INTERVIEW BY LAURIE HENZEL
PHOTO BY DANIELLE ST. LAURENT
SINCE THE MOMENT they met in 1999, Amy Sedaris and Todd Oldham have been close friends who constantly inspire and amuse each other. Amy - sister of writer David Sedaris - has a history of playing weird, scary, often ugly characters (she starred in the seminal and hysterical Strangers with Candy), while Todd is an acclaimed designer and photographer who is about to launch a forthcoming furniture line. Whether they're working on ambitious craft projects (such as lining Amy's entire hall-way with candy wrappers) or creating scenarios in which Todd can photograph Amy in ridiculous get-ups, the two have great taste that tastes great together. . Their latest project, a book called Wigfield, the Can-Do Town That Just May Not (Hyperion) is a look into a community of fictitious losers. It was written by Amy, Paul Dinello, and Stephen Colbert (the same team that wrote Strangers with Candy) with photographs by Todd. Wigfield features Amy, Paul, and Stephen done up as characters like a stripper, a taxidermist, and a host of garden-variety degenerates. Dressed as "Mae Ella Padgett," Amy sports a bald wig with a few hairs ("looks like a coconut!") and a pinched face. Astonishingly, she really can make herself resemble a 60-year-old derelict, and, thanks to Todd's vibrant photos, Wigfield chronicles Amy's dare-to-be-dowdy aesthetic to the hilt. I sat down one spring day with Amy, who, despite the characters she plays, is very cute in real life, and her buddy Todd, who is super-friendly and approachable, to talk about their friendship and their book.
Friendships between women and gay men are important in our lives, so we thought, why not talk about it in BUST?
A: We're gay?
T: [to Amy] I thought you were.
How did you guys meet?
T: We met on a photo shoot for Black Book. They said I could shoot whomever I wanted, and of course, I picked Amy. About two weeks earlier I had seen Strangers with Candy. It was like, [eyes widen] BONK, where your eyes touch the screen and then come back in your head. When I saw. that show, of course, that was it.
A: He became obsessed.
T: I stalked her for a little bit and she called the cops on me a few times, but we worked it out!
A: Yeah, I didn't know Todd at all. That was the first photo shoot I went to where everything was prepared. He had sets and people who knew how to work cameras, and I was amazed by that. I was real happy with the pictures, and he called me the next day and said he had so much fun; it was really nice.
T: This is evidence of our first day together [shows photos of Amy smearing cupcakes on her face]. This is what happened when we met.
A: See the set? It was all sweetthings, cupcakes and everything, and we got to eat it.
T: Yeah, $50 worth of Little Debbie snack cakes.
So you guys were sort of on the same wave-length creatively?
T: But Amy brought in a prop bag. That was mind-blowing.
A: Which I still have.
T: Oh, it was so good! I think you dragged it out the other day.
A: I always bring a little prop bag.
What's in it?
A: Oh you know, costumes, uniforms, backdrops...
T: You must have worked with some rotten photographers, because you had everything. It was amazing.
A: They're not rotten photographers. I'm just not going to give them much just standing there, or they want you in your underpants when you're not that kind of person.
T: I feel flattered, because I got pictures of you in your underpants last week! [Laughs]
A: That's different, that's different!
Todd, when you were little, did you have a best girlfriend?
T: I moved every 15 minutes of my life until I was about 17, so my best friends were my sisters and my brother. I had friends occasionally here and there, but not that many friends growing up.
Amy, when you were young, did you have any friends who were gay, besides your brother [David]?
A: I know my drama teacher was gay, but I did-n't think about it until afterwards.
T: How did you know he was gay? Kinda nellie?
A: It was pretty obvious. He was a little fancy.
When did you realize that your brother was gay?
A: He told us. I don't know how old I was, but he told everybody and no one was shocked.
Do you guys think the term "fag hag" is a nega-tive one?
A: I don't know. I don't have an opinion on it because it just seems so stupid. "Fag hag." It doesn't sound good to say unless you have a Chicago accent.
T: It's old-fashioned. I guess it suits certain folks. I don't really encounter fag hags.
A: Yeah, I don't think I've ever used it.
I think it just means a girl whose best friend is a gay guy. I feel like, for me, I'm fine with it.
T: I always picture the cute heavyset woman hanging out with her gay friends.
A: Or they always have gay friends, they never have straight friends.
T: Yeah, it's too much of a weird stereotype.
