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Though Amy Sedaris is perhaps best known for her character Jerri Blank, a middle-aged former prostitute turned high-school student from Comedy Central's cult series Strangers With Candy (and its 2006 movie prequel by the same name), the New York-born comic actress has had a varied career beyond that role, both onscreen and off. In addition to her ongoing multitude of film and TV roles (Snow Angels, Wonder Showzen), she's also a writer, cook, and hostess—three passions she combined for 2006's "entertaining guide to entertaining," I Like You: Hospitality Under The Influence. The A.V. Club talked to Sedaris about the next Strangers With Candy special and how David Letterman tortures her.
The A.V. Club: Your book describes how to entertain lumberjacks, rich uncles, and the elderly, but how do you like to be entertained?
Amy Sedaris: I like to be the one in charge of everything. I'd rather be the one to do it and have people come over. I don't mind cooking. But I like it if I need shelves built or have curtains made. I like to be entertained by watching them do that.
AVC: You've said entertaining can be a burden sometimes. Do you ever get flat-out sick of it?
AS: Not really. That's why I like to wait 'til the last minute to [throw a party]. I like to decide the night before Thanksgiving that I'm gonna do it, and I'll see what riff raff is around. Then I get that last-minute surge of energy. But if I had two weeks to plan, sometimes I wish I wasn't doing it. But very seldom does that happen.
AVC: In other interviews you seem to bristle at being labeled a comedian or actor, though in the back of I Like You, you refer to yourself as an artist. But that's sarcastic, right?
AS: Oh, yeah, jokingly. I guess [I'm an] entertainer. Whether it's serving food or tap dancing, you're an entertainer. That's what they called themselves in the old days—even Bob Hope.
I like to entertain in all aspects. When you're with somebody and you're out, you want to be entertained. I like to be around entertaining people. Even if they're bored, and you're in a convalescent home, there's something entertaining about that, in a way.
AVC: Is there anything that doesn't lend itself to entertaining?
AS: I've been to some funerals where there's a lot of laughing— it's about celebrating their new journey. I can't think of anything. There's humor in everything. There's gotta be humor in everything.
Even if you're watching TV, and something [unexpectedly] strikes you as funny. It's funny when you're watching with somebody else, and they don't see the humor in it. I was just watching this pledge drive on PBS—I love motivational speakers—and there was an old man talking to a group of old people. It was just so funny because his jokes were lame, and he kept looking at the cue cards. You could tell he was selling something, like he was passionate about it, [but] why was he looking at the notes? We can see your eyes literally go to the corners, and I thought it was so funny. But my friend didn't even notice it or find it funny.
AVC: What was the pledge for?
AS: It was about a book that he wrote. He was talking about the "second journey of your life," and how the government's going to take all your money and you need to plan. But those shows are so repetitive it's hard to watch them for a full hour and a half. The other person was talking about your brain—change your brain, change your life. He was pretty interesting too, but I was thinking, "You're not even living your life! You're not drinking, you're not smoking, you're wearing headgear." He's healthy and he looked fantastic, but his process seemed extremely boring to me.
AS: He was wearing protective headgear when he was on his bike. He was just some doctor. And he had a red turtleneck on and a navy blue blazer, and I was like, "Who dressed you? No one dresses like that anymore!" [Laughs.] And the women! One was talking about early menopause, and the other was talking about money and women, and I swear you can get them confused. They use the same words—cycles, decaying, highs and lows. They both had baggy slacks with camel toes. How is that possible you can have a camel toe with balloons around the legs? [Laughs.]
AVC: You've mentioned on the Late Show With David Letterman that Martha Stewart tortures you between commercial breaks when you do her show. How so?
AS: Usually the breaks on Martha's show are them just saying what's coming up next. He—meaning Martha—never seems to really listen; he just does what he wants anyway. Or they say, "It's not Jerry Black, it's Jerri Blank." But she keeps saying Black anyway. [Laughs.] It's funny.
Amy Sedaris on David Letterman
I get more torture from Letterman. Like, he'll ask a question and it's so funny: he'll go to commercial and he'll ask me something. Like one time he asked me if I'd ever done heroin. And then, I was like—I know I got the knitted brow, and I was like, "Huh?" [announcer's voice] "And we're back!" Or, you know, he asked me, "Don't you ever wanted to get married and have kids?" And he'll ask me why. [announcer's voice] "And we're back!" But it's funny 'cause it's like maybe I can't have kids, maybe I've been married. It's just funny to me—he's invited me to Mexico. He'll ask me something, and by the time I get a chance to answer it, the commercial's up. So I'm always so confused, but it's funny. Maybe he does it for that reason. I don't know.
AVC: He seems very sweet on you.
