have this. And we've dealt with this at weddings and stuff, and people always think we're rude. And it's just - or they (unintelligible).

Ms. SEDARIS: Isn't that terrible when they do that? I write about that in my book, too. Like stop staying, you know, pushing it on them. That's so rude. I think that's more of a problem for the host. Everyone - that's such a rude thing, like you don't want to knock someone off the wagon serving a tiramisu or something.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SEDARIS: I know you're not - you're Mormon. It's not an AA thing. But if you were in AA, I'd wear all the chips around my neck and make a necklace out of it. Being a Mormon, is there any kind of jewelry that says, hello, I'm a Mormon? Just wear it on your nametag. I don't know.

HEATHER: (unintelligible) and I'd be fine, but...

Ms. SEDARIS: There you go.

NEARY: So I'm just curious, Heather, do people just not politely take your no thank you at face value and stop...

HEATHER: It depends on whether or not - if they know my husband and they - at lot of people who know my husband and know that we're Mormons push us just because it's almost like they want to see you break.

Ms. SEDARIS: That's awful.

HEATHER: It is, but a lot of people do that. We've had that problem with a lot of friends from high school and stuff at weddings. But a lot of the time they just think that we're trying to like say that we're better than them or, you know, hey, you shouldn't do it, and we don't do it because it's wrong or something, and so you shouldn't do it. But it's not about that. It's just that we just don't. And we don't want to be rude, we just - it's such - we're actually trying to avoid the whole social hour thing from 6:00 to 7:00 and just go to the dinner just so we don't have to deal with all the drinking.

Ms. SEDARIS: Why don't you do that, then? Why don't you?

HEATHER: I think that's what we're going to do, but hopefully, I just - I don't know. For future reference, is there anything you would recommend?

Ms. SEDARIS: I just think that's rude. I mean I get you just get tired of just keep saying no thank you, no thank you. I mean what else can you possibly do?


Ms. SEDARIS: I mean you could, you know - I mean I can't imagine what else you could do, I mean without making a huge announcement or...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SEDARIS: know, excuse me is this on? Check, check, check. Listen, there's some Mormons in the building. We'd appreciate it - I mean what else can you do?

(Soundbite of laughter)

HEATHER: OK, well, thank you very much.

NEARY: All right, thanks for the call, Heather.


(Soundbite of doorbell)

Ms. SEDARIS: Oh, oh, wow, I'll get it.

NEARY: Oh, God, OK.

Ms. SEDARIS: Hello.

NEARY: There's another guest.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SEDARIS: You're 15 minutes early. What are you doing here?

NEARY: This is Steven Kleinedler, I think. Is that Steven Kleinedler?

Mr. STEVEN KLEINEDLER (Editor, "100 Words to Make You Sound Smart"): That's it.


Ms. SEDARIS: (unintelligible) Hi, Steven.

NEARY: Good to have you with us.

Mr. KLEINEDLER: Hi, Amy. Hi, Lynn.

NEARY: Now, Steven is the editor of "100 Words to Make You Sound Smart" and the "American Heritage Dictionary," and he joins us from member station WBUR in Boston, Massachusetts. Welcome to our party.

Mr. KLEINEDLER: Thank you very much for having me.

Ms. SEDARIS: Wow, how do you write a book - that's amazing. I can't - OK, so OK, so you're going to give me examples?

Mr. KLEINEDLER: Well, I believe the simple answer is yes.

NEARY: He's going to tell us about how to smart at a party, I think, right?


Mr. KLEINEDLER: I should point out, I'm one of several authors who worked on this book. The whole editorial staff here at the dictionary compiled this. It's not my sole effort. Basically what I would say at a party if you want to sound smart - I don't have, you know, like or one or two or three words that you would want to say and slip into the conversation. More importantly, it's better to have a wide arsenal in your vocabulary so you can say the appropriate word at the appropriate time, because using a highfalutin word incorrectly is kind of the linguistic equivalent of having lettuce in your teeth.

Ms. SEDARIS: Lots more (unintelligible).

NEARY: Yeah, that's the worst thing to do.

Ms. SEDARIS: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KLEINEDLER: So the - you know, if you're not the type who sits at home at night and thumbs through the dictionary - and I realize there aren't that many people out there - we have these little handy books such as "100 Words to Make You Sound Smart" or "100 Words Every Word-Lover Should Know" that kind of does the browsing for you. It takes 100 words from the dictionary kind of related around a thematic theme, and by browsing through those, you can learn about great words like Svengali or simple words like glib or gregarious. And these are words that many people are probably familiar with but might not know exactly what they mean. And, you know, we don't want anyone to use it in the wrong context, so this'll help them get a context for how they can best use them.

