|December 4, 2003 | Brown Daily Herald|
not your average joanna
by Dan Bassichis
To call Amy Sedaris’ trajectory through the comic world a "career" is like calling New York a former Dutch colony; besides being gross misstatements, both were built on stuffed squirrels, prosthetic legs and chlamydia jokes.
Not that she cares. Once famous for wearing a fat suit home for Thanksgiving in brother David’s monologues, Sedaris has become a comedian in her own right, the star of Comedy Central’s "Strangers with Candy" and a part-time dramaturg. Post- talked to her just a few days before the second season of "Strangers" came out on DVD to discuss her career, her gay following and what makes her so damn funny to me. Hey, two out of three ain’t bad.
While Amy’s thick North Carolinian accent coats her small but hearty voice, it’s nothing like the around-the-block scratch of her "Strangers" character, 46-year old Jerri Blank, a high school freshman with a hankering for women, drugs and Tom DeLay.
As Jerri says at the beginning of every episode, she "was a boozer, a user and a loser," yet left that glorious life behind in order to go back to high school—a scenario about as plausible as Amy’s brother marrying one of the First Daughters. Apparently, Blank faces the same issues as every other high school student: an evil step-mother, teachers who just won’t get off her back and STDs like you wouldn’t believe — but willingly. That’s way too wild for primetime, if you ask me.
"Strangers" has more self-referential humor than a college a cappella concert, and sometimes its unity or cohesion suffers for that. Amy explains that "Strangers" is really about "misfits, people who feel like they don’t really belong in society. They tend to be losers." She cites her unending quest for the loser as the reason for her gay following, despite her character’s affinity for high waisted stonewashed jeans and disgusting skin diseases.
"Gays tend to be misfits," she said, drawing from years of listening to David perfect his monologues in the bathroom mirror. "I see the gay people on sitcoms, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t know anybody like that. I guess, I think people look for something a little more human."
"I like to play people who are losers probably, but don’t think of themselves as losers. Like someone who’s unattractive but they think they’re really sexy." Amy’s 2003 play "The Book of Liz," written with brother David, about a dying clan of self-important religious separatists and their escaping cheese ball maker, is stuffed with such characters, who glow against the self effacing protagonist like neon lights to a light bulb.
"All the characters I play tend to really like themselves a lot," Amy said. "I think that’s why a lot of people like them." Amy feels it necessary to invest her characters with the polar opposite of perfection; no one would mistake a cracked-out Jerri yelling at old people from her car for one of the Fab Five. Still, it’s a constant mystery whether we are supposed to feel sorry for Jerri or superior to her, or on which side the comedienne herself falls.
Amy and her comedic sidekicks—co-creators and co-stars Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello—parody everything in their sights with a series of unrelenting and exaggerated jokes, especially concerning racism and political correctness, but she says nothing of it is really that far out.
"We just put it out there," Sedaris says about japes like the African American Principal Blackman and the all-white production of "Raisin in the Sun."
"We magnify it. A lot of people are racist, and say they’re not, but they are. So we’re just making fun of that." Sedaris and her ilk may make racial discomfort and side-stepping absurd and no longer taboo, but is the show’s satire of race and political correctness a savvy political commentary or thinly veiled racism? "Strangers" dances around these binaries but, frustratingly, never quite reconciles them in a satisfying way. It’s easy to write funny and trivial, but real comedy is hard.
So who does Amy find hilarious? "I think all the girls from SNL are hysterical: Rachel Dratch, Maya Rudolph, they’re really good." Hoping in my own twisted world to establish a rivalry between the other funny blond Amy—Amy Poehler of SNL and "Wet Hot American Summer" fame—I was sadly disappointed to find out that Sedaris had great respect for her, and thought she was "just hysterical. And so nice." "Amy and Amy" on HBO? Maybe on Starz. Obviously, the best way to cop Amy’s career is to marry one of her siblings and take the family name, though that’s not what she told us. The best way to become a comedian, she said, is to "just kind of do it. If you’ve got an idea, then you can do everything in your power (to develop it). Don’t get so caught up in headshots and agents, and all that. Just know what’s going on, read a lot, and if you feel like performing, just perform. There’s always a way to perform." Spoken like a true insider. And if that doesn’t work out, you could just have a bar mitzvah and stand at the door collecting money. "Isn’t that what it’s about?"
If Amy gets her way, Tori Spelling will be playing her in the hopefully forthcoming movie about Sedaris’ life. Spelling declined to comment, but co-star Shannen Doherty was all too willing to be quoted on something besides Rick Solomon’s sexual performance. She instructed all loyal Post- readers to put on your stirrup spandex, smoke some dope in the locker room and pick up the second season of what is bound to be a cult classic for years to come, if it doesn’t go the way of "Cagney and Lacey."