SCHOOL DAZEAmy Sedaris makes sweetly sick comedy on Strangers With Candy
By Randee Dawn
It's a little hard to know who's more eccentric - Jerri Blank in Comedy Central's cult hit Strangers With Candy, or the woman who portrays her, Amy Sedaris. For those who haven't seen the show (and this should be on your "To Do" list, like, yesterday), Amy plays Jerri, a 40-something former druggie, prostitute and general all-around trashy wench who's decided to finally attend the high school from which she ran away as a teenager. To do that, Amy dons a "fatty" suit, creates an overbite that would give an orthodontist heart palpitations, and wears clothing combinations that only a 40-something could think were worthy of high-school hipdom.
"Jerri was just a character I created with Paul [Dinello] and Stephen [Colbert]," explains Sedaris. Paul and Stephen appear on Strangers, too (and fans of The Daily Show know Colbert as a correspondent), but as more straight-up characters. Jerri's, well, different. "I wanted her to have the hair of a female golfer and dress like I owned a snake," she continues. "We all pitched in to create a monster."
Monster or no, Jerri is often the most "normal" character on the show, which takes an Afterschool Special approach to teaching moral lessons. Jerri takes those lessons to heart and always gets them wrong. In the first episode, when one teacher tells her to "go with what she knows" in order to make friends, Jerri whips up a batch of drugs - on which the most popular gal in school promptly overdoses. It's a skewed, sick sense of humor that could only survive on cable, which makes Sedaris happy. "I don't see a network wanting an unattractive person to be the lead of a show," she says. "Comedy Central lets you keep developing, the way old TV used to do."
That Jerri is so odd looking, yet is the show's ostensible heroine, can take some getting used to, which surprises Sedaris. "She thinks she's pretty, and she dresses presentably. I like to see unattractive things try to be pretty." Sedaris, in fact, bought the fatty suit even before the show was invented, and would wear it around for the fun of it. "I can be more sexual with a body like that," she explains. "There are enough people who can play themselves and have great bodie - I don't have what it takes to do that. But put me in a fatty suit, and I can get in any position."
Which she certainly has. And in her off hours, when the show isn't taping, what does Amy Sedaris do to pass the time? She waitresses. "What else am I going to do at night?" she wonders. "People leave bigger tips when they recognize me." She also makes cheese balls and cupcakes, which she sells to friends, reporters, and the occasional fan. Really. And people eat them, despite the fact that Amy plays a woman who concocts killer drugs in a mixing bowl.
"So far nobody's asked about that!" she laughs. "Oh, yeah, that's a rabbit hair.' Nope, none of that."
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photos by Nick Koudis Studios