NEARY: But maybe you can give us a couple of words that - you know, simple words like glib I think probably would be a better example - that we could just throw into a conversation, glibly, as it were...


NEARY: make ourselves sound like we really know what we're talking about.

Ms. SEDARIS: Use it in a sentence, please.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KLEINEDLER: Absolutely. The beauty thing about glib is it's got two senses. One meaning just that it's performed naturally, kind of offhandedly; and then there's a second sense that kind of throws in a little negative overtone that indicates that you think the person being glib is being superficial or, you know, being deceitful. Matt Lauer and Tom Cruise brought this word to the forefront with their famous interview sometime earlier this year. And if you accuse someone of being glib, you're just indicating that you think there speaking perhaps a little too smoothly.

So, for example, if you were at a party and you were commenting on someone else across the room, you know, I think George over there, sipping the champagne, is a little bit too glib tonight. You might be indicating that you'd think he's like putting on some airs by the way that he speaks. And yet you yourself aren't coming off that way because it's a nice, simple, short word and you're using it appropriately in context.

Ms. SEDARIS: So he's like a producer, like a producer might be a kind of slick.

Mr. KLEINEDLER: Absolutely.

Ms. SEDARIS: So it might be a producer over there and be like, oh, they're glib.

NEARY: Yeah.

Mr. KLEINEDLER: Oh, yeah. If you're at a party where there are theater people, you're going to find a lot of glib people.

Ms. SEDARIS: Glib Agency. Hold, please.

Mr. KLEINEDLER: Exactly.

NEARY: Amy, how important is that you to sound smart at a party, or do you even think about it?

Ms. SEDARIS: (Unintelligible) That's when I leave a conversation. If I hear too many people speaking the words - excuse me, that's the doorbell, I have to go. I don't even, I never think - I just don't think that way. You know what I mean. I never - because I always think they're going to see through it.

NEARY: All right. Let's see. I think we have some people holding on who want to join us. Meagan(ph) in Tucson, Arizona.

Hi, Meagan.

MEAGAN (Caller): Hi. My comment was that my father basically deals with the holidays by completely hiding from any family member or friend.

NEARY: He doesn't go to any parties then, huh?

MEAGAN: No. When we were kids, he would kind of placate us and we thought he enjoyed it, until we got older and realized he absolutely hates it.

Ms. SEDARIS: And so do you let - do you leave him alone and let him do his thing or do you guys try to, you know, coax him out of the basement with a chicken wing or something. Do you try to get him involved or do you just let him be?

MEAGAN: We let him be. There's basically no way to make him come to anything.

Ms. SEDARIS: Okay.

NEARY: So parties go on and he just - he just doesn't come at all?

MEAGAN: Yeah. When we were younger, we kind of wondered why he just sat there and didn't really talk that much. He had a very fake smile on his face, and now we understand why. He just hates it.

Ms. DICKINSON: So a lot of people just aren't social like that. That's good that, you know, you can just leave him alone. That's the best thing to do.

MEAGAN: I think so. My sister has a hard time with it, but I have no problem with it.

NEARY: All right, Meagan. Thanks for your call.

MEAGAN: Thank you.

NEARY: Yeah. Better not to go, huh, than…

Ms. DICKINSON: I think so.

NEARY: You think so? Just stay home if you really don't like these parties.

Ms. SEDARIS: Yeah. If you're not going to contribute to the party, you know, then stay home. I mean what, are you going to the party and complain and say I'm really up to it, I don't feel good, and just complain all night. You'll just ruin the party, you know, you'll bring it down. So I think it'd be best to stay at home.

NEARY: Do you have any clever ways, either one of you, Amy or Steve, of getting out of a conversation with somebody at a party. You know, sometimes you get stuck in a conversation with somebody and you just don't know what to do or how to get away from them. Do you have any clever ways…

Ms. SEDARIS: I make it obvious. I really - I go, Carol! And I really didn't see anybody. Then I'll be like I'm sorry, Carol needs me. And I just make it obvious.

Mr. KLEINEDLER: I agree with the last thing that they said, and then I find an excuse to slip out of the conversation.

Ms. SEDARIS: Like I (unintelligible) any better - cheese balls.

Mr. KLEINEDLER: If you're stuck in a conversation where you're not that into it, chances are they just want to be a affirmed anyway. So, yes, you're right, okay, bye.