Do you feel like your friendship is not the typical gay guy/straight girl relationship?
A: I have no idea.
T: What would that be? I know my friendship is special with Amy.
A: It wouldn't be any different if he was straight, I don't think.
T: I don't know what "gay stuff" is, except that you live in the gayest part of the world.
A: I live on Christopher Street!
How do you think gay men and straight women are similar?
A: Usually I tend to find that they're more feelings kind of people, know what I mean? [Women will] notice something, and I think most of the people I know who are [funny voice] fags, notice that kinda stuff too, and I like that. Whereas straight guys won't as much.
T: Well, how many fags do you know that can change a dimmer switch for you?
A: You're the only guy I know who can do that. But you didn't give me any birthday presents this year. You forgot my birthday, which is major.
T: Oh! That was my birthday present to you. I realized I was forgetting it so you could relish it every single day.
It seems like there are more gay men in creative fields.
A: But then they say that a lot of them don't like girls. I don't know any of those people.
T: That's that gay ghetto crap.
What's the gay ghetto?
T: It's people who insulate - gay gay gay gay gay gay big ball of everything - and that's it. The Gay Yellow Pages.
Right. What exactly is the gay mafia? I honestly don't know what it means.
A: The GMs.
T: [Laughing] I am no member of the gay mafia, but I do know who it is. It's just those Hollywood folks. It's a handful of tastemakers with a lot of power in Hollywood who all happen to be gay men.
They don't seem to be using it though. If they're movie people, wouldn't you think they would make better gay roles in films?
T: I don't know. I see a show like Will and Grace, and it's like watching Martians to me. I don't know anyone who thinks like that, talks like that - none of it.
Did your friendship happen quickly, or was it something that evolved over time? Was it like, insta-friends?
A: It was pretty instant.
T: Yeah, instant.
A: I've never gotten mad at him or anything.
Amy, what do you like most about Todd?
A: He's more like a teacher to me than a friend, and I always liked teachers because I don't think I'm a very good one. I always learn things from him and I don't have to explain myself a lot. Like, he can usually get something by an expression, or maybe he just assumes that I know nothing. [Todd laughs] I always say, "Isn't it great having a kid?" Me being the kid, because everything - something as simple as the bowels - he's still teaching me. And he gives me a lot of presents. And he never asks for money. He's also completely redone my entire apartment. When he first came over, he was like, "Oh this is great!" and now it's completely different. So he's a liar. And I just feel really comfortable, like I can do anything around him. We can just hang out. There aren't many people you can just hang out with. We can just do nothing together.
T: We do that so well. That's mostly what we do!
A: Or we do crafty stuff that no one else will do, but it's always the best.
OK, Todd, your turn.
T: I like Amy for lots of reasons, but probably the most selfish one is that she's my oxygen.
A: Aw, that's nice!
T: That's what it boils down to. This is so nauseating, isn't it? We're starting to sound like Donny and Marie or something.
No, it's not.
T: It's just that Amy inspires me in everything I do. Every single thing I do. She's the only person I know who can sit and look at a cookbook from 1952 for as long as I can! [Laughs] Or Amy can show me her price tag collection and I understand it! It's so beautiful that she loaned it to me and I reproduced it.
What else are you guys collecting these days?
A: I'll show you what I'm fascinated with right now. I'll give it to you if you want it.
T: I think I know what it is.
[Amy digs through her purse and hands me a small laminated piece of colored fail.]
A: It's the foil on Easter eggs! Look at how beautiful that is! Right now I'm just obsessed with that kinda stuff. We dyed eggs yesterday, that was fun. And we made a T-shirt.
T: Do you have red hands still?
A: Just the thumb. I put some nail polish over it...
T: It's hard getting it out around your nails.
So you like to do crafty stuff?
A: Yeah, it's all craft stuff. Or, he knows how to use a computer so he'll make CDs for me. We like the same kind of music.
T: That was one of the first surprises. We have exactly the same taste.
A: I was playing Groove Theory, and you were like, "Wait a minute!" And then I gave you the Norman Connors CD.
A: And that's when we became friends.
Lets talk about the book. Is Wigfield based on a real town or real people?
A: No. Stephen Colbert, who works on The Daily Show, went to a town called Jefferson somewhere and that's where we got the idea that it would be full of strip malls and tire shops. It is based on that, but everything else is made up, like the people.
So they were your characters. Did Todd have input on how they looked?
