David Sedaris' talented sister Amy (along with Paul Dinello and Stephen Colbert) has a comic career that would make a brother proud.

By Robert Nesti
Published: Thursday, June 12, 2003

When Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello, and Stephen Colbert pitch one of their projects, they're amazed they get a positive response.

We have this little saying which is 'fooled them again,'" said Dinello last week when Bay Windows caught up with the writing/performance team in New York." If we manage to sell something, or someone is pleased with what we have done, all we can think of is how we deluded them. How could they possibly like our ideas? Why are they laughing? Didn't they hear those words?"

That's because their projects, such as the Comedy Central series "Strangers With Candy" and the upcoming performance piece "Wigfield" that's coming to the Somerville Theater June 13 and 14 are, for the lack of a better term, truly whacked.

Take "Strangers With Candy," the series that featured Sedaris as Jerry Blank, a 46-year-old ex-prostitute and junkie who returns to home and to high school where she experiences the kind of teenage crises usually seen in John Hughes movies. It also featured Dinello and Colbert as a pair of gay school teachers who met in a men's room in the series' first episode. (Fans of the show will no doubt be delighted to learn that a DVD of the series' first season-there have been three-was released this week.)

Now there's "Wigfield: The Can-Do Town That Just May Not," their recently published book that they've adapted to the stage and have been touring with for the past month in Atlanta, Washington, Chicago, and New York.

The book offers a skewered look at an imaginary town, called Wigfield, comprised of a stretch of auto part shops, porno palaces, and strip clubs that faces imminent demise if a local state representative has his way and opens up a nearby dam to flood it. Enter journalist Russell Hikes, who is desperate to find a town to write about in order to fulfill a book deal on the subject of the dying small town in America. He comes to Wigfield thinking he's found the ideal American burg; little does he know that it is anything but.

The book came about nearly by accident. Sedaris, who is also one-half of the "The Talent Family," the writing/ performance troupe comprised of herself and her brother, best-selling humorist David Sedaris, went to her publisher one day with the idea of writing a children's book about a worm.

Worming their way in

"I had this handbag with a worm on it," Sedaris explained, "and I wanted to write a kid's book about it. I asked Paul to come to the publisher and help me pitch my idea, but they weren't too excited about it. Then, literally as we were going out the door, we were talking about a different kind of idea-a Cindy Sherman-type thing where there's photographs and maybe monologues next to it."

It was Colbert who came up with the concept of the town of Wigfield, which he took from a real place, Jefferson, West Virginia, that he had profiled for the Daily Show, the late night Comedy Central series he is a regular on.

"It was this town that only existed for three years that had been created as a tax dodge," he recalled. "It was two miles long and 200 yards wide, and was nothing but used auto part stores, strip clubs, and porno houses. It was next to the world headquarters of Union Carbide. It was like Bhopal in Appalachia. Its town council had appointed one sheriff, and the mayor had appointed a different chief of police, and the two men would try to run each other off the road and wreck each other to see who would be chief of police.

"And it had this new mayor, an ex-stripper who worked at Ho' Boys Used Tires. And she ran on the platform that the town should be dissolved. But the people who owned the strip clubs, the porno houses, and the used auto part stores said that town needed to stay intact because they would lose all their tax breaks if it was dissolved. So they fought her. They accused her of all these misappropriations of funds, such as spending $2,000 at a dollar store."

From this idea came Wigfield, with its odd assortment of citizens who include Cinnamon, a stripper at a local club called the Bacon Strip; Mae Ella Padget, self-proclaimed (at 48) as the oldest woman in town; theater director Julian Childs, who staged a version of "Children of a Lesser God" with rabbits; and High Priestess Thea, who, along with her life-partner Amythis, is a self-proclaimed witch.

The trio collaborated with photographer Todd Oldman, who provided the images that accompany the text. And the result recalls the recently rediscovered Patrick Dennis novel "Little Me," as well as the mockumentaries of Christopher Guest.

But when the publisher was planning a tour to promote the book, it became apparent that it was much too costly to send out all three authors.

"So we decided to tour on our own and do a reading, but decided since we were more than performers that we would do a performance/reading," said Colbert

"The show is part play, part slide show, part book reading, part improvisation," added Sedaris, "And we wanted to show Todd's photos in color, so we've put it together and put the show on the road."

Of late Sedaris says that she's sometimes recognized to as "the crazy lady from the Letterman show;" but she has also appeared in small roles in such featured films as "Maid in Manhattan" (in which the New York Times said she was "hilarious and underused") and in a recurring role as a publicist on "Sex and the City."

"When Steve saw that quote from the New York Times, he came up with the line that I'm hilariously underused, which I love," she said. "Because when I'm offered parts like that, I do everything in my power to talk them out of hiring me. They're just not my strength. I tell them 'you've got the wrong person.' Because when I get on set and they want me to do things their way, it's just so hard for me. But I try; so it's better if I do something of someone else's that it be small and I enter and do one little thing. If I'm going on a large project, I prefer working with Paul and Steve because we can really do what we want to do."

As for being recognized around New York, Sedaris said that it has happened more and more frequently, largely because everyone in New York watches "Sex and the City."

"It's usually when I'm with Steve and Paul that they recognize me as Jerry Blank," she added. "They say-there's that old lady. And when they do, it only depresses me because it makes me think that I'm beginning to look more and more like her."

But one thing she'll likely be doing in Somerville is give cookies away in the lobby at intermission, which is something of an Amy Sedaris tradition.

"My sister lives in Somerville, and she has a kitchen. I think it's do-able," she said.

For tix ($30) to the world of 'Wigfield,' at the Somerville Theater, call the theater, 55 Davis Sq., in Somerville, call 617-931-2000. Performance tiems are June13 at 8 pm, and June 14 at 7 and 9:30 p.m.

© 2003  Bay Windows