In Berkeley, David Sedaris could walk on the stage and grab the audience by just saying “hello.”

In fact, that’s what happened Monday night, the opening of Sedaris’ seven-day run at the Berkeley Repertory Theater. From the time Sedaris strode out on the stark stage, dressed in a button down shirt and tie and carrying a folder of papers, he had the audience leaning forward in their seats, gobbling up every word.

The laughs started early and lasted late as Sedaris read selections from his book-in-progress, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary, and from his diary.

“I have a book I need to turn in at the end of the month, so that’s what I am doing here,” Sedaris told the sold-out theater. “It is a book of fables, but fables have morals and I don’t.”

Sedaris then proceeded to read a number of stories with animal protagonists that were wry and keenly observed — that is, of course, if one believes animals can have human characteristics.

Sedaris started his set by explaining that he had recently bought a vest and was wearing it at an airport in Wisconsin when a gruff, older worker for the Transportation Security Administration ordered him to remove it. He was piqued by her request, he said, so he decided to turn her into a rabbit and put her in his story.

Let’s say she doesn’t come off particularly well. The rabbit is so power hungry he (she becomes a he in the story) chews off the magical golden horn of a unicorn just to prove a point.

Sedaris has to turn in his book at the end of the month, so he is on a small road show to refine the stories. He was just in Chicago at the Steppenwolf Theater before coming to Berkeley.

Ian Falconer (of Olivia fame) will illustrate the fables. Dame Judi Dench and comedian Elaine Stritch will be doing a recording of the book, a prospect which seems to be making Sedaris a bit nervous. The book and audio version will be released in October.

“I just want to make sure that by the time it gets into her (Stritch’s) hands there is not a lot of fat,” said Sedaris. “I just wanted to make it as good as it can be.  I just hate the idea of her wasting her breath.”

It says volumes for Sedaris’ popularity that even though he is presenting a work in progress, tickets for his readings/act sell out almost immediately.  Tickets for the Berkeley Rep show were snatched up in hours.

Sedaris edits and makes corrections as he reads in front of a live audience, he said.

“I’m editing as I’m talking,” Sedaris said during a Q & A session at the end of the show.  “Sometimes I read and I get an idea and I think this might fix things. Sometimes I just hear myself and I think I am embarrassed to have read that, or yes, that sounds just right.”

A few tidbits gleaned from the evening:

  • Sedaris now lives in England, not France
  • He swims for exercise
  • He has moved around so much, he no longer thinks of himself as a North Carolinian
  • He doesn’t like people eating or drinking in the audience
  • He doesn’t like to have his picture taken
  • There are 6.5 million copies of his books in print
  • The books have been translated into 25 languages

The shows are officially sold out but Craigslist shows some tickets for sale.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...