NEARY: All right. We're going to have to take a short break now. But we're going to come back and continue our conversation and our party here at TALK OF THE NATION.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.

(Soundbite of music)

NEARY: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington. Well, you may think it's cold and flu season, but it's not: It's party season. And we're giving you all the goods on how to conduct yourself with your family, your officemates, and any other get-togethers you may find yourself attending this year. At our party already is Amy Sedaris. Her new book is called “I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence.”

Also, Steve Kleinedler. He is one of the editors of “100 Words to Make You Sound Smart.” We've got him to tell us how to be smart at a party.

And we invite you to stop by. If you're an anxious hostess or a socially nervous partygoer, give us a call. The number is 1-800-989-8255. And you can send us an e-mail to

(Soundbite of doorbell)

NEARY: Oh, it's another guest.


NEARY: Who's there? Oh, it's Amy Dickinson. Amy writes the syndicated column “Ask Amy” for the Chicago Tribune. And she is joining us from the Chicago bureau.

Ms. AMY DICKINSON (Columnist, Chicago Tribune): (unintelligible) awful. Is it always so bad around here?

Ms. SEDARIS: It is. I live in a shifty area of town.

Ms. DICKINSON: Oh, my gosh. Lynn, I love you're sweater. Oh, it's great.

Ms. SEDARIS: You know, I love the sleeveless turtlenecks.

Ms. DICKINSON: Oh, it's fantastic.

Ms. SEDARIS: Yeah.

Ms. DICKINSON: Now, who's this?

NEARY: Amy Sedaris. We have Amy Sedaris here, and Steve Kleinedler.

Ms. DICKINSON: Oh, hi, Steve. I've never met you before.

NEARY: And Amy, we're going to ask you to please watch your language in the future.

Ms. SEDARIS: Hi, Amy.

NEARY: Amy Sedaris.

Ms. SEDARIS: I understand. I was glib

NEARY: Grab a seat (unintelligible). Amy Dickinson, since you are the advice columnist in the group, I want to ask you first of all - we said you came fashionably late, can you tell us when do you cross that line from fashionably late to rudely late?

Ms. DICKINSON: Well, can I tell you, I'm the worst and this is why I tend to arrive places early and then I circle, and circle, and circle. And I feel like I have to wait until 15 minutes after the stated beginning of the party. Because that sort of, you know, when it - the very earliest you can arrive is 15 after 6:00, you know. But I think that, for instance, my office holiday party is this Saturday and it's between 6:00 and 8:00. And I will probably get there, you know, 6:30. I think showing up at a cocktail party at quarter to 8:00 is pretty bad. That's means you really don't want to mingle with your colleagues.

Ms. SEDARIS: Yes. I think that's pretty bad too. You just want to make an appearance.


NEARY: And Amy Sedaris, as a hostess, when somebody comes really late. Let say, you're having a dinner party. I mean how do you react? I mean do you act coolly or do you let them know you're sort of irritated?

Ms. SEDARIS: No. That late, it really doesn't bother me. It's too early that bothers me. You know. If I'm - I'll go ahead - and people who know me won't be eating. I mean, if you're - I'm not going to wait for you. You know. Maybe I'll give it 15 minutes. If you're not there, I'll still serve dinner (unintelligible)

Ms. DICKINSON: Amy, I completely agree. You really shouldn't. I get a lot of letters about this. There's no reason to wait. If you're going to eat at a certain time, go ahead and eat.

Ms. SEDARIS: Yes. And I don't make them feel bad. Again, just say, oh pull up a chair. I mean then it's something to talk about. You know. I hate it, the food's cold. But, you know, just make fun of it. But yes, it's early that can be a nightmare.

NEARY: Now if any of our listeners needs some advice to get to the party season, give us a call. The number is 800-989-8255. And we are going to ask Kate(ph) in Kansas City to join our party now.

Hi, Kate.

KATE (Caller): Hello.

NEARY: Hi. Go ahead, Kate.

Ms. SEDARIS: Hey, Kate.

KATE: Hey. Hey, thanks for taking my call. I have a question. I'm worried about Christmas because this past Thanksgiving we had our whole family over for dinner. There were 34 people. And my mom and my mother-in-law got into an argument about the turkey. (Unintelligible). And I'm really not sure how to handle it because I'm just nervous about letting them both help me. We always have a Christmas morning brunch where people come. And I don't know. I mean…

NEARY: What kind of argument? What was the argument about?

