With a heavy dose of self-deprecation and a wry delivery, nonfiction writer/humorist/all-around stand-up guy Ian Frazier entertained a crowd made up of longtime fans and many recent English 120 converts in Linsly-Chittenden 102 on Thursday evening. Frazier — who says he goes by “Sandy” because he tired of people in his small hometown in Ohio calling him “EYE-an” — shared hilarious stories from his most recent book, Travels in Siberia.
Despite his insistence that he only recently got into plot (which he now says everything needs…oops), Frazier is an accomplished story-teller whose effortless style and deadpan delivery drive home the absurdity of the things he’s saying. Travels in Siberia was Frazier’s way of separating what he had imagined Siberia to be (hearty, vodka-swigging train conductors and Chekhov’s grandkids) and what it actually is (a pretty bleak expanse of mosquito-infested terrain where frostbitten flamingos, more than once, have inexplicably fallen from the sky).
“Russia is a very funny country…[it’s] like slapstick, only you actually die,” Frazier said of the country.
“You see somebody with a full beard, and you think ‘Tolstoy’…you feel like you’re entering a story,” he went on to say.
Frazier says he likes traveling because it allows you to compare yourself to previous generations (right, OK, I’m following) and that he wanted to traverse the 15,000 kilometer expanse of Siberia “simply because it was an interesting thing to do.” In between cracking jokes about his “silly” Russian accent and the difficulties of writing humor pieces (“Writing something funny is an incredibly slow process. It can take 2-3 years!… You just wanna think of something funny!”), Frazier made clear his infatuation with history, captivating the audience with tales of the Decemberists, Tolstoy and his first cousin twice removed. All of this comes in a uniquely conversational voice that shows just why the New Yorker has kept him around for more than two decades.