Interview date: 01/07/2009
Run date: 01/14/2009
Amy Sedaris is probably best known for her work as Jerri Blank on Comedy Central’s “Strangers with Candy,” but she pops up all over the TV dial, from sitcoms (“Just Shoot Me,” “My Name is Earl”) to dramas (“Monk,” “The Closer”) to children’s television (“Sesame Street,” “Yo Gabba Gabba”). We talked to her about all of these items on her resume, but the reason for our conversation was her current gig: narrating PBS’s new six-hour special about the history of comedy, “Make ‘Em Laugh.”
Bullz-Eye: So how did you come to get involved with “Make ‘Em Laugh” in the first place?
Amy Sedaris: The director, Michael Kantor, contacted me and asked me if I’d be interested in doing it. And I went in, and he was very considerate, because there were a lot of words that I totally didn’t know how to pronounce. “Is that right?” But they helped me through it. He gave me line readings. “No, no, it’s like this…”
BE: So who are some of your comedic idols?
AS: I don’t know. I mean, I watched a lot of “SCTV” and Second City, but… I don’t really consider myself to be a comedian. I mean, it’s not like I’m sitting around writing jokes or anything. I just like dressing up and pretending to be other people.
BE: You were actually a part of Second City, weren’t you? How did you find your way into that group?
AS: I was, yeah. Well, David (Sedaris, her brother) was in Chicago, and I was still in North Carolina at the time, and he called me and said, “There’s this group here, and they’re all about improvisation.”
BE: Did you learn anything from narrating the “Make ‘Em Laugh” special about, say, comedians you hadn’t paid as much attention to before?AS: Well, you know, I’d always been a fan of Buster Keaton, but I’d never really known that much about Charlie Chaplin. And I hadn’t known a lot about Bob Hope as a movie comedian, so that was interesting. Phyllis Diller, her story was really amazing. She was a housewife, and she got into comedy and she took her kids on the road with her! And Jonathan Winters, you know, he actually had a mental disorder, sort of, that he was dealing with, but he was able to draw humor from all of these characters that he created. It was really dark, but it was really interesting.
BE: I’m so surprised that you were interested in dark humor.
AS: I know, right? (Laughs)
BE: So do you think we’ll ever see “Exit 57” on DVD?
AS: (Vaguely horrified) I hope not! What, you mean all of the never-ending sketches? (Laughs)
BE: Is there anything from the show that you remember fondly?
AS: The characters. I think a lot of the characters I did are really just the same characters that I’ve been doing; they’re just kind of evolving and changing, but they’re still kind of the same characters.
BE: Were you happy with the “Strangers with Candy” as an epilogue to the series?
AS: I was glad to do it, but I would’ve been fine if I hadn’t done it. We hadn’t even really shopped the film. We got a call from Mark at Worldwide Pants, and they were interested in doing the movie, and they were ready to do it in three weeks, and I’m, like, “How did you even get a copy of the script?” But it was fun to play Jerri again and to be with Steven Colbert and Peter.
BE: You guys did the “Wigfield” book. Was there ever any talk of transforming that into a movie?
AS: You know, I was interested in doing something with it. Not so much a movie, but maybe a miniseries or something. But nobody’s really doing miniseries anymore.
BE: What were the origins of “Hospitality Under the Influence”? Was it really just a matter of paying tribute to awful photos of old cookbooks?
AS: (Laughs) Well, it was partly that, but it was also just because I like to cook. People don’t read as much anymore, so I wanted to format it in such a way that it was a blend of text as well as pictures.
BE: Were you surprised at the success?
AS: Honestly, I don’t go into projects with thoughts of how they’ll do. I just do them as I’m doing them.
BE: Any chance of a sequel?
AS: Well, right now, I’m working on a book of crafts, actually!
BE: How did you come to appear on “The Closer”?
AS: I like Kyra Sedwick. And I’d never really done a drama like that, where it’s funny but it’s still very much a drama as well. But, you know, I’d always wanted to do a role that gave me the opportunity to, like, look at a Polaroid and say, “Yes. Yes, that’s him!”
BE: Your other TV appearances seem to have been carefully chosen, like “Just Shoot Me,” “Monk,” “My Name Is Earl”…
AS: “Just Shoot Me” was a lot of fun. I loved working with David Spade. He was really great. And George Segal! With “Monk,” I was looking to do something, and, come on, Tony Shaloub! And “My Name Is Earl,” those guys were a lot of fun. But, wow, the cat lady house stunk!
BE: You were also in the video for Dolly Parton’s “Better Get to Livin’.”
AS: That’s another one where they just asked me to do it, but, you know, I got to go to Tennessee for a few days, and she was so sweet! And I met one of my new best friends there, who was the costume designer on the video, and he actually made me this dress I’m wearing today!
BE: But how did you come to appear in “My Baby’s Daddy”?
AS: (Uncertainly) You know, I’ve never even seen it! I think they just asked me, and I wasn’t doing anything at the time.
BE: On a daddy-related note, my daughter will be thrilled to learn that I spoke to the woman who played Snow White on “Sesame Street.” Was that also a case where they approached you?
AS: Yes! They offered it to me, and I jumped at it. David and I are really competitive about being the best aunt or uncle…and his nickname is “Uncle Money,” so how can you compete with that, you know? So I take projects totally so that I can be a cool aunt. That’s why I did “Sesame Street” and “Yo Gabba Gabba” and “Shrek the Third.” “Yo Gabba Gabba” is a really cool show.
BE: When David’s “SantaLand Diaries” made him the toast of NPR, did it inspire any sibling rivalry? Like, “Okay, now I need to step up to the plate, too”?
AS: No, not all. People ask that a lot, actually, but he’s my biggest cheerleader and I’m his, so I was just excited for him.
BE: What’s your favorite piece of his?
AS: Actually, my favorite is the stuff we’ve done together, The Talent Family plays, because he doesn’t really collaborate with anyone. So I look back on those things and think about those good times.
BE: And, lastly, what the status of your sitcom?AS: Paul Dinelo and I are still working on it, and we’re shopping it, probably for somewhere on cable. It’ll be a half-hour long, but that’s about all I can say about it now…mostly because everything about it could change tomorrow!