KATE: Well, my mom made the turkey, and that's a big deal. And she called my mother-in-law for help with carving the turkey. But by the time she got over here with the turkey, she had already carved part of it, which really ticked my mother-in-law off. And I don't even really know why that was such a big deal. But they got into an argument. And they both got to my house early, which - and I wasn't even - I was in a t-shirt or something. So about the time I came back downstairs, my mom was leaving the house in tears. And then my husband told my mother-in-law to quit talking about it. And they ended up going out in the front yard and they made up, apparently, but…

NEARY: Have you guys not talked about this since then?

KATE: We haven't talked about it at all. I mean…

NEARY: Amy Dickinson, I think you should answer.

Ms. DICKINSON: Can I weigh in?

Mr. KLEINEDLER: And that's one for “Ask Amy.”

Ms. DICKINSON: Okay, first of all, clean slate. OK? Just wipe it clean. Secondly, a little - with a group that large, actually, if you're having another large group this Christmas, some basic party management techniques can come in handy, in that you do some thoughtful sitting. You might want to seat them pretty far apart. Let them find each other and warm up to each other. But don't draw them together. Don't expect people to apologize in front of other people. And give each of them separate jobs. I think especially with moms and mother-in-laws, you give them each a sort of important job. And you say, you know, mom, can you help me get all of the salads together this year. And then you ask your mother-in-law, I would love it if you would help me with dessert. Do you have a special dessert you'd like to make? You know, you just really give them specific jobs.

NEARY: Amy, could I just add one thing? In this case, I would say make sure that one of the job is not carving the turkey.


KATE: Yes.

Ms. DICKINSON: You're right.

KATE: Right.

Ms. DICKINSON: You don't want these women around knives. Really.

Ms. SEDARIS: But you do need to always assign a carver. You know. If you don't know how to carve your meat, it's always good to assign somebody that job ahead of time. So that's a smart thing to think about. My solution too is to take Xanax if anyone's that (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DICKINSON: I just love the idea of giving some people jobs. They - first of all, women - these women did everything wrong. They arrived early. They had an argument. You know. The burden - I can tell you feel the burden is on you, but they have both behaved quite badly.

KATE: Yes.

Ms. DICKINSON: So just assume that they will get it together and keep it together.

Ms. SEDARIS: And people love getting jobs. And especially if someone has like bad skin or they're self-conscious about something, those are the best people to give jobs to, because otherwise they're just going to sit on the couch and think about other problems. So the more - if you give them an important job, they'll stop thinking about themselves and their bad skin.

Ms. DICKINSON: You know another thing I love for men who sometimes feel out of place at holiday meals, big meals, deep-frying the turkey out in the driveway. This is something that men love to do. So you might want to think about that. And you know what? It could end in a fireball, which is fun for everyone.

NEARY: Thanks for your call, Kate.

KATE: Thank you.

NEARY: All right. We're going to take a call now from Chris(ph). And Chris is calling from Portland, Oregon.

Hi, Chris.

CHRIS (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call. I was calling - you know, your intro had the sort of question of how do you get away from the bore at the party. And my problem is kind of the other way around. I'm sort of concerned about how do I avoid being the bore.

Ms. SEDARIS: Bores don't know they're bores.

CHRIS: For - just for some context, I'm an academic, so it's kind of an occupational hazard. And I'm in a field of African history, which is kind of, at the surface, kind of pretty interesting in a way. It's different, often. But it's also something people don't know much about. Often people have pretty strange ideas as well. So there are a lot of ways to go wrong.

Mr. KLEINEDLER: Well, I think that if you are talking to them at a party and, you know, be attentive of the warning signs. Are their eyes glazing over? Are their eyes not looking at you, are they're looking over at the dip? Are they looking over at the drinks? And just because you're passionate about a conversation or subject doesn't necessarily mean they are too.

But more importantly, again it comes back to the words. If there are certain words that are specific to your field that just aren't well known, a lot of times they might not even be following what you're saying even though you think they should or do. And I'm not saying you have to stick to the weather or the latest scores of whatever game you happen to be watching. Or what - it's an art of small talk, which is a completely different thing about an in depth analysis of what you do on a day-to-day basis. And parties, you know, let's face it, a lot of it is small talk.

NEARY: Well - let's give Chris some advice about small talk because this is a skill that some people have and others don't. So for those who feel uncomfortable with the whole idea of small talk, what do they do? How do they get small talk going?

