by Tony Lagarto
March 15, 2000
I was sitting at my desk one Monday afternoon in January when I received an unexpected email from someone named Matt Lappin. The subject field said "Greetings from Strangers With Candy", so my interest was piqued and I opened it right away.
As I read the note I learned that Matt is a writer/script-coordinator on the SWC staff. He said that he stumbled across my page by looking up "Strangers With Candy" on a search engine and that he was very impressed by the "wealth of information" on the show. In his estimation, my "SWC" page was more thorough than the "official" page at Comedy Central.
Over the next few weeks we spoke several times on the telephone, most often on the day after a new episode had aired. I had directed Matt to Natasha's Jerri Blank Message Board at Onelist.com and he was able to read the fans comments and respond directly. At the time, there was some concern about the first episode of the second season. Fans were nervous because the episode, "The Virgin Jerri", seemed to depart from what was expected (i.e. the new animated opening and the missing or underused main characters: Noblet, Jellineck, Blackman). From that point on, Matt and I would speak frequently about how I (and the Onelist group of fans) felt about each episode.
During one discussion Matt mentioned to me that the folks at the show would like to show their appreciation for the work that I've done on my web pages by sending me an autographed picture, to start with. He also invited me to come up to meet him and the stars, perhaps to watch them film an episode.
Finally, on Thursday March 9th I made the trip from D.C. to N.Y. with plans to meet Matt, Amy Sedaris (Jerri Blank), and Paul Dinello (Mr. Jellineck) at their offices in West Greenwich Village the next morning.
click pix to enlarge
|I called the Central Productions office the Wednesday before my departure to see what the plan was for Friday. As it turned out, they wouldn't be filming again until the next Tuesday so the plan was for me to go directly to the office where they do the writing. I had already booked a hotel room in East Rutherford, New Jersey because that's where they do most of the filming and I wanted to be nearby in the event that we'd actually be going to the set. It's a lot easier to find an available hotel room on short notice in East Rutherford than in Manhattan. Every place I called in the Village was booked solid. Getting from East Rutherford to Manhattan isn't difficult at all. There are only about five miles between them and the bus to the New York Port Authority stops right in front of the hotel. An added convenience is the avoidance of traffic and parking hassles. I also kind of liked the idea of actually staying in "Flatpoint" (if you've ever stayed in East Rutherford you could probably see how this town might actually produce its own "Jerri Blank".)|
I caught the bus from "Flatpoint" at around 10:30 a.m. and arrived at Port Authority in Mid-Town Manhattan near 11:00. It was a sunny and unseasonably warm day for March in New York (I'm not a native of D.C. I actually grew up in Danbury, CT, not far from NYC, so I remember many extremely COLD days in March.) so I decided to walk down to the office in the West Village. 40 New York blocks are a lot easier to walk than 40 D.C. blocks. Besides, I feel that you miss so much in New York if you zip downtown or uptown on the Subway or in a cab.
|I arrived at the office at around 11:45 and the first thing that I saw in the lobby was a "Flatpoint High School" banner. I knew that I was in the right place. I asked for Matt Lappin and a few moments later he came out and greeted me. It's always interesting to actually meet someone that you've only communicated with through email or spoken to on the telephone. I hadn't allowed myself to believe that any of it was really going to happen because if it didn't happen, for unforseen reasons, I would have been really disappointed. But as we were walking toward the office where Amy and Paul were working, the reality and excitement quickly sank in.|
Matt led me into the room and made the introductions. In person, Amy seems SO tiny. It was just like the first time I saw Madonna in person. The space in your mind gets so filled with the "celebrity" that the diminutive physical stature of the "person" is a bit jolting. Paul was sitting at a laptop computer and was surfing the net, I think. They both looked a little tired. Amy explained that they both had a little too much to drink the night before. Paul basically looks the same as he does on TV, but since much of Jerri Blank's appearance comes from the creative use of makeup and wigs you can see how Amy would probably be able to get away with living her day to day life without too many people recognizing her (except hawk-eyed devotees like myself).
Click the pix
|Amy and Paul wanted to know what my favorite episodes are and I easily rattled off "A Burden's Burden", "Who Wants Cake", "Behind Blank Eyes", and "The Blank Page". I also said that the closing dance sequence from "The Goodbye Guy" and the Miracle Worker-like scene from "The Blank Page" where Jerri has a breakthrough with Mr. Noblet and learns how to spell were two of the all-time funniest moments in television history! I also expressed my adoration for Dolores Duffy, who played Iris Puffybush (episode 2-01), a nurse (2-05), and Blackman's assistant (2-07). Amy said, "Isn't she great? She's our Edith Massey." I told her that I had made the same comparison to John Waters' muse in my episode summary the day after seeing "Yes You Can't".|
One thing I wanted to know right away was if they knew whether Comedy Central would be ordering any more episodes. When I first arrived I had asked a staff member the same question, but he said that nobody had heard anything yet. To my delight, Paul and Amy gave me the great news that 13 more episodes had been ordered and Paul added that they'd begin airing in July. They also gave me some details about an upcoming episode in which Jerri joins a love cult. They found that the story deserved a continuation so they made it into a two-parter. I asked them if they wanted me to keep these things to myself or if I could spread the word and they told me that I could share the scoop. I felt like I'd been given my first "exclusive". I planned to tell the Onelist (an online forum that was later replaced by my FlatpointHigh yahooGroup) gang about the series renewal first thing upon my return to D.C.
