I hate it when somebody gives me something they crafted. Nobody wants a crafted gift. Nobody.
Amy Sedaris, the Cindy Sherman of comedy you’ve seen in countless TV shows and scene-stealing film roles, once said, “If someone asked me how I would describe myself, actress would be at the bottom of the list.” This might come as a surprise to long-standing fans of Jerri Blank, her take on a self-absorbed yet endearing ex-junkie-prostitute at the center of the cult series Strangers with Candy. We’ve lived for Sedaris’ no-holds-barred appearances on late-night talk shows—she’s appeared over two dozen times on Letterman since 2002—and continue to delight in her choice of eccentric roles: On Adult Swim’s recent animated series, BoJack Horseman, she voices an anthropomorphic Hollywood agent cat named Princess Carolyn. There’s no business card big enough to cram in all of the occupations that Sedaris, well, occupies her time with.
A tried-and-true multi-hyphenate, she is the original James Franco. Forever-labeled “Martha Stewart on crack” for her wacky craft projects and home-entertaining ideas, she cataloged it all in her best-selling books Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People and I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence. She’s co-authored several plays with her equally gifted writer-brother David. She once ran a cupcake and cheese ball business out of her home kitchen. She’s embraced the Web in more ways than one: In Above Average network’s Seriously Distracted, Sedaris plays a high-powered exec to a bunch of gleefully incompetent employees at a PR firm, with what looks like the remains of Donald Trump’s combover on her head. This month, you can catch her in the Angus MacLachlan-directed comedy Goodbye to All That. Sedaris earned her cred a long time ago.
Goodbye to All That opens in NY, and will be available on iTunes and VOD, on December 17.
How did you spend your Thanksgiving this year?
I went to North Carolina and my family got together. David [Sedaris] bought a beach house so we had Thanksgiving down there.
Do the holidays generally require heavy planning on your part or do you enjoy the spontaneity of it?
It goes both ways. For instance, if I’m spending Christmas in New York City, I’ll wait til the last minute to see who’s around and have a big dinner. I’ll invite people who have nowhere to go and they’ll come over. I did that last year. This year, I’m going to London so I’ve just been frantic trying to get out of town. I’m going out of town tomorrow to work on something for three days and then I leave for London on the 20th. For me, it’s a lot of getting stuff at the post office. That always stresses me out because I don’t want to wait in line. Did you start your shopping yet?
I’m not very far along, but I’m super into making lists so that’s what I’ve been doing. I have a sneaking suspicion you’re into list-making.
Oh yeah, isn’t it fun? John Waters used to make lists every day on these index cards and photograph them. He would make this big collage of photographs of index cards with many, many lists on them. It’s really beautiful. And I went to this one art exhibit and someone had done a nice museum piece on a stripper who had died. It was, like, display tables with her personal possessions out, including pieces of paper that had “June” and “July” written on them in crayon and lists of her monthly goals. So I started doing that. I have a monthly goal sheet in crayon and I decorate it. It looks pathetic, trust me. Then I have the day-to-day lists. I have a Christmas list that tells me what I got someone last year and the year before that. Making lists makes you feel busy. It makes me feel like I work in an office, you know? [Laughs]
I cannot imagine you working in any kind of office.
I don’t think I would like to actually work in one, but I sure do love it when a part comes along where I get to work in an office. It’s my favorite kind of role.
Justin Theroux Christmas card I got one year. @justintherouxofficial
So there’s something I’ve been wanting to clear up because you’ve mentioned in several interviews now that you’re no longer into crafting or playing the hostess. It’s hard to read you in those moments. In my mind, it’s entirely possible that you are over it.
I don’t have dinner parties anymore like I used to. I’ll do more, like, small groups. And as far as crafting goes, yeah, I’m done with it. I hate crafting. I might make little things here and there, but I’m done with all the supplies and all the ideas. I hate it when somebody gives me something they crafted. Nobody wants a crafted gift. Nobody. You can’t use it. Potholders you can use, but other than that, oh my god, keep it away. It’s crap nobody wants.
I can’t tell you how many times I watched you decoupage that table with Todd Oldham on YouTube. It’s still so funny to me.
[Laughs] I had all these questions for him, too. It’s like, “Shut up.”
Do you go into these segments with some sort of game plan? I’m sure you go over talking points, especially on a show like Letterman, but outside of that—
With David, I usually just have a conversation. You have so little time that I don’t want to get chewed up doing a demonstration. But with someone like Jimmy [Fallon]—he’s so funny, he’s like a kid—it’s fun to do demos because you don’t know what he’s gonna do. We never rehearse it. I might rehearse where the table’s gonna be, but we just like to play. It depends on who the host is, really. It’s especially fun when they clearly don’t craft and you try to get them to make stuff.
Did you ever have real conversations about getting your own late-night talk show?
Umm… No, not really. I mean, I used to think way back when, “Oh, I would be good for it” because I’m genuinely interested in people and I can ask a lot of questions. But I think it’d be really hard, especially if it’s an hour-long show. What if it’s somebody you don’t want to talk to? You have writers who can help you, but it’s more fun to be a guest on those shows. It’d be something else to have your own show, you know? And I’m lazy! I don’t want to work that much.