A: We all had an idea of what we wanted, and then he had his miracle team work on it. They created the makeup and the hair. Once we saw what we looked like, the stances and postures just came.
T: We had a big meeting after it was partially written, and you explained what everybody looked like, and we just built sets on paper.
A: Yeah, it was like, "We need a scar kit. we need this..." so he supplied that stuff and then we just went bananas.
T: But Amy, Paul, and Stephen played every character.
Are you going to make a play out of this?
A: Instead of doing a normal reading, like at bookstores, we're going to mount something on our feet that's equivalent to a reading.
A: I don't think so. We're going to use a uniform, 'cause we do so many characters. It has to be fast.
T: I don't think this could be staged in costume because of the prosthetics. Some [of the characters] you'd have to make up for 3 or 4 hours. Mayor Halstead was all prosethetics.
A: Yeah, the retarded guy.
Do you guys just sort of think of projects you can do together?
A: My problem with projects is that it's enough for me just to think about a project and then I'm exhausted. I don't even need to see it. But he likes to actually do it and then see the final product. I'm like, "Whatever." I'm bored with it. He's like, "Look at the negatives from the last shoot!" and I'm like, "I can't." We are very different in that way, which I bet can be frustrating for him. One thing that makes Todd different from most artists I know is that he will go with the technology. Like computers and stuff. He automatically knows how to work them, so he'll apply his creations to that. Most of the people I know are still locked in the old ages, still make their own candles and.. .well, they don't make their own candles, but they're resistant to learning anything new. Like, Todd did the MTV thing and then was like, "Oh no, I've already done that. I want to go and do this and this and this."
T: Like at Target. I had a great time, and then [it's done]. I love adventures. It's always like putting on a show. Like a guest appearance. I love a guest appearance.
The Target thing is great. The whole fashion thing seems so unattainable to normal people.
T: Pretty un-modern.
It's cool that you make stuff for a store where people could actually buy it.
T: Yeah, why should you be punished because you don't have money? It's absurd. I don't ever want to do stupid-rich-people things again. Bad idea.
Amy, what about you? What are you doing now?
A: Well, we're working on this little tour [for the Wigfield book]. And then I've been thinking about what I want to do this summer. I'm either going to spend some time in North Carolina or I'm thinking that there's this restaurant I really want to work at called Mary's Fish Camp. They're always busy. I really want a job like that this summer, just work weekends and then...
A: Yeah, or whatever. But I'm allergic to shellfish. [Todd laughs]
Oh, that's not good.
A: I know, I know. But I'm not going to tell them that when I fill out the application. Then when it happens I'll be like, "Oh my God, I had no idea!" and then they'll find something else for me to do.
T: Well, don't work every weekend 'cause we have to hang out in the countryside. Summer's always nice in the country.
A: I know, but I want a job like that. So I can complain about it and it will prevent me from doing other things.
T: You won't complain about it. You'll relish every minute of every bizarre customer.
So you don't want to do a movie, or something like that?
A: If something like that pops up, of course.
T: The movies come after you now, though.
A: Yeah right!
T: You've worked a ton this year!
A: Yeah, I've done a lot this year.
T: You were great in Maid in Manhattan.
Oh, I didn't see that.
T: Don't see it. Get the video, [fast forward] 'til you see Amy, then press play.
You did Sex and the City too.
A: Yeah, I getto do that again this June.
T: They should write you in as Sarah Jessica's daughter or mother.
A: Or as her when she has a sick day. "Carrie Bradshaw will be played by Amy Sedaris."
T: And she could loop it for you using her voice.
A: That would be so much fun. We always wanted to do that on Strangers.
Have you guys ever pretended to be a couple?
T: A couple of what?
A: Nah. Uh-uh.
You've never used him as, like, a shield when someone was trying to pick you up or something?
A: Oh yeah. Sometimes I get people who call me, and he calls them [and says], "What do you want!" and automatically his voice gets deep. It's hilarious.
T: She has me and Paul to take care of her creepy fans.
A: Or I'll want to embarrass him in an elevator or at Target. You know, say something about the baby or something. "We're not gonna have another one."
T: Except for I always give it up, we're obvious because I'm laughing. But I do all kinds of husband shit. I have called back some of your creepy callers.
Well, I'm out of questions, thanks!
T: I think we covered it pretty good.
A: Gay gay gay gay gay!
© 2003 BUST