David Sedaris is a highly acclaimed humorist who uses his own life as fodder for his story; so, it was no surprise that in “Standing By” Sedaris retells experiences of his at airports with the purpose to entertain people. He is able to achieve humor with by creating a comedic, conversational tone by using vulgarities and including questions. However, Sedaris sole intention was not just to entertain. He also wanted to raise a question about the nature of humans: are humans mostly mean? Sedaris uses a combination of references to politics and history, rhetorical questions, and anecdotes to reveal his question at the end of the essay.
Throughout the piece Sedaris uses an abundance and variety of profanities from “fart” to “mothafocka.” The use of profanities makes the piece feel believable as well as relatable. Most people that have been to airports have endured some type of horrible experience, and most likely there were many other people speaking without filters around them (or they themselves were the initiator). The word choice mirrors the angry, conversational tone overheard at airports. Additionally, profanities add a certain level of both shock value and humor to the piece. One of the funniest moments of the piece was when Sedaris just turned to the old grandmother and said in reference to the shirt with mothafocka “what gets me is that they couldn’t even spell” it right, and he continues saying “I mean, what kind of example is that setting for our young people?”
Additionally, Sedaris includes questions to add initially to the conversational tone (and often humor) but also to add to his conversation about the nature of humans. Many of the questions in the piece are used to make for realistic dialogue. For example, the grandmother simply asks “what?” in one of her pieces of dialogue. Questions are also used as mechanisms for humor, like when the flight attendants explain “crop dusting” through the metaphor of a squished water bottle. Then towards the end of the piece, questions are used to spur the dialogue about the way humans react at airports. He explicitly shares this with the question, “But what if this is who we truly are, and the airport’s just a forum that allows us to be our real selves”? Sedaris wants us to think deeply about the essence of humanity with the anecdotes he has included.
With his references to politics and history, Sedaris furthers his argument about the idea that airports allow for the trueness of humans to be revealed. Without paying attention, it is easy to miss how many references to both politics and history Sedaris weaves into his piece. This gentle weaving allows for the piece to both have the conversational tone while leading up to his final statement about the humanity. Sedaris makes tensions and separates people into “we and they” by bringing up political alignments. Additionally Sedaris makes a more obvious argument about the more “evil” side of people by referencing Hitler. His personal reactions also factor into how we view the situation and the people surrounding him.
From this piece, we can learn the importance of slow release of information. By gradually making references to history and politics while still keeping with the conversational tone, Sedaris is able to both entertain and making people think about the nature of humans. Humor has an important place in writing and the same goes for creative nonfiction; humor allows the author to grab the reader’s attention and is then able to make the reader ponder.