In last month's New Republic, Alex Heard discovered that David Sedaris's autobiographical essays contain not just the "exaggerations" to which the author has always copped but also scenes, dialogue and characters invented wholesale. Some have reacted with a shrug, arguing that since he's writing humor, Sedaris has the right to take liberties with the facts; others are upset that Sedaris seems to be getting off without the public shaming given, say, James Frey.
In an interesting new wrinkle, Heard answers the question: Does The New Yorker, home to most of Sedaris' recent essays, fact-check the former Macy's elf? (The question was first asked by Daniel Radosh.) The short answer, according to Heard: Well, they try.
Most intriguingly, he points out that a section of a November Sedaris New Yorker piece, about a creepy older couple who once picked him up hitchhiking, is a clearly rewritten story from Sedaris' pre-New Yorker collection Naked. In Naked, the older couple is "nude from the waist down," and they invite Sedaris to spend the night, "the husband casually masturbating as the wife styled her hair. 'We'll fix you something to eat,' she offered. 'I'm a damn good cook, you can ask anyone.'"
In The New Yorker, she's wearing a negligee, he's neither semi-naked nor masturbating, and the offer of a meal comes from the husband (and is much more bluntly attuned to the piece's theme of Sedaris coming to terms with his sexuality): "'How'd you like to eat my wife's pussy?'"
Heard writes in his comments on Radosh's blog that he asked Sedaris which of the two stories was true. "The one in The New Yorker," Sedaris replied.
It seems apparent that The New Yorker does, indeed, fact-check the new stories Sedaris writes for them. That's why they're so much less funny than his old ones.