The wild rise of Amy Sedaris’s alter ego and why it’s coming to a movie theater near you
When a 47-year-old ex-con junky-whore with one hell of an overbite leaves the slammer and heads home, she’s surprised to find her daddy has lapsed into a coma. Believing that if she just made him proud, he would see the light of day again, she decides that the best way to turn her life around is pick up right where she left off: As a freshman in high school. Welcome to Strangers With Candy—and Jerri Blank, Amy Sedaris’s mind-bending alter ego. Strangers is the audacious big screen transformation of the cult Comedy Central hit spawned by Sedaris, Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello back in 1999. It is, perhaps, one of the most original, fully imagined indie films to come out of the annals of Hollywood in quite some time. Purposely playful, politically incorrect, it’s downright hilarious and totally shameless. It’s also very embraceable. Sedaris et al—quite an imaginative comedy troika—developed the idea for Strangers in the mid-’90s, but it was Sedaris’s unique take on the outcast Jerri that helped launch the series and, now, the film, which bridges its finger-pointing parody at those after-school specials of yesteryear with something everybody can relate to: trying to fit in. Sedaris is no stranger to success. A blaze on the comedy scene for more than a decade now, her collaborations with Colbert and Dinello initially hit pay dirt on HBO’s sketch comedy show Exit 57. After Strangers folded on Comedy Central, Sedaris kept busy with numerous TV guest appearances, particularly making a mark on David Letterman—his production company, WorldWide Pants, helped bring Strangers to the big screen. Still, like her famous sibling, David, there’s this sense of always something more lying beneath the surface. She’s out-there with a side of Shy tossed in for good measure—Witty with a Go Deep chaser. Now that Strangers is attacking the cineplexes, and Sedaris’s new cookbook/guide to entertaining, cleverly dubbed “I Like You,” slated for release in fall, Sedaris’s is enjoying a stellar year. Even if she’s had to, as she claims, do it all toting around an “imaginary boyfriend” along the way. Here’s the lowdown:
Good Times: I hear you live with your imaginary boyfriend, Ricky, and your rabbit, Dusty.
Amy Sedaris: Dusty’s right here. And my imaginary boyfriend Ricky just visits during the holidays. He lives in Argentina.
GT: What do you love most about being with Ricky?
AS: I should tell you what I don’t like about him, which is that he’s a huge pothead, which is not a good thing but I like him because he lives far away. It’s just perfect—the long distance relationship.
GT: I think I am going to try that. Most of my partners were real but I must have just imagined that they really wanted to be my partner.
AS: Do you have a boyfriend, girlfriend or a wife now?
GT: I imagine that I do.
AS: Well I was just thinking last night about Ricky, because I tried killing him off, but whatever—I decided that I didn’t want to live with the ghost of my imaginary boyfriend. I saw this thing last night and in the performance they said, “My God, you are in love with a ghost!” And I thought, “Now that’s a good idea.”
GT: I like it.
AS: You know, we could survive living with a ghost, right.
GT: Could work. Could get you through the year, maybe.
AS: Yeah. Well, remember that book “The Bridges of Madison County?”All those women that age! And it’s so crazy, because [the character’s] in love with this photographer she met for just three days and she loved him for the rest of her life.
GT: That’ a bit much.
AS: Yeah. It is.
GT: Well, Strangers with Candy was such a hit on Comedy Central …
AS: [Laughs] No it wasn’t!
GT: Well, for the fans, anyway. How do you like the way the film turned out?
AS: I always used to think about what TV shows could be made into good movies. And the reason I wasn’t scared to do this was because if you were a fan, you discovered it on your own, because Comedy Central never really got behind it. So, I thought, it’s kind of for misfits and outcasts because Jerri is such an outcast, and I had never done a movie before and I thought it would be nice to do a movie for that kind of audience. Because … they don’t make films for misfits and outcasts, really. You know what I mean? It’s all about pretty people now. And I just thought with Stephen [Colbert] behind it and [David] Letterman, it was all good. And I don’t know how it’s going to do; don’t know how it’s going to be on the wide screen. I just know that the process could not have been better.
GT: As a movie, I think it works.
AS: Yeah? Well, I was curious about that, because if you did not see the series at all, what would you feel walking out of the movie?
GT: I thought about that. It’s tight. It’s its own universe; it’s own complete package. It doesn’t apologize for what it is. It’s out there, edgy, funny. I’d give it three stars out of four
AS: Oh, that’s good.
GT: How fun is it to work with Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello? Hilarious guys. The three of you are sort of like a post-modern Rob Petry writing team writing for that fictional Alan Brady Show from the Dick Van Dyke Show.
AS: And that’s so funny, because we never call ourselves a group and we never make plans to do things. It’s always very-last-minute. It’s like, “Oh, I have this book deal, you want to work on it?” We all do work really well together. We have our strengths and weaknesses. Let’s say you’re in a band for years and all of a sudden, you want to play guitar, well, you go and play guitar. I mean, that’s why Steve can branch out and do his own show or Paul will go off and write a different screenplay. So, it’s kind of fun that we can get together and do this and then we can go off and do our other things.
GT: You mentioned that you are always so desperate for a laugh you want to play it big and that you are envious of people who can say one line with no effort. Do you think comedy is one of your greatest strengths?
