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In the decade since her cult-hit show Strangers With Candy went off the air, Amy Sedaris has refashioned herself as an author, perennial talk-show guest, and comedic Jill-of-all-trades. While she still acts in small roles for film and TV—and in the 2006 Strangers With Candy feature film—lately, Sedaris has garnered more attention for her quirky take on DIY instructional books. Her 2008 bestseller, I Like You: Hospitality Under The Influence, was a tongue-in-cheek guide to being a good hostess, combining recipes with practical(ish) advice on, for instance, how to remove vomit stains. Sedaris and co-author Paul Dinello again bring their off-kilter humor to the new Simple Times: Crafts For Poor People, which continues exploring the twisted side of domesticity, using felt, tinfoil, and googly eyes in service of kitschy projects and impractical gifts. Like I Like You, it’s a bright, highly visual book brimming with colorfully crude photos and advice on how to craft while poor, handicapped, or stoned. Although she’s sick of crafts, Sedaris recently talked with The A.V. Club about bunnies, the gender politics of crafting, and her burning desire for a Strangers With Candy Christmas movie. (Sedaris appears Nov. 21 at Turner Hall.)
The A.V. Club: You were on Letterman a few weeks back, and you said you were sick of crafts. It must be a great time to be promoting a book about crafting.
Amy Sedaris: I know! And then everyone’s like, “Oh, we want to come over and craft with Amy!” “Craft with Amy” means you can help me fold my laundry, you can help me paint a wall. I just want to do projects, like, use people to do things for me. I don’t want to craft anymore.
AVC: I do want to talk about Simple Times, so I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to discuss crafting a bit.
AS: Oh, I don’t mind talking about it. I just don’t want to do it. Because you know what? There’s a different kind of crafting, too. Sometimes when you say “crafting,” I think people get that idea in their head of a certain kind of crafting that I don’t like. That kitschy-kitschy kind of crafting. So it’s more project-oriented, I think.
AVC: Both this book and I Like You exist in this middle ground between actual instruction and comedy. What’s your process for writing these? Do you come up with a comedic idea, like “Crafting for Jesus,” and build the projects around that, or are these actually projects you’ve done that you recreate?
AS: It’s a combination of that. First, I try to think of a name. I get obsessed with the title. Then I’m trying to figure out how I can be honest about it. What do I really know about crafting? I like to make things, but I looked at old craft books on weaving or mosaics or whatever, I’m like, “I don’t really know anything about that stuff.” So I was trying to break it down. Like, one morning I just woke up with “Crafting for Jesus” in my head. And I just love little religious crafts. Some of them I knew how to make, some of them I researched and figured out. Some of them, I had people who went to church camp that were in my crafting club, so they could help out with ideas. Writing-wise, I Like You was more personal, so I would just write about the truth. And with Simple Times, you know for “Making Love,” I don’t know anything about making love at all. So Paul Dinello wrote that entire chapter while I was screaming at him to write faster. Maybe I contributed a couple words to that, but that’s all. This book is funnier, but I really relied on Paul Dinello to help me make it funnier. I could come up for the crafts, and the instructions and production of it. But when it came to the writing part this time, even though we wrote it together, some of those chapters, Paul Dinello just took over completely.
AVC: In an interview about the first book, you said you wanted to make I Like You a more serious, straight-up entertainment guide, and Paul steered it in a more comedic direction.
AS: Yeah. Same [with Simple Times] when we were working on the “Hay Burners” chapter for rabbits, and I was like, “One day, you know, Paul, I’m seriously gonna do a rabbit book.” And he was like, “Oh, yippee. Hear that, publishers? A dry rabbit book. No jokes. No fresh anecdotes.” So he always makes fun of me at trying to take things seriously. That’s usually where the humor comes from, him making fun of me.
AVC: Did you make him do any crafts?
AS: Yeah, I tried. He made the whole sandbag backdrop, the stage. I had some miniature sandbags, I collect them. So I gave him the miniature sandbags, and he came up with that whole thing, he built it all by himself. There were a couple of projects in the book that Paul did. He’s good at projects, he’s really good at them.
AVC: You say in the introduction to Simple Times that anyone can craft, but generally it’s thought of as more of a feminine, domestic thing. Does crafting hold any appeal for dudes?
AS: Well, gay guys know how to craft, and they craft really well. Straight guys, forget it. When there are straight guys in your craft club, you’re like “fuck.” It’s just a whole different thing, the way they go about it. It’s just different. It invites more problems. It’s heavy. So I think gay men are great, and Chinese lesbians are really good. And as far as anyone crafting, you know, it depends what you think of crafting. If you take an uncooked baked potato and you take a drill and you drill holes in it and stick pencils in there, you got a pencil holder. And anyone can do that, really.