Mr. KLEINEDLER: Well, I would say, if you're not comfortable at getting small talk going, the next party you're at, practice going, you know, being a part of a group of three of four people talking and be a listener. Try being a listener for five minutes without saying anything. A lot of people who are uncomfortable with small talk feel like they have to fill the gaps of silence with words and just keep going and going. Where if you sat back and like listened to what other people have to say, then it'll come to you at an appropriate point. You will know how to fit in and say what to say because you'll be responding to someone rather than initiating. And that might be just a different of approaching it.

NEARY: All right.

Ms. SEDARIS: Oh, that's true. That's a good point. And it also goes back to casting. If I know that you're going to be there and you're going to talk about African artifacts, chances are I'd probably invite somebody to my party who is like a curious person, who would probably enjoy talking to you. So if you were on my invite list, I would make sure there was someone there who'd be fascinated by you.

NEARY: All right, Chris, so you need to find a friend who's a hostess like Amy Sedaris. OK?

(Soundbite of laughter)

KRIS: Thanks a lot.

NEARY: All right.

Ms. SEDARIS: Thank you.

NEARY: Thanks for the call. I have some e-mails here as well. This is from Michael - anyway, I'm not sure who it's from.

But, I have an office party to go to this weekend. It is a small office and each year the business owner's husband always feels an obligation to express his extreme political views.

It's all I can do not to punch him in the face. How do I handle this situation? Whatever happened to not discussing politics or religion in mixed company? And this is from Kelly. And Kelly says your doorbell is driving my dog nuts.

Ms. SEDARIS: That's funny. Yeah, that's too bad. I guess I'd punch him in the face.

Ms. DICKINSON: Yeah. Punching, punching.

Ms. SEDARIS: Yeah, punch him in the face.

Ms. DICKINSON: But, you know what, this is somebody who also - this is like a side version of the small talk thing is how to change the subject. Now, with some people it can't be done and you have to find a way to avoid them, but you can always just listen and then when there's a break you can say, how about them Bears. Can you believe it? You know, you just really just change - just change it, change the subject.

NEARY: All right. Let's get Craig - oh, go ahead.

Mr. KLEINEDLER: I was going to say, and ideally that if you did change the subject the other person would pick up on the fact that you're trying to change the subject. But, of course, these types of people don't always pick up on that.


Ms. SEDARIS: Or just agree with everything he has to say and then he won't know what else to do. Like, you know, maybe he's trying to start something. So just say absolutely. You're absolutely right. We could not agree with you more.



NEARY: Great idea. All right. Let's go to Craig in Cleveland. Hi Craig.

Ms. SEDARIS: Hey, Craig.

Mr. KLEINEDLER: Hey, Craig.

CRAIG (Caller): Hi. My question's for Amy Sedaris. First of all, thank you for taking my call and I'm an absolutely huge fan, absolutely fabulous book. I bought it and we're putting up the picture inside the dust cover as our pin up in our kitchen.

I do have a question for you. I was curious about theme parties. We have a lot of theme parties at my house and I was curious as to what can you do to encourage people to participate in the theme of a party?

Ms. SEDARIS: Well, I'm not a big theme and gimmick person. I just did that for all the chapters, because I thought it would be a challenging situation. I don't like it when I go to someone's house and there's a game involved and they want everyone to - you know, that's hard for me too. So I understand that.

But usually if I'm having like Thanksgiving and I have pilgrim hats or Indian hats for everybody to wear, usually it's the people I invite I know they're going to wear those hats.

But I know that's a tough situation. Again, that goes with who you invite. But, yeah, I know that's always harsh, especially when they want you to get up off the floor and stand up and play charades or something like that. I just get so embarrassed.

NEARY: You know, I once lived in a group house where we had an argument - the group had a disagreement over whether we were going to have a costume party or not. And one person wanted to have the costume party and the rest of us didn't. And so that person's friends, sadly for them, came in costumes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: And nobody else did.

Ms. SEDARIS: Oh no. See it's got to be either commit or not. It's got to be everybody or - that's not fair.

NEARY: And the poor people were so embarrassed. Thanks so much calling Craig.

CRAIG: Thank you.

Mr. KLEINEDLER: I once went to a party, which I thought was a disco party, so I was dressed up in a ‘70s outfit. And then I found out later it was a Div School party for the Divinity School.

Ms. DICKINSON: No. No way.

Ms. SEDARIS: Oh no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KLEINEDLER: Yes, at the University of Chicago.

Ms. SEDARIS: Oh no.

NEARY: Did anyone even notice that you were dressed up, Steve?

Mr. KLEINEDLER: That thought it was, surprisingly, not that off, but it was still embarrassing.