When you’re given the text to play a pop culture-obsessed PR person on a show like Seriously Distracted, does your take on the character’s “look” come to mind pretty quickly?
Well, I had this wig. I knew I wanted to wear this wig, and once the wig was on, I kind of figured out who I was. That was written, you know, but we got to play around a little bit. I love getting roles where I can play working in the office because I’ve never worked in one myself. You go in and you work on it for a day or two. You get to wear a wig and become a business woman.
You work in an office in Goodbye to All That as well.
Yup, like in all my favorite parts.
Were you familiar with Angus MacLachlan’s work going into that film?
It’s funny you ask because Angus is friends with my sister Lisa in Winston-Salem. And I was a fan of Junebug, which he wrote. Again, I liked that it’d be me in an office. [Laughs] She’s the fast-talking office boss who’s obsessed with cats. I only worked on this for one day. Tomorrow I’m doing the Samantha Bee pilot and that’s also for one day. I babysit a cat in that one.
You’re sharp as a tack. Your comic timing is relentless. I wonder if you’re less enthusiastic about material that’s super scripted and rigid.
It depends. Sometimes they’ll be like, “Listen. You can do whatever you want or play around with it” and that’s always fun. That’s usually the case. But I don’t mind memorizing the lines and doing it as is, having little wiggle room for improv. If you look at Broad City, that was scripted, but they definitely encouraged me to improvise. It was very well-written from the get-go. The same goes for Seriously Distracted, which was scripted, but I got to play around with it.
What’s the deal breaker or the deal maker for you, generally speaking ?
Sometimes it’s about the travel. If they tell me it’s in L.A., I might not want to fly six hours to do just one day of something. But if they’re shooting in New York, perfect. A lot of the time, that’s what it comes down to. There are all different kinds of reasons… Sometimes if I’m really busy and they want me to do voice over work, I’ll do it because it won’t seem like work when you’re already so busy. You’re just on a roll at that point. If you’re not busy and they make an offer like that, you just feel lazy. I’d rather go to Rockaway Beach. It just depends.
Those are practical reasons.
I used to do it all the time. I’d be like, “No, no, no, no, no.” Now I’m more open to saying, “Yes.” It’s actually more fun to just do it because you don’t know where you’re going to end up. It makes me laugh when people say, “No.” [Laugh] At the same time, I wouldn’t want to agree to something and end up working on a show that I don’t like for seven years. That would be scary, too. I just like doing a bunch of different things: Books, theater, TV…
Are you a big TV watcher yourself?
I love Bill Maher. Real Time is one of my favorite shows. America’s Funniest Home Videos is the funniest show on TV. I’m watching Homeland. I’m watching The Affair because I know Dominic West. That’s all I really have time for right now… Well, that’s not true, I’m also watching Lisa Kudrow’s show, The Comeback. I love that show. She guest stars on BoJack Horseman.
Do you have a coterie of yet-to-be-seen characters stashed away somewhere or do you find that ideas leave you as fast as they come?
There was one character I played on Broad City that I’d been working on for a few years, so I did a version of that on the show. I do a version of her voice on BoJack Horseman. I did her somewhere else, too, but it’s skipping my mind right now. Usually, I’ll take a character I’m working on and do little bits and pieces of her in little projects that come along just so I can sort of play around with it, if that makes any sense. Let’s say they give her a different background: “She’s going to be Asian in this one. She’ll be a publicist in this one.” Then I’ll play around with the character for, I don’t know, six years or something and see what happens. I’m working on a show idea right now with Paul Dinello and we’re hoping to use her as the central character, but we’ll see. Once The Colbert Report is over on the 18th, we’ll start developing the new show.
Jerri Blank is funny for the obvious reasons—her inappropriate, off-the-wall diatribe and contorted facial expressions—but it has as much to do with her being unknowingly funny. What do you find funny on a day-to-day basis?
I laugh at everything. [Laughs] I think everything’s funny. But I like what you’re talking about here. The humor very much comes from the character, which is what we tried to do on Strangers with Candy, like, “Let’s play this perfectly straight.” The humor comes out of the writing, but it also comes from the characters themselves and how they are. As we went on and on with the show, things subsequently got broader and broader, but I always found the things that weren’t supposed to be funny, funny. Things that aren’t supposed to be funny makes me laugh.
What about in those instances where you clearly engineer the jokes, like, pranks? You wore a fat suit in public.
Yeah, but I just did that to fool my father. I wasn’t thinking about the reactions I might get from other people in that situation. You realize that people don’t like this stuff all the time. I don’t think anyone really knew that it was fake because it was so subtle—it looked realistic. That was always intended for my dad and I only wore it on the plane because he was picking me up at the airport. I’m not one to dress up and walk around the city like that. I’m not into that at all. But let me tell you this: I would do it to my dad again tomorrow and he would fall for it all over again.
If you had to be stuck with one person for the remainder of your days, who could you possibly tolerate for that long?
[Laughs] I laugh really hard around David [Sedaris]. I’m a very generous laugher, I laugh at other people all the time. I’ll laugh at my own stuff, too, especially when no one else will. But I’m pretty generous when it comes to that kind of thing because a lot of people won’t laugh. They’ll go, “Hmm… That’s very funny” but they’re not laughing. That’s always funny to me.