AVC: For straight men, at least there’s potential for gory injuries, which you also highlight in the book.
AS: Yeah, I knew I wanted to do something about injuries, because I haven’t had that many crafting injuries, but I love hearing stories about them. So I just knew I wanted to do something, because I love special-effects makeup, and I had someone at my fingertips who could do that. So I knew I wanted to take advantage of it and get a lot of blood in the book.
AVC: It seems like a large part of this book was an excuse for you to dress up.
AS: I know. I love costumes. My dream growing up was always to have my own costume and prop shop. And I save all my costumes. And then when I did the Dolly Parton video [for “Better Get To Livin’”], I met Adam Selman, who’s a costume-maker, and we hit it off immediately. And then I roped him into this project and he made all the costumes, which I love. And also the tricks of the trade, like using cork to make charcoal smudges on your face when I did the hobo—all that stuff is crafty. How to make a Jesus beard. So I really got into the characters in the book.
AVC: With this book and I Like You, you seem to revel in this idea of traditional domesticity, but filtered through a weird, quirky lens. Where do you stand as far as the idea of things like crafting and baking and homemaking as an expression of femininity, vs. buying into outdated female stereotypes?
AS: I just don’t think about this kind of stuff. I’m very domestic, I love cleaning. I love cooking. I like waiting on people. I just like to make things. I don’t break that down to be weakness, or the only things women can do, or putting me back 20 years. It’s just something to do with your hands at 3 o’clock in the morning. It’s always good to have a hobby. It keeps you going. That’s just what I happen to enjoy. And I think a lot of people do. They just want a little project to work on. I don’t put too much thought in that as far as being a feminist thing. I just don’t think that way. I don’t even know if that answers your question.
AVC: It does. Like, “Do what you like and don’t worry about what it means.”
AVC: You used to sell cupcakes and cheeseballs out of your home—
AS: I’m still a dealer, on request. I just made some for somebody. But just to keep all that stuff in my apartment, and the price of dairy, it got too expensive and took up too much room. And cupcakes are everywhere. But if someone begs me, I’ll do it. I like making mad money. I like having an allowance, so that’s the one thing I do miss. I try to make it elsewhere, but I really miss that big jar of money I used to have from making cupcakes.
AVC: Do you ever try to sell any of your crafts?
AS: Yeah. Sometimes I make these little zodiac cards for people for their birthday. So say your birthday is April 15, I’ll get out my birthday book and write down the strengths and weaknesses on a piece of construction paper, and surround it with some tinfoil stars. I sell them for a dollar.
AVC: Do you put googly eyes on them?
AS: No, it’s just the stars. Really plain. That’s the good thing about Simple Times. Whenever we were working on the book and doing all the sets and stuff, we would say, “Simple times test!” and then we would start to take away all the flavor, because poor people are always punished for not having any money. So we would take away the thing that gave it the extra pizzazz, and just make things easier. And I still do that today. If I’m making a card for someone, I’ll be like, “Simplify it,” and just make it as simple and uncomplicated as possible. And it always looks better.
AVC: In the book, you don’t always go that in-depth in terms of actually explaining how to make something.
AS: It’s hard! It’s hard. I had the same problem with I Like You, when I was trying to explain how to open a baked potato. It’s like, “Goddammit, how do you explain that?” And same with crafting. The book is really one big trigger idea. Hopefully people will look at it and get inspired to do their own stuff. Or you can just look at it and figure it out on your own. That’s half the fun of it.
AVC: Improvisation and trial-and-error are part of the appeal of crafting.
AS: Yeah, and even when I did a project that didn’t turn out, I still put it in the book. It was like, “Well, this didn’t work out, but now your job is to figure out how to make this. It just didn’t work for me.”
AVC: What didn’t work for you?
AS: The rock-candy experiment. F-minus. Failed! [Laughs.]
AVC: But it looked so pretty!
AS: It did! I didn’t want to throw it out! Nor did I want to go back and redo it. It was like, “I’m not gonna go back and make this! Forget it.”
AVC: There are plenty of places where people can figure out how to make rock candy.
AS: Well, the marshmallow stars I have in that chapter as well, I saw in a book for crafts for retarded people, and it’s one of my favorite crafts. I made that myself. But then it turned out I made it completely wrong. I forgot to add these two extra toothpicks that would balance the stars out. And I just thought, “See, there you have it. Even from a book for retarded people, I couldn’t get it right.”
AVC: “A book for retarded people?”
