The Many Faces of Amy Sedaris

Amy Sedaris is an enigma. She’s beautiful, in the seventeen magazine sense, intelligent and one of the most polite people I’ve ever known. She bakes and sells cupcakes and cheese balls, for God’s sake! But when she’s on, that is, when she’s in character, she is the most twisted person you will ever meet. She is not beyond cursing like a truck driver, wearing fat suits, painting her pretty face with bloody open gashes and black, bruised eyes; and will use anyone in her path, her family, friends, lover, even sell her soul perhaps to make people cackle till their sides split. Nothing is safe from Amy. But her brand of humor will leave you wondering about the state of the world. These piteous characters she becomes take over our collective consciousness, and we recognize ourselves. When the play, episode or story ends, her personas come across as the normal one and we are left feeling uncomfortable. We can always relate somewhere in our dark and moldy closets to the myriad of dejected qualities her characters wear like a badge of honor. Sedaris’ success for comedy is that it spotlights all of our social skills at the point of break down, that moment when we are confronted with a situation so amoral, strange, or maybe just plain crude that we have no idea what to do but laugh. And we love her for it.

Only someone this demented would have created and played Strangers With Candy’s, Jerri Blank – a former teen runaway who, after a lifetime of prostitution and drug abuse, has returned to high school as a freshman at age 46. The show was recently canceled so we caught up with Sedaris to talk about her plans for the future.

“I haven’t done anything since it ended. Cooking and cleaning. Couple of projects,” she says, and adds that she’s spending quality time with her rabbit, Tattletale. “She’ll be five in February.”

I waited for her at a bistro in the West Village, as she lives nearby, but it was so damn cold I was pissed I arrived too early, since they made me wait outside. She shows up exactly on time, with a little box of chocolate covered pretzels from a chocolatier I know she knows I love. I said she was sweet, didn’t I?

She’d been on The Conan O’Brien Show the night before, where she completely left Dick Clark, another guest that night, catatonic with shock. She taped her nose up (as her infamous character, Talullah) and did that white trash character and cursed till all you got was one long censorial beep after another. Dick Clark just looked at Conan, finally able to speak, and says, “TV ain’t what it used to be, is it?” I think it was the first time Dick actually looked old. Amy can do that to a person.

I told her how great she was and we talked like old girlfriends catching up over salads. Of course, with the cancellation of SWC, I was concerned and curious as to what was going to become of her.

We start off with me trying to understand the paradox that is Amy Sedaris. I told her how normal she can be, how girly she can be, having traded clothes and make up with me over the years, when she interrupts me and says, “Normal? That’s nice to hear… go on…” So I tell her how intense it is to see her become so “psycho” whenever she’s faced with an audience. “It’s all the nervous energy. I get eager when there’s an audience. They plan things for you to talk about but Conan’s really loose. He didn’t hear the Vicadin story I was going to tell. He trusts me. The Vicadin story was true. I opened my door and there she was when I needed a Vicadin. A miracle on Christopher Street. She kept offering me muscle relaxers, she’s got a million problems, and I said, ‘No, the Vicadin’s fine. Then she kept asking if she’d given me the Vicadin and I almost said, ‘you didn’t, but…’, I was really close. Poor thing, she moved recently.”

Being the sister of best-selling author, David Sedaris, could be daunting for anyone. They’ve worked together, with their theater company, The Talent Family, and David’s even incorporated Amy and the rest of their family into his twisted family tales. I ask how David’s doing. “David’s doing great. I’m going to France (David lives there) for the month of January to write the new play. It opens March 16th at Greenwich House Theater. I have no idea what it’s about or who’s in it, or anything. Whatever we come up with will not be what we do,” she continues describing the process. “We’ll write it, we’ll come back, do a read through and then start from scratch.”

There is a sense that perhaps she panicked with the ending of the show, because she is booked solid through the Spring. And I was concerned about her. She’s putting up the play, putting together a book for Hyperion, and on top of everything else, has gotten involved with a show for Fox which she hasn’t read yet. “I was on the telephone doing something. They said it’s shooting in New York. You only have to do seven episodes, they’ll pay you like whatever, do you want to do it. It’s a small secretary part, like the one in Moonlighting. I’ve never done anything like it. It’s really good money and it won’t interfere with the play. It’s stupid not to do it.”

When I asked her if she wanted to get involved with more mainstream performing, she discounted it. “No. I feel like now that I did Strangers with Candy, that’s what I really want to do. Then I feel more open to do more mainstream stuff, cause I’ve proven myself as to what I can do. I’ll do a photograph now. If they want me to look pretty then I’ll do it, but, before I was ‘No this is what I want to do’. I’m more open to that now.”

Sedaris has done some movie parts, most notably on Six Days, Seven Nights starring Harrison Ford and Anne Heche. If she were given huge movie star status with all the trappings, she says she’d only do it if it came with complete creative control. It can’t be easy to give anything like that up after having written, producing and starring in your own show and plays. But I get the sense that she’s opening up to the idea. The SWC crew have been approached to do a movie, which seems interesting to her. The thing that worries Sedaris is if she’s really right for the big screen. “I don’t know if I’m really right for film. I know I’m right for the stage, because I can be broad. With SWC I got away with it. I never think about it.”

Her dream would be, had she not become a performer, would be to have a strip mall, with a bakery, a wig shop and a black box theater and call it Wigfield. “And the bakery can have hot crust buns.”

However, there are aspects of the movie business that she does think about. She just got the rights to do a film version of Love Junkie (by Plunket). It’s about a straight old woman who falls in love with a gay guy. She feels it’s really her. I ponder this and realize if anyone can pull off an old fag-hag it’s Amy Sedaris. They’re working with Alliance and of this she takes a casual stance saying, “We’ll see. You know how long it takes for stuff like that to happen. And Paul (Dinello) and Steve (Colbert) wrote a movie they wrote a long time ago we’re supposed to shoot.”

The interview takes a turn for the more personal. Amy asks me about the married life. I tell her I’m really happy and the sex is still good. She’s amazed. “I would love nothing more… I never thought about marriage my whole life. I could see getting married, having babies. Work outside your home. I’d take my laundry in, do ironing, make my cheese-balls.” I wonder if she’s being honest. I mean, who could image Jerri Blank, or Amy Sedaris, doing the ironing waiting for her polyster-clad hubbie to come home? I wonder if she’s putting me on. In reality, I think she’s split down the middle on this. This life she’s talking about would bore her to death, but I think the idea of loving someone, bonding with someone – not something her family is known for – really appeals to her in some alien way.

Her family is well documented in David’s books. One particular quality never leaves me. The fact that their father never throws anything out. “I could go home and look in his refrigerator and not recognize anything. He gets really mad if you smell something, cause if he knows… It’s hilarious. One time I saw a package of moldy peppers he paid ten cents for. He paid a dime for four of them! You know how old they are to be ten cents! I say, Dad!  He never remarried. I wish he dated. I wish he had a really young girlfriend. We all do.”

We have a friend in common who just booked a major commercial, at which Amy gushes and says, “I wish I could do a commercial. I’d love to do that. I’d love to do a Tampax commercial. To look like I have PMS would be great!”

We love her for the craziness and that pretty much says it all, folks.


— Ty Wenzel

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