Arts » Comedy

Spirit & Place: Q&A with Amy Sedaris


  • Submitted Photo // Dave Windisch

The funny thing about Amy Sedaris’s craft books is that they’re not necessarily spoofs. When she does crafts, they are actual craft projects that can be replicated by the reader at home, but they’re doll wig door knobs, coconut chip earrings, rusty nail wind chimes (more about those below) and tampon ghosts.

The same rule goes for her TV work, as the star of Strangers with Candy or, more recently, 30 Rock, on which she’s currently playing a Buffethead-type. Sedaris is interested in the type of comedy that’s about playing out an absurd situation without winking to the audience.

She’ll play herself on Nov. 8 at the Madame Walker Theatre, answering questions first from The Art of the Matter’s Travis DiNicola, then from the audience. Because we are fond of overkill, we figured we’d ask her a few more before she got to town.

NUVO: So, you’re doing a live interview in Indy. Do you like that kind of setup?

Sedaris: Yeah, I like it because it feels kind of conversational; you can work off someone else. And I love it when you get to the audience, because then you get to hear people’s accents and stuff like that.

NUVO: The theme of Spirit & Place is play this year—and I guess a lot of what you do is informed by playfulness?

Sedaris: It is, but it’s also a tricky word, because sometimes people misunderstand what you mean by that. Sometimes people think that means you like to play games, something a five-year-old would like to do. I think having a sense of play is all about being in the moment.

NUVO: And your craft books, for instance, tread the line between being parody and playful and being sort of serious, in the sense that you can actually do the crafts.

Sedaris: I always like that. Even when I watch a movie or TV show, I’m like, is this supposed to be funny, because it’s pretty funny. And when it’s on a channel that says it’s funny or it’s a movie that classified as comedy, then I hate it when it’s pinpointed; I’m like, OK, you’d better make me laugh. But when you ride the line, you get away with both. But if any- thing, those books are more visual, and hopefully they’ll just trigger an idea.

NUVO: So you would have liked it if Strangers with Candy were on Lifetime.

Sedaris: Well, there you go. After-school specials were actually what we were parodying. As we did it, it got sillier and sillier, but we started off with that intention: We wanted to play it out, literally, as if it would have been on TV when you got home from school. We wanted it to be serious, but we couldn’t help ourselves!

NUVO: I was just watching the social guidance film that inspired Jerri Blank and Strangers with Candy. [Called The Trip Back, it’s a filmed version of the scared-straight-styled speech that recovering addict Florrie Fisher gave to high school audiences during the late '60s and early '70s.] It’s such a nutty, but very sweet and sincere film. I can see how the character was so inspiring; there was so much to explore there.

Sedaris: Well, yeah! In the pilot, I look like Mike Dukakis. I had the character down and the facial expressions, but then when we found Florrie Fisher and got into her background, so much just changed. That was a gem; Paul Dinello found that. We were like, 'Yes, jackpot.’

NUVO: I just love the reaction shots of the kids. They’re a mixture of confusion and detachment.

Sedaris: They’re really kind of bored. I’d be at the edge of my seat with my hand up. [When she says,] “I like colors like bone and tan and beige and bone,” you’re like, oh my God! “I’ve had hepatitis six times.” She takes that pause, like it sounds like she’s lying, before “six times.” Another inspiration for Jerri was the female serial killer that that movie Monster was based on. When I watched the documentary on her, that’s where I got the idea where Jerri Blank would always turn, flip it and then clear the desk off in the principle’s office. It’s like, she’s standing up and saying to the judge, 'I’m very sorry,’ and going on and on about how bad she feels about killing all those men, and that she was just protecting herself. And then the judge goes, 'Guilty,’ and she goes, '[consult historical record for exceptionally unpleasant curse],’ and says these horrible things. That’s where I got that idea; that’s pretty good.

NUVO: Looking at your book Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People, I was thinking about how an artist said to me that she moved from making furniture to doing craftier things because she didn’t want to make, say, chess sets made out of ebony at $20 per board foot and other terribly expensive materials. It can be more fun to work with stuff where it’s not a disaster if you screw something up.

Sedaris: That’s what crafting is; you just kind of find it. That’s why it feels like cheating to me when you go to craft stores and go in and buy it already done. [In trademark Sedaris southern accent,] 'All you have to do is glue the seashell on to the wooden frame and paint it!’ That doesn’t seem crafty to me at all. But I’ve tried to follow Martha Stewart crafts, and first, I never understand the instructions, and second, it never turns out the way it’s supposed to look. So I just wanted to do a book where it’s — actually, this is what it’s going to look like.

NUVO: Do you go to any really out of the way places when you’re looking for craft materials? Do you ever go dumpster diving or pick stuff up off the street?

Sedaris: Mostly flea markets, and I save everything. And then if I really need some- thing ... I was making a wind chime out of rusty nails, and I couldn’t find any nails because they were all galvanized. So I had to go on eBay, and sure enough, there were enough crazy people selling rusty nails.

NUVO: And how much did you pay for rusty nails?

Sedaris: Like 10 dollars for a sandwich bag full of them.

NUVO: Well, that seems reasonable.

Sedaris: Yeah, you can always find things. Popsicle sticks: I wanted to use popsicle sticks that were stained, and popsicle sticks nowadays have some sort of advertisement on them, so it took the fun out of that. So I would wait, and then I would buy popsicles at the end of summer, and I would watch them drain in the sink. And that’s how I got the sticks.


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