When i first saw david sedaris, he was sitting on my friend wendy’s couch eating an enormous piece of birthday cake in between tokes off the crooked e-z wider joint seemingly stitched to his left hand. it was 1985 and he’d come to chicago from north carolina to attend the school of the art institute. people had been telling me about the sculptures he made — wind-up balsa wood hearts that crept around on wire legs or buzzed sullenly in your hand. but when i brought them up that afternoon, he changed the subject abruptly — to joyce carol oates. i listened, but it was hard to tell if he admired or pitied her, though i do remember becoming increasingly mesmerized by his voice. at once potent and boyish, it made me focus so much on his mouth that i lost track of what he was saying. charmed. pretty soon we were pals and drifting around chicago’s performance scene, an odd smorgasbord of balls-out satire, improv comedy, experimental theater, and drag. to us it was just an excuse to mount our own nutty three-hour variety shows – extravaganzas with titles like puffy vs. puffy! we liked the format, as it was the best way to showcase scads of local extremists and friends.
It was around this time that david began to read the short stories he’d been tapping out on his old corona. these, as you might guess, left our audiences in fits. when his younger sister amy moved to town, they decided to christen themselves the talent family and become playwrights. the resulting plays were so gob-stoppingly funny that within two years the talent family had relocated to new york and were selling out theaters and scooping up obies. amy’s performances in particular were singled out for feverish praise. it led to a variety of offers, and eventually to her comedy central tv series, strangers with candy. david’s certainly been no slouch, with four best-selling books, and now a movie in the works. when i asked for a talent family interview for our fifth anniversary issue, he was just coming off a grueling six-week lecture tour. it was amy who suggested that we do it 0ver a home-cooked meal at her house. that perked him right up.
STEVE: I’ll bet you put on some interesting shows in the backyard when you were kids.
AMY: Backyard, basement, beach. Our grandmother was in a convalescent home, and we did shows there to entertain the old people. David would tell us to go out and “knock’ em dead.” [laughs]
DAVID: For the talent show in third grade, I did a skit with Brian Cox. He’s the weatherman, and I come on and say, “You said that yesterday it was supposed to rain and snow, and it didn’t .” And he says, “Yeah? Well here’s your rain,” and he throws some water on me, “And here’s your snow,” and he throws something else. And I thought, “That’s amazing! You could build songs around that and make a show!”
AMY: And I was still a Girl Scout my senior year in high school. I still wore my uniform. I was geeky.
DAVID: Then one day I heard that Amy was going to audition for a play at the Raleigh Little Theater. No one in our family expected this. But she must have been thinking something when she rocked in her bed, listening to those Barbra Streisand albums.
AMY: That he bought me. [laughs]
DAVID: So I go to the Raleigh Little Theater, and Amy gets up and sings “Cabaret.” And I mean, the dream would be, “Oh my god, she can really sing !” Instead I thought, “Oh my god, she’ll do anything !”
AMY: David always did characters around the house, so I picked up on that and decided to perform. It just seemed like something to do.
STEVE: And you ended up with a TV series.
AMY: Well, that kind of fell into my lap. When I first came to New York to do one of our plays, I didn’t expect anything like that. It was just offered. Someone interviewed me on the set of Strangers With Candy recently and said, “Well, this must be your dream, doing a TV show.” I felt terrible telling him, “No, it isn’t my dream.” I mean, I love doing it, but I came here to work on our plays. Everything else is just extra. [She slips into the kitchen, and returns a minute later carrying heaping plates of baked potatoes, baby peas, and steak. She also sets down a dish next to me with butter, fresh chives, and sour cream.]