David Sedaris's Joke About Firing People Is a Joke, It's Just Not Funny

David Sedaris's Joke About Firing People Is a Joke, It's Just Not Funny
Photo:John Macdougall / AFP (Getty Images)

Author David Sedaris came under fire on Sunday for a segment he did with CBS Sunday Morning, in which he did a bit about how customers should have the right to fire service workers.

“During this difficult time when so many Americans are looking for work, I’d like to introduce an idea for something I’m calling the ‘citizen’s dismissal,’” Sedaris said. “It’s like a citizen’s arrest, but instead of detaining someone, you get to fire them.”

Sedaris goes on to provide some examples of when such a right might be exercised: There was one time when a YMCA lifeguard closed the pool where he was doing laps because she needed to go to her parent’s house to do some laundry. Another time, a cashier told Sedaris and his sister that the store was out of bags for the expensive dishware they had just purchased. Sedaris said they both deserved to be fired, and he should be granted the authority as a customer to be the one to do it.

“We all have our off days,” he continued. “Certain people, though, could easily be replaced by go-getters.”

Taken literally, what Sedaris proposes is outlandish and cruel, especially when service workers put themselves at risk by showing up to work every day. The suggestion that employees who don’t meet Sedaris’s standards of service be dismissed and replaced by those who do is also a suggestion that customers get to decide who deserves to survive and who doesn’t.

But my read on the segment is that Sedaris is obviously joking. The joke just isn’t very funny!

After I watched the video, I messaged my friend Chris Gonzalez, a writer of (often humorous) fiction, who made what I think is a very good point about what can happen when humor writers and comedians rise to a certain status. Sedaris’s humor has always been a bit mean—and always very hyperbolic—but decades ago, had Sedaris joked about service workers he would have been poking fun at someone more like himself. “Santa Land Diaries,” which Sedaris first read on NPR in 1992, was based on his experiences working as an elf at Macy’s during the holiday season.

But now that Sedaris is a much more famous and wealthy writer, a joke about firing service workers feels like an obvious punch down.

“I guess there is a way to make a commentary on one’s own entitlement?” Chris told me. “But especially now it doesn’t land.”

Agree! I’m not sure there’s anywhere much deeper to go on this one. Case closed.

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