As a MasterClass affiliate, I earn a commission if you subscribe through one of my links. I’m afraid I’m also heavily biased in that I thoroughly enjoy David’s work.
David Sedaris was wrong. “When I was a child,” the humorist once wrote, “I assumed that when I reached adulthood, I would have grown-up thoughts.” Thankfully he didn’t. His style of storytelling and humour seems unique. But David insists: “If I can do it, you can do it, too.” His MasterClass online course is designed to give you the tools to become a better storyteller and make people laugh along the way. In this David Sedaris MasterClass review, we’re going to put this claim to the test. We’re going to take a look at MasterClass itself, my top five lessons learned from David’s online class and finish off by answering the most important question: Is it worth it?
David Sedaris & MasterClass
David is of course the bestselling author of gems such as Me Talk Pretty One Day and Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. He writes personal satirical essays and memoirs about his everyday life. In his online course, David teaches you about his approach to storytelling and humour in 14 video lessons, each lasting about 10-20 minutes. Like every course, it also comes with a comprehensive workbook for you to peruse and keep. Overall, it’s an engaging and entertaining exploration of the art of humour writing.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, MasterClass is a popular online learning platform. (Check out my comprehensive MasterClass review in case you’re interested.) With their classes, lectures and tutorials you can learn new skills at home. But not from random teachers such as myself. Their distinguishing feature is this: All of their courses are taught by the best and the brightest in their respective fields. And David Sedaris. At least that’s how the modest author probably sees it.
Each MasterClass production has its unique vibe tailored to the instructor. Sedaris’ work is characterized by dry wit and his ability to find humour in pretty much any situation. This is reflected in his video lessons which feel like having a casual fireplace chat with David. During this chat, the humorist covers different aspects of satirical writing. He illustrated how to break into a story, connect to your reader, write about loved ones, end with weight and grow as a writer.
Top 5 Lessons Learned
So much for the broad strokes of this David Sedaris MasterClass review. Here are my top five most valuable lessons learned from taking his online class.
1. The Art of Observation
David has the gift of turning mundane everyday interactions into humorous essays. Throughout the course, the award-winning author shares anecdotes and examples from his own life and writing, which are both hilarious and illuminating. But what seems effortless is all but random. Where does he find the inspiration to capture the absurdities in everyday situations? David’s answer boils down to this: It’s everywhere, you just have to pay attention.
The key is to take a keen interest in people and observe your surroundings deliberately. Old-school as he is, David explains how putting your phone away and refraining from taking notes while interacting with people works wonders. Seek out situations where you meet people and don’t spoil the moment once you’re in them. Plus, he has some unexpected questions to share to get other people talking. When was the last time you touched a monkey?
2. Finding Your Own Style
David considers it his professional duty “to collect jokes” and “startling images”. He writes about his own life and the people he encounters. His class very much reflects the personal style he’s developed over decades. Still, he doesn’t want his students to copy him. Instead, he provides them with the tools to find their own voice. The most useful one for me was keeping a diary.
Journaling gives you a reason to write every day and to cultivate it as a habit. This means you collect new ideas and get to practice putting your observations into words. David recommends not judging or reviewing it. He uses journaling as a warm-up exercise but also as a repository of material that he can later turn into essays. Personally, this practice helped me find the topics I gravitated towards, which eventually led to me writing about critical thinking.
3. David’s Humour
With his dry and serious demeanour, David very much reminds me of the late satirists Ephraim Kishon and Loriot. Mr Sedaris may have the appearance of someone who reached adulthood a long time ago. But that’s only until his writing reveals his not-so-grown-up thoughts. Humour emerges whenever his dignified persona is juxtaposed with the outrageousness of his observations, particularly about himself. And David has the conscious competence to break down why his humour works.
He explains how any scenario can be stretched “into the most ridiculous version you can imagine” through a combination between self-deprecating humour and exaggeration. The following example from David’s diary illustrates all of the above quite well. It’s from a day when he met an emergency room doctor who told him about patients who claim to have “tripped” and now have something stuck up their bottom.
OK, I’m pretty clumsy. I trip all the time, but have never wound up with a pepper grinder up my ass, not
even a little bit. I’m pretty sure I could tumble down all the stairs in the Empire State Building, naked, with a
greased up pepper grinder in each hand, and a box of candles around my neck, and still end up in the lobby with an empty rectum.
4. Giving Up Control
Speaking of levity. A lesson David learned the hard way has to do with an author’s desire to control his or her writing. Giving up control can not only provoke serendipity in finding inspiration in the first place. It will also take you to unexpected places once you’re in the middle of writing a piece. His advice is simple: Don’t fall for the illusion that you’re in control of where the story takes you.
A big part of this sentiment is Sedaris’ emphasis on revision. Instead of forcing a particular self-image or joke, he recommends ruthlessly parting ways with ideas that aren’t the right fit. The workbook provides concrete examples of how he revises his own work and he offers practical tips for identifying and fixing problems in a draft. In reality, his writing’s “effortlessness” takes around 12-18 rewrites before he even hands it over to his editor.
This may sound daunting. But it’s also a reminder of that much of a published writer’s success can be attributed to hard work, consistency and perseverance rather than talent.
5. Writing vs. Publishing
The David Sedaris MasterClass experience concludes with heartfelt advice for writers who just start out. One that personally resonated with me. It’s about a crucial distinction that’s often overlooked and adds another dimension to the sentiment of giving up control.
Don’t confuse publishing with writing. They’re two completely different things. Let the world take care of the publishing part. That’s not your job. I wrote every day for 15 years before my first book came out. That seemed normal to me. I throw away maybe a third of what I write. That’s normal to me. Sometimes it’s easy, but most times it’s not. That’s normal to me.
Because if you’re writing for its own sake because you must, you’re not writing to be read anyway. Then you can embrace failure since you know it helps you grow as a writer. In this spirit, David encourages you to write every day, improve your writing and find out where your passion takes you.
Is David Sedaris’ MasterClass Worth It?
David Sedaris is a master of his craft. His insights into the writing process are both relatable and profound. The video lessons are well-produced, structured and above all well presented. The workbook is filled with David’s book recommendations, hilarious personal anecdotes and writing samples at various stages of the editing process. But is it worth your money?
The big elephant in the room of my MasterClass review is whether you want to spend $10 a month ($120 billed annually) to take David Sedaris’ class. They’ve recently lowered their monthly price by $5. But it may still be a steep price if you’re only interested in his lessons. This changes if you also have an eye on other instructors as your subscription gives you access to a wealth of high-quality classes. Writing lessons from Salman Rushdie, for example. Or a comedy class taught by Steve Martin. If you look at it this way, $10 a month is a bargain.
Personally, David Sedaris’ MasterClass lessons helped me to channel my own not-so-grown-up thoughts into humorous essays. He has a wealth of knowledge and experience to share, and his insights are sure to be valuable to writers of all levels and genres. Perhaps that’s you. If you found this review useful and want to support my work, please consider signing up through one of my MasterClass partner links.