AS: It was a book I had on crafts for retarded people, and that was one of the crafts in the book. So I decided that I was going to make my own marshmallow stars, and theirs were much better.
AVC: You’ve appeared on Martha Stewart’s show several times. The two of you have different approaches to domestic endeavors. Do you purposely think of ways to tweak her when you go on the show?
AS: No, I don’t know much about him. I don’t know much about Martha Stewart. I didn’t really follow him throughout the years. And I really enjoyed doing his cooking segments, but when he asked me to do the craft segments, it’s really boring for me. I remember once someone showed me his magazine, and I tried making one of the pipe-cleaner characters, and it didn’t work out. And I just think that—it looked great, but I don’t think everyone can do that kind of stuff. There’s something about crafts looking too nice and neat and tidy that really turns me off about craft-making. I just like that it’s a little naïve and that it’s made by someone who really truly does their best job, but it still has a little character to it. When it’s perfect, I just get turned off by it.
AVC: Do you make crafts for your own home? Looking through the book, I have this mental image of your home as being full of crab-claw roach clips.
AS: The roach clip, I do have. [Laughs.] And if I save a tomato can and I cover it with foil, I think there’s nothing prettier than that. There are some crafty things in my apartment, but it’s not overload. I do have some cardboard trim that I made for my shelves, and that’s why I put that in the book. My sister Gretchen makes great stuff, so I keep anything she makes me.
AVC: Do you make her anything in return?
AS: Yeah, I’ve sent her a few things, and she likes them. She made a lot of stuff in the book, and she made it really fast. She works a lot with nature. So she really took over my nature chapter, and the chapter about losing a pet. She has a lot of painted rocks and stuff she sent me. She’ll send me turkey feathers out of the blue, and I’m like, “What the hell am I supposed to do with these?”
AVC: How does she get those?
AS: She has her ways. She lives in North Carolina and she works for the parks. She designs the parks.
AVC: Is she tackling turkeys and stealing their fathers?
AS: [Laughs.] Yeah, these bug-infested feathers arrive in my home. I’m like, “No thank you.” But nowadays, these mega-craft stores make it so easy for people, where they just buy the kit, and then all they have to do is add a hinge or paint it. And I think that’s cheating. I think it’s really all about going to hobby shops if you need to, or making stuff up at home, and thinking quick on your feet. I don’t understand these big scrapbooking or big craft stores. I just don’t get that at all. I try not to go there for my supplies.
AVC: You were the host at the annual Microsoft Company meeting last month.
AS: Yeah, I jumped that.
AVC: That seems like an odd fit. Are you a secret techie?
AS: Not at all, and that’s why I said yes. A) I thought I would never do something like this, and b) I thought that’s probably why they asked me. And I really had a great time. Paul Dinello helped me write it, and then they had their people. I mean, it was very mainstream, there was a lot of stuff I couldn’t do, so it was limiting. But I liked being in front of 20,000 geeks. You know that’s all they care about. And I’m terrible with technology, but I’m really glad that I did it. It was fun.
AVC: You filmed a short film for Microsoft Office, didn’t you?
AS: I did. They wanted to do something based on the rabbit chapter in I Like You. So if it has to do with rabbits, I try to get the word out there. I like that video.
AVC: How is your rabbit?
AS: Fantastic. There is a house-rabbit conference coming up in New Rochelle this Sunday and I’m going to read from the “Hay Burner” chapter [in Simple Times]. And this year, it’s on bunny bulge—overweight rabbits. I go every year, and I love it.
AVC: When we talked to you in 2008, you mentioned the idea of a Strangers With Candy Christmas movie—
AS: I really want to do a Christmas movie! I would love to do a Jerri Blank Christmas. But Colbert is so busy, and Paul works full-time over there at [The Colbert Report]. Before I die, maybe there will be a Jerri Blank Christmas. I think there should be. I think it could be funny. [Laughs.] A Blank White Christmas.
AVC: Are you working on any other projects right now?
AS: Actually, I don’t have anything really lined up. It’s this. And I want to do a show based on this picture in the book. It’s the woman in “Support your local artists” [on page 282]. She’s in a denim outfit and has adult acne. I would love to do a show around her.
AVC: Like a half-hour comedy show?
AS: Yeah, a half-hour comedy show with her. It’s a really fun character. I have a fun time doing her. So that’s what I would like to pursue.
AVC: Has the character evolved beyond the costume?
AS: Yeah. I’ve been doing her for years, just kind of playing around with her. It’s just finding the right place to put her. I think she’d make a great local artist on a local artist show. With adult acne! C’mon! That’s funny. [Laughs.]