Ms. SEDARIS: I bet you didn't go home alone that night.

Mr. KLEINEDLER: I didn't.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: All right. We're going to take a call now from Mary in Denver, Colorado. Hi, Mary.

MARY (Caller): Hi, how are you?

Ms. SEDARIS: Hey, Mary.

Mr. KLEINEDLER: Hey, Mary.

MARY: We used to - my husband and I are not very popular, so one year we decided we were each going to memorize 10 jokes and we were the hit. It was wonderful. Of course we didn't get asked the next year because everybody knew the jokes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARY: But would you like to hear a real quick joke? I told the gal I think it's an OK joke, but it about deaf-mutes. So I don't know if you want to hear it or not.

NEARY: Well, we'd like to hear at least one of those 10 jokes. Yeah.

Ms. SEDARIS: Yeah.

MARY: OK. OK, there's about a busload of about 50 deaf-mutes and they're all traveling across the country. And the bus driver and he's the one that knows how to speak. They're all signing with their hands, oh my gosh, we're really hungry and thirsty, can you stop? And he sees this bar up ahead and he says I'm going to check and see if it's OK.

So he goes in and he tells these people I have about 50 deaf-mutes is it OK if I bring them in. And they say sure, sure, sure we love them. They're really easy customers. So they all go in and he's going oh, wait a minute, before you start taking their orders you need to know when they motion to their mouth that means they're thirsty. If they motion to their hand that means they're hungry.

So all of them come in and they're just motioning to their hands, motioning to their mouth and they're having a wonderful time. And all of a sudden there's like two people on the corner and their mouths are wide open and they're staring at the ceiling and somebody's going hmm. The bartender's going that's kind of strange. But oh, well, I'll just keep serving up this beer and these hamburgers.

So he keeps doing it and then he looks over and he goes, oh my gosh, there's like 10 of them over there. What is the deal? What's going on? And there they are. They're just staring at the ceiling with their mouths open. And he's kind of getting worried, but then he really gets worried because half of them - 25 of them staring up at the ceiling mouth open.

He goes over to the bus driver and he goes, I'm really panicked. I see these 25 people over here and their mouths are open. And the bus driver looks and he goes, oh, doggone it. They've started to sing. I'm never going to get them out of here.

Ms. SEDARIS: Oh, gosh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARY: But anyways, that was one of our jokes and we were the hit. And then we went to finally getting off of a good book. And a good book for a party is called “Geek Love.” And it's quite the little thriller.

Ms. SEDARIS: I've read “Geek Love.”

Ms. DICKINSON: So, I'm shocked…

Ms. SEDARIS: I've read “Geek Love.”

Ms. DICKINSON: I'm shocked after that joke that you weren't asked back. That's really surprising.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARY: We (unintelligible) that.

Ms. SEDARIS: Maybe her audience were deaf-mutes.

Ms. DICKINSON: And you know what, but this brings up a really good point. Jokes not so much, you know. I don't think that a guest's job is to entertain other guests. So a guest's job is really to get to know other guests and, you know, to be entertaining but not to do an act. I don't know.

Ms. SEDARIS: Well, right.

NEARY: All right. Thanks for your call, Mary. Thanks so much for calling, Mary.

But you know what, the best advice that we've heard so far in terms of this guests don't have to be entertainers - it's listening, isn't it?

Ms. SEDARIS: Sure.


NEARY: I mean listening is really what we're talking about here.

Ms. DICKINSON: And asking. You know the guy who - the African guy who's worried - the African expert who's worried that he's boring, one way to check yourself is to ask a question and make sure you listen to the entire answer and then maybe ask another question. You know, let the conversation go where the other person leads it.

Ms. SEDARIS: Like why are you yawning?

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: Now, that's a non-starter. All right, well, I wish I could invite all of you to my next party, because it's been fun.

Ms. SEDARIS: Really Lynn?

NEARY: Yeah, absolutely.

Mr. KLEINEDLER: It'd be fun.

NEARY: And Amy Sedaris, I'll be in your cast anytime.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SEDARIS: Oh, wow. OK. Fantastic.

NEARY: All right. Thanks to all of you for coming today.

Ms. SEDARIS: Thank you.

Mr. KLEINEDLER: Thank you.

NEARY: Amy Sedaris is the author of “I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence.” Steve Kleinedler is one of the editors of “100 Words to Make You Sound Smart.” And Amy Dickinson writes the syndicated column "Ask Amy" for the Chicago Tribune.

And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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