House Calls by Peter Davis
wake and bake
What's cooking with Amy Sedaris
SURROUNDED BY PILES OF MINI PAPER UMBRELLAS (FOR TROPICAL DRINKS), PLASTIC hot dog and hamburger toothpicks, silver-colored chocolates and candy-confetti decorations, dazzlingly daffy Amy Sedaris is sitting cross-legged on the floor of her West Village apartment. We've just bonded over our love of decorating cakes and cupcakes to the extreme, and Sedaris is filling up an enormous goodie bag of sugary treats and plastic trinkets for me to take home. The room is drenched with the sweet smell of three cake layers in the oven: Sedaris is making her first three-layer (chocolate, vanilla and spice) cake for friend (and Sex and the City co-star) Sarah Jessica Parker's birthday. She crawls over to a coffee table and grabs an old cookbook to show me a picture of what the final product will look like. "Isn't that pretty?" she gushes. "But it's so time-consuming!" Sedaris has been baking professionally for almost eight years. She sells the brightly colored cupcakes she makes "every other night" at two local bakeries, Bonsignour and the Original Espresso Bar. "I have to stay on top of it," she reports.
Amy Sedaris is not only a kick-ass baker, but also a hysterical comedian with a cult following, which she developed during her now-defunct television show Strangers With Candy. But Sedaris is nothing like Jerri Blank, the show's drugged-up, 47-year-old slut in tight stonewash denim, who re-enrolls in high school. Blonde, with delicate, girlish features, Sedaris turned 42 in March, but she looks 25. "I think people always expect me to be like Jerri Blank. I'm totally different," she says, for an instant transforming her face into Blank's - those confused eyes and that buck-tooth grin.
Sedaris found her prewar apartment immediately upon moving to New York City ten years ago from Chicago, where she was part of the comedy troupe Second City. The foyer is painted a milky green that Sedaris describes as "cream of asparagus," and the living room is "hay-and-skin-tone pink with cocoa trim." Sedaris' friend Todd Oldham built an entertainment center that commands one wall in the living room. It features shelves, a fake fireplace, a built-in bench and storage areas for Sedaris' collection of baking supplies. "I'm like a squirrel; I need to store a lot of stuff. Everything has a secret place," she explains with a mock whisper. "I feel like a spy."
Nearby is a tree stump with drawers that open into a bar, which Sedaris inherited when her brother, funnyman/writer David Sedaris, moved to France. It's a perfect piece for her, since she collects woodland-creature sculptures and paintings. "I have a lot of rabbits, squirrels, birds," she says, pointing around the room. "I like mushrooms too. I have a lot of mushroom stuff."
The hallway to the bedroom is covered in candy wrappers from Chinatown. "This is how crazy I am," she confesses with a hearty guffaw. "I took a bunch of wrappers and went over it with packing tape. I was bored one night. It was really hot out, and I had to make five trips to Chinatown because I never bought enough candy." She opens a country-style screen door that leads to her bedroom. A white rabbit with a black-spotted strip down its back leaps from behind the bed. "Isn't she gorgeous?" she exclaims, beaming with pride. "Man, she's so much fun. Her appetite is beyond belief. She's like a dog. Trust me, rabbits don't eat like that!" When Sedaris' first rabbit, Tattletale (sic), died, she got her new bunny from Rabbit Rescue & Rehab. "I haven't really named her yet. I keep changing it. She's so magical. That's why I'm having a hard time. It was Priceless for a while. I'm trying to think of a name that's old money. Bunny is old money. Or Dotty." (She later settled on Dusty.) Oldham has constructed a bunny habitat by the windows, one that boasts multiple rooms and ramps. Sedaris pulls some goofy, custom-designed rabbit clothes from a drawer. "Wouldn't you wear these?" she asks.
The front closet is overflowing with costumes from plays Sedaris has done (many with her brother David, as part of their comedy duo the Talent Family) as well as uniforms she wore when she was a waitress in her hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina. "I'm such a pack rat" she explains. "It's stuff that you just never throw out. I have my uniforms from when I worked at Winn-Dixie and Red Lobster. I have a policeman uniform, a chef uniform and my Girl Scout uniform. I was still a Girl Scout in my senior year of high school. I wore my uniform to school. I figured if they were going to make fun of me, I might as well put myself out there."
Wigs are another of her passions, and her latest project is a book, aptly titled Wigfield: The Can-Do Town That Just May Not. The tome is a collaboration between Sedaris and her longtime writing partners Paul Dinello and Stephen Colbert, with photographs by Todd Oldham. In it, Sedaris, Dinello and Colbert don different wigs and hair-styles to transform themselves into 22 characters from Wigfield, a fictional Midwestern town. Each character has a monologue, and the three are developing an accompanying stage show for their upcoming book tour.
A bell chimes from the kitchen. Sedaris races to the stove to retrieve one of the layers for Sarah Jessica's birthday cake. Plastic, plaster, and papier-mache meat products hang from the ceiling. Sedaris has been buying faux meats for years and is especially proud of a "hard-rubber turkey" and a plaster rib roast. She gazes at her fridge and lists the contents of her freezer: mushrooms, Nat Sherman multicolored cigarettes for guests, puff pastry, beer mugs and an ice pick. A tray of cup-cakes cools on a countertop. A jar by the front door is stuffed with cash from her baking business Tattletale (sic) Industries. "This rabbit is totally living off that jar of money, like a trust fund."
Sedaris loosens her vintage flowered apron and takes a breather on her living room couch. "I wanted to do this show where people come over and do stuff for me while I sit on the couch," she says, with no trace of sarcasm. Dusty hops over to a pile of hay that Sedaris has tossed in a corner. Minutes later, the timer in the kitchen buzzes again. Sedaris smiles. Time to get back to the business of baking.
© 2003 PAPER