AS: Yeah, he comes backstage and says hey, which he never does to anybody. I like him so much; I always feel eager to do his show. He has me on when I have nothing to promote, which is why I like doing his show. I hate it when you're there to promote something. I just feel dirty.
AVC: Do you feel dirty doing his show since he produced the Strangers With Candy movie?
AS: No, that's nice. But I wouldn't feel comfortable going on there saying he produced it. I think that would embarrass us both. I've gone on there to promote movies I've gotten cut out of, and I felt fantastic about it. I got cut out of a No. 1 movie, or I've done a show where I actually had something that was coming out, and the people wanted me to show a clip, and I said no. I don't want to take the time out from a show trying to show a clip I don't even know how to set up.
AVC: What movies did you get cut out of?
AS: I've gotten cut out of School Of Rock. I was cut out of [Semi-Pro]. But I always tend to get those parts that when you're reading the script you realize they don't really need. But it doesn't bother me. It was still fun to do it, and you got paid, and everything gets cut down or out. I don't take it personal. Maybe I should. [Laughs.]
AVC: Is it difficult for you play more restrained roles, like in Maid In Manhattan?
AS: Yeah, it's harder, 'cause you sit in the makeup chair. It's one thing to sit in the makeup chair for three hours and come away looking like you got a mole you can move around and one eyebrow and a hump on your back. And then it's fun. But when you're sitting in the chair for three hours and they're trying to make you pretty, it's not as fun. You just look in the mirror and you're like, "Okay, well, who am I?" I always need something to hide behind, or something to make me feel like it's more like playing or make-believe. But it's harder when you just kind of look like yourself or a version of yourself and you kind of use your own voice. I'm not an actress like that. That's Jennifer Jason Leigh or someone like that. I always feel like such a phony. But I like those kinds of movies. I like dramas and stuff. That's what I watch, but it seems weird that I'd be in it.
AVC: Is it weird to watch yourself in it?
AS: Yeah, it's awful. I go into withdrawal. You just can't enjoy any of the movie when you're in it. I don't want to feel that way about movies.
AVC: You've said Jerri Blank is a starting point for your acting roles. Why are you so comfortable in her skin?
AS: I guess 'cause I can make the face. I don't rely on anything for it so I can kinda pull it out, and once you make the face you turn into somebody else. So sometimes if I'm reading a script, sometimes I'll read it as Jerri, 'cause then I can see the pauses. If I'm just reading it I don't really think of the word. I dunno, I have a problem following it. Like, if I went in for a voiceover I wouldn't know which words to punctuate until I did it as Jerri Blank. I know—I'm crazy. [Laughs.]
AVC: Do you think she's ugly?
AS: I don't think she's ugly. I mean, but—I haven't met that many ugly ugly people, to tell you the truth. But I like it when people who aren't so attractive, or they have a whole lot of hurdles to get over, I like it when they dress up and they look presentable. That, to me, just touches me. I just think that's so sweet when people get their hair done and the makeup done and they look nice. Jerri always looked presentable and she definitely had style. More so than [Sarah Jessica Parker's Sex And The City character] Carrie Bradshaw ever had, and I think that, you know, I like that Jerri thought of herself like that. That's what made me think she was more attractive. But, you know, I feel that way when I get dressed up. It's like, "Fuck, why bother?" You do your hair and makeup and you're like, "Oh, it's embarrassing!"
AVC: Despite all of Jerri's problems, she never seems to be self-conscious.
AS: No, she's like a kid. She lives in the moment. There's no future or past; she's just in the moment like a five-year-old.
AVC: Would you revisit her?
AS: We've been asked to do a Christmas movie, but [Stephen] Colbert is really busy right now with [The Colbert Report]. I doubt he'd be able to contribute. If Stephen couldn't be involved, it'd be fun to open up with [his character, Charles Noblet's] funeral. He died, and [Paul Dinello's character] Jellineck meets Chris Meloni. They fall in love, and then the ghost of Noblet can haunt them. Jerri would be in some center trying to eat oatmeal.
AVC: She's trying to eat oatmeal?
AS: Whatever they do in centers. Try to get coffee? Vending machine? [Laughs.] I don't know. But I want her to have painted-on eyebrows and her hair to be like a coconut, scattered and brittle, like she just aged incredibly. Paul is who he is, and if Paul ever has a flashback, he can look like Andy Samberg. The flashback could be literally the night before, and it'd be like, "God, you've aged 20 years overnight, man!" Maybe Noblet was murdered, but the case would be about accusing me, but no one ever really investigates.
AVC: Like a Christmas whodunit.
AS: It could be set up that way, like, "Isn't anybody investigating?" "No, no. Maybe next year."