Amy Sedaris Interview

by Ron Babcock

THE PART TIME JOB

Amy Sedaris is talented. Besides writing and performing in the sketch show ‘Exit 57’, she starred in the cult hit ‘Strangers With Candy’ and has made a sizeable mark on the silver screen and stage. She and her brother David, author of the infamous, Me Talk Pretty One Day, have collaborated on eight plays including the Obie Award winning, One Woman Shoe.

Amy Sedaris is creatively bipolar. She performs, but never watches anything she does. She’s a comedian, but hates watching comedies. She’s a professional actress, and yet runs a cupcake and cheeseball baking business out of her apartment. She also moonlights as a waitress. Speaking as a fellow waiter…

Why?
I like making cash. Last night I made $312 from 6 o’clock until 12 o’clock. But I didn’t get to sit down once, and I like that. I’m not going to feel achy after an acting job.

You actually like that?
I don’t have to do it, so I like doing it. I like busy work. I like the timing. It’s an opportunity to wait on your audience. Last night was great, but if I had to do it five nights a week I don’t know what I would do, it’s so hard.

You know what I hate? When people ask for extra lemons because they’re too cheap to buy lemonade. Unless you ask for extra lemons, then I think it’s really cool.
I hate it when people order tea because you have to do the whole setup for tea and I hate it when they sit down and they say, ‘what’s good’ when you’re really busy. But at the same time I love it, because it keeps you grounded. It’s always important to have a job like that, no matter what. You hang out with a lot of actors and people in the theater, you’d go out of your mind. You’d go out of your mind.
(Editor’s Note: Said twice to denote emphasis on how out of your mind you would be.)

In an interview, you said, “I like to give advice.” So here’s a problem.
Oh, exciting.

There’s this guy at work who keeps stealing my tables when it’s obviously my turn. I’m scared to tell him to stop because he’s 6’5” and looks like he just escaped prison. What do I do?
Why don’t you say, ‘Hey look, you intimidate me because of your look and your size, but the truth is, you’re taking my tables and I don’t know what else to do. I don’t want to be a little sissy and run to the manager, but I just want you to know.’ Unless you think it’s stupid to admit to someone that you’re intimidated by them.

No, I think that might take him off his guard.
It’s always good to be honest. It scares people.

THE EGO

Sedaris is a definitely a cult celebrity, yet she has a smaller ego than the kid who played the rock in the school play. More amazing is that with an upcoming Strangers movie and a possible TV deal for the book she co-wrote, Wigfield, she still finds time to feed NYC’s insatiable appetite for cheeseballs.

Have you ever said the following to anyone, “Do you know who I am, do you? I’m Amy Sedaris goddammit.”
Eww, no. I’d never say that, not in a million years.

That’s alright, you don’t have to admit it.
God, can you imagine? I just don’t think of myself in that way at all, at all.

But you’re a celebrity, you have to have an ego.
I guess when I’m cooking, it might come about.

Ever get in a fight?
I used to be a bully in my neighborhood and beat people up. We’d have contests; who could beat somebody up? I would.

Funny to think you were a bully. Now you give the aura of a 4-H Leader.
I was a girl scout till I was in 12th grade. I was definitely in my own little world.

How are you so productive?
Yeah, I guess I am. I sell cupcakes and cheese balls out of my apartment. I deliver to a couple of bakeries in my neighborhood. To me I’m always lazy and to other people, it sounds like I am productive. To me, it’s mindless work, it’s not like I’m doing anything hard. It’s just stuff I like doing. I like having a job you can bitch about, you know what I mean? ‘Damn, butter went up to five dollars a pound’ or ‘I got to get that order in by Tuesday.’ It’s fun having a job just to complain about.

THE DAY JOB

For the past 15 years, Sedaris has worked with Stephen Colbert, of ‘Daily Show’ fame, and Paul Dinello, a successful screenwriter. The three met at a Second City improv class in Chicago and since have produced ‘Exit 57’, ‘Strangers with Candy’ and now a book entitled Wigfield, The Can Do Town That Just May Not.