AS: I don’t like to see it—comedy. And I certainly don’t like to read it. I prefer to do it. I prefer to do my own thing. Oh God. I mean, I prefer to see something more dramatic works and walk away and say, “˜Now how can I try to find the humor in that?” I am inspired by darker things. If it’s already funny or something, I want to go do it. I don’t want to watch it. I like humor from characters; character behavior. Like, if I am reading something like a recipe, or something from, like, the Bible—something more serious—I am convinced I can make it funny.
GT: There are more than a gaggle of celebrities in the film, which is great. How did all that come to be?
AS: Well, a lot of them I know. I know Sarah [Jessica Parker] and Matthew [Broderick]. I know Kristen [Johnston]. And I asked them. We sent a script to Allison Janney and she immediately jumped on board. And they were all great, and I love that, too, because they are such good actors. You know, it’s hard. Let’s say you asked a comedian to do Sarah Jessica’s part. They would try to make it funny. Sarah—she did it real. And that’s where the humor comes from trying to play something so serious and so real. That’s what makes me laugh.
GT: Tell me about “I Like You.”
AS: It’s a cookbook. I’ve been working on it a year and a half. I art directed it. It’s mostly, really, like an art book, to me. It’s very visual. I say it’s for the “illiterate.” I took it seriously, though. I shot it in my apartment and it has all my recipes and what people need to do in different situations to entertain. You know, like, how to entertain a room full of old people, or children, or people who are grieving. It’s a practical book
GT: So, you’re the voice of Cinderella in Shrek 3.
GT: What’s the best thing about fairy tales?
AS: Oh, I loved fairy tales when I was younger. I loved Snow White. I like total make believe. I’m not talking about magic. I don’t like watching something and then, poof, some magic appears and I’m like, “Fuck—you got me this far and now you’re going to tell me he’s a witch.” You know?
GT: Funniest thing you’ve read lately?
AS: Bad reviews of a movie make me laugh. And I am so glad that I have a good attitude about it because not everyone is going to like it and Strangers was such a great process with Paul, Stephen and Letterman and it’s like, it’s OK if everybody doesn’t like it. So, I’ve been laughing at some of the bad reviews—zero stars!
GT: Letterman’s company WorldWide Pants backed the project, too, and I see you on his show a lot. How was it with having him behind this?
AS: I mean, I could not believe how wonderful it was. One thing Paul, Stephen and I are lucky with, is first times—the first time we do something—like the sketch show, the Strangers with Candy show, and the first time we do a movie, it’s this. We donâ€™t know the rules. And people haven’t worked with us before, so I think on both ends, we’re all hard workers and they appreciated that.
GT: What do you love most about being Jerri?
AS: That I can look in the mirror and not see myself.
GT: Now why is that cool?
AS: I like disguises. I like to walk out of my house and not be recognized.
GT: What pisses you off?
AS: Oh, let’s see. No—that’s too personal.
GT: It can be personal.
AS: OK, all right. This is what pisses me off—somebody leaving me a message on the answering machine saying that I have to call them back and wanting me to answer a question they can answer themselves. Like, “hey I’m having dinner tonight and if you want to, come, but don’t call me back if you can come, just call me back if you can’t.” You know, somebody calling me back telling me to return a telephone message that seems ridiculous to me. You know what I mean? Does that make any sense?
GT: It does.
AS: Or somebody sitting in a rocking chair and not rocking.
GT: Yeah, defeats the purpose.
AS: It drives me crazy! Or, it’s your birthday and somebody brings your gift to the theater and you have to lug it around. That pisses me off.
GT: What’s in your CD player right now?
AS: Perfect Liar by A Thousand Clowns.
GT: Coffee or Tea?
GT: Oprah or Dr. Phil?
AS: God, I’ve never seen either of them. Oprah or Dr. Phil? Ay! How about an offshoot? Tyra Banks?
GT: That’s good. Chocolate or vanilla?
GT: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about yourself lately?
AS: I learned this through the book: As much as I always said I could not direct something, through art-directing this book, I realized that I was pretty good at it. I think I did a good job.
GT: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about somebody else?
AS: I’ve learned that when people say they are qualified for —that they do know more than I do or whatever—that they don’t. Not always. I always think that automatically a person knows what they are talking about and that I don’t. I realized that I know more than I thought I think I know. I hire the wrong people sometimes.
GT: I know what you mean—not about the hiring the wrong people thing, but trusting your intuition or not trusting your intuition.
AS: Yeah, like that.
GT: So, what’s best advice you’ve been given?
AS: “Don’t bother other people.” My mom used to say that—that was her advice. That, and, “always have change on the airplane for cocktails.”
GT: What’s the best advice you would give?
AS: Well, I’ve been telling people that. But lately I’ve been giving the advice: “Never turn money down.” I was at Kinkos on July 3 and the store was going to close and the girl printed out this book for me, and she didn’t have to do it. You know what I mean? It would have been so easy to ask somebody to do the book the next day. So I gave her a big tip, and she was like, “Oh this is my job.” And I said, “Never turn money down.”
GT: What’s the best advice Jerri Blank would give?
AS: You got to be a friend to have a friend.
GT: What could Hollywood use more of?
AS: Ugly people.