|Since I didn't know how often Amy or Paul actually have a chance to go onto the internet (other than Amy's visits to eBay to bid on taxidermied animals) I came prepared with a folder containing printouts of ALL my "Strangers With Candy" pages. After perusing the pages and hearing me talk about the show's trivia and minutiae -- not to mention the stream of favorite quotes that flow freely during normal conversation -- Amy and Paul talked about how I probably know more about the show (and Amy's life) than they do.|
I presented Amy with a couple of gifts that I had made. I'd created a couple framed pictures for her: the first was of candy hearts with "Strangers With Candy"-themed sayings and the other was a picture intended for Amy's kitchen (I know that she likes to bake) that shows a woman's legs sticking out of an old gas oven with the caption, "Nothing says lovin' like mother in the oven". She, in turn, quickly darted out of the room and came back a few moments later with gifts that she had hastily, but lovingly, wrapped for me. They were a set of four coffee mugs, each with an animated picture of one of the main characters: Jerri, Noblet, Blackman, and Jellineck. [On the back, the mugs say: (Jerri) "May all your showers be golden.", (Jellineck) "Drama! I love it!", (Noblet) "Happy Presidents' Day from the Noblets.", (Blackman) "I'm an obtuse man, so I'll try to be oblique."]
I had also brought a couple copies of an interview of Amy's that had appeared in the Washington Blade recently. She hadn't seen the interview so I told her that she could have one of the copies and I asked her to autograph the other one for me. The first page of the interview had a full-page shot of Jerri standing at her locker from the first episode, "Old Habits/New Beginnings". Posted on the locker is the sign-up sheet for her party which said, "Party at Jerri Blank's House" "Bring Hot Fruit or Meat". I asked her and Paul if they could put their names on the sign-up sheet. Paul signed his real name and his character's (which he spelled "Geoffery Jellineck"). Amy also wrote her real name at the bottom, but at the top she wrote a special original Blank-ism for me, "I'll jerk you off while you pour beer over me -- Jerri Blank". She explained that this was a line from a recent episode that had to be cut. I feel honored that she chose to share the sweet sentiment with me! I also asked her to autograph my copy of NEXT Magazine (that I paid over $20 for on eBay) and she wrote her usual, "Pee on me -- Jerri Blank".
|There were remnants of Flatpoint High all around me: candid behind-the-scenes snapshots and costume/wig test shots, a pair of Jerri Blank's Candies (shoes) that I almost tripped on, pictures of Principal Blackman as the Homecoming King, and other background posters from the show, like the "Cheerleader Tryouts Today" sign and shots of Roberto Gari (Guy Blank). I admired a few of the pictures and Amy took them down off the bulletin board for me to keep. They even had the original, unused police sketch of the perpetrator who ran over Mr. Jellineck's beautiful face (Amy took this down and had copies made for me).|
We discussed her new PETA ad and her upcoming appearance on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien". I told Amy how much money her NEXT Magazine issue is going for on eBay and she said that she and I should get into the tee-shirt business. She even had a particular shirt in mind: Principal Blackman's face, just like the pictures you see in the background of almost every scene. I told her that the show's crazed fans are desperate for ANYTHING (counting myself among the most crazed and desperate).
I knew that they had been working on episode 2-10 for the past couple of weeks and I didn't want to keep them from their writing for too long, so after about an hour had passed, I took my leave of these two comic geniuses and let them get back to what they do best.
|I thanked Amy and Paul for allowing me to visit them and for all the little treasures that Amy sent me away with, then I said "goodbye". Matt had left the room earlier and nobody seemed to know where he was so I didn't get a chance to thank him again. I figured I could just do that the next time I speak to him.|
I had plans to meet up with my friend Stacey for lunch (at a restaurant that happens to be right across the street from Amy's apartment building), but before taking the elevator down to the lobby I had to take a quick "pee" break. When I walked in and went to the urinal I had the delightful surprise of seeing the words "Pee on me" written with magic marker directly above the flush handle.
Shades of Flatpoint in New York
It seems that everywhere I looked in Manhattan I saw reminders of Flatpoint.
JUST ONE MORE