What makes your team work?
We all get along. We’ve worked together for 15 years and we can be honest with each other. If we don’t laugh at something, we know it doesn’t go on paper.

What’s your role?
I’m good at coming up with the idea. Paul’s really good at making it serious and Stephen’s really good at wording it in a certain way. When two of the three of us work on a project, it’s pretty obvious that the three of us didn’t.

What was ‘Strangers With Candy’ like?
A total sense of freedom. It’s the best thing in the world. There were no grown ups there to slap our hands. I’d always give the script a high test. We’d write it, straighten everything, but then I’d be like, ‘OK, let me take it home, let me smoke some pot and I’ll read it and give you notes.’ Half the time we were writing it the same time we were doing it. We were so behind in our writing. If you do a network show, oh my god, you have nothing. It’s so much rehearsal, it takes the fun out of it. ‘God, do it again? What do you mean, do it again?’ I wish everything could be like, ‘You got one shot, that’s it.’

Do you miss doing ‘Strangers’?
I don’t want to miss anything about anything. I’m doing pretty much everything I want to do right now.

How many characters do you have in your repetoire?
I don’t know but I know I’ve been dragging the same ones around since I was a kid.

That’s cool, it makes them more indepth.
(laughs) Yeah, I guess. I need something to hide behind. I like playing unattractive people who find themselves really, really attractive. That way I can be more physical. One of my favorite quotes is ‘It’s easier to apologize than ask permission.’ I trust my instincts and instead of asking a director if I can do it, I’ll just do it. If it doesn’t work, I can say sorry. It’s easier to do that than to ask, because you’re always going to know. You’re always going to know.
(Editor’s Note: Once again, notice the repetition, again.)

One of my favorite quotes is “Ambition makes up for a lack of natural talent.”
What makes up for a lack of natural talent, bitchin?

No, ambition.
I’m not a very ambitious person. That’s one of my weaknesses. I don’t mind ambition in other people, but sometimes it’s enough for me just to have the idea. I don’t need to see it through. I’ll walk around and exhaust a possibility and then I’m done with it, because what I imagined in my head is always better than what came out of it.

Do you watch a lot of comedy?
I don’t like to watch comedies. I can’t stand it. I like to do it. I don’t like to see it.

How come?
I’d rather see something serious and be like, ‘OK, what’s funny about that?’ Whenever I see something funny, you have to drag me, kicking and screaming. I always walk away thinking ‘OK, that was funny, whatever.’ But if you tell me it’s depressing, I’ll be the first one in line.

What about the stuff you’re in?
I never watch shows that I’ve done. ‘Sex and the City’, ‘Monk’, that David Spade show, the movies, I don’t watch them. ‘Strangers with Candy’ I would because I had to be in editing sometimes.

Aren’t you curious?
No, because all I do is remember what I was doing. I don’t want to see it because then I’ll just be so critical.

About Maid in Manhattan…
I had to see that because I had to go the premiere. I had to see it.

You were great.
That’s very nice.

The movie, um…
I know.

I think you have some apologizing to do.
I know.

Did Jennifer Lopez realize how bad it was?
I don’t know what people think when they’re in bad movies.
Did you watch the whole movie?

Yeah, we were getting drunk.
What drugs were you doing?

No, we were getting drunk.
Oh, what do you drink?

Mostly beer. So what are you going to do now, like right now?
Well I have a rabbit. Her name’s Dusty. So when I get off, I’m going to give Dusty some attention and then I have my laundry that I folded on my couch, I’m going to put that away. I was eating while I was talking to you, I’m going to do those dishes and put them in the sink. I’m going to wash my face and brush my teeth and go to bed and read till I fall asleep.

Amy Sedaris is a strange duck. She did more before she went to bed than I did all day. But before she fell asleep, she gave us all some advice. “Just do it and things will come. That’s the only advice I have for people... and read. Keep reading. Whatever interests you, read as much as you can.” I told her we would all take her advice, because if we didn’t she would probably beat us up.

 © 2003 - Modest Proposal