Amy Sedaris: No “Stranger” to Disguise
Celebrity scoop by Joel Fowler

While you may not know her name, you can definitely recognize Amy Sedaris upon sight. The only question is which Amy are you familiar with?

Do you know her as the modern day Gladys Kravitz in Hollywood’s ill-fated attempt to revive the hauntingly simple sitcom in last summer’s Bewitched?
Strangers with Candy star Amy Sedaris
Amy Sedaris

Or, do you remember her as Deb, the mute assistant with flailing appendages to the workaholic James Caan in the Christmas comedy Elf?

Maybe, you’re a fan of her Comedy Central series Strangers with Candy, where Sedaris plays Jerri Blank, the 47-year-old former drug addict / prostitute who’s determined to pick up from where she left off after running away 32 years ago – as a high school freshman.

Or, possibly you may even know her as the nutty, free-spirited sister who’s always popping up in her brother’s (David Sedaris) memoirs such as “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim” and “Me Talk Pretty One Day.”

Yet, however you’ve encountered Amy Sedaris on screen or in print, one thing is for certain. You’ve never met the real Amy Sedaris.

One of the main reasons for her personal secrecy is Amy’s utter lack of desire to curry favor with the media, though all that is bound to change with the release of a theatrical adaptation to Strangers with Candy.

“I have no publicist,” Sedaris explains while talking on the phone from her New York City apartment. “I don’t even have a cell phone. But, I’m trying to do as much as I can to help and promote ‘Strangers with Candy,’ but I have to admit it’s different. My usual first answer [to a media request] is ‘No! I can’t talk right now, I have cupcakes to bake.’”

Before you scoff at the pastry humor, Amy’s love of baking is just one of the many fascinating traits the public generally doesn’t know about her. Nor is the fact that she owns and operates a small cheeseball making operation with whose profits she funds the homeless rabbit (Dusty) she rescued from an animal shelter after some family’s Easter fad faded. Or that the domestic maverick has developed her own special wine & butter combination to be used in the grilling of steaks that she hopes to market to the general public one day.

While it’s hard to pin exactly who Amy Sedaris is, what is real is her love of the character Jerri Blank (whose story she co-wrote with her friends of twenty years - director Paul Dinello and co-star Stephen Colbert). So, from where did the crude woman with the gold-gilded heart come?

“Well, her facial expression (a sort of slack-jawed frown) I’ve always done since my early days in my brother David’s plays in New York. It would always start with that face and then I would attach different characters to it, like I would collect doll furniture one week and be an acting coach with it the next. But, Jerri was developed by Paul, Steven, and I just sort of having this concept of a reformed addict who wants to go back to school and do right with her life. Then, Paul found this tape of a woman who was an actual recovering alcoholic and former hooker, and we sort of incorporated a lot of her past with what we had already developed and out came Jerri.”
Amy Sedaris' character Jerri Blank
Amy Sedaris' character Jerri Blank

While as a sitcom, Strangers lasted for three seasons before Comedy Central pulled the plug. Yet, Amy’s not sad about the show’s demise in the slightest.

“I loved the experience with Comedy Central. They gave us a lot of freedom. But, it was a lot of work. We were always behind schedule, always wanting writers who could help us out, but never finding anyone who completely got ‘it.’ So, when they came with the cancellation, we were all like, ‘we could do 10 more episodes or we couldn’t do 10 more episodes.’ It didn’t matter, because we had a good run. So, we really were not depressed about it. We just wanted to move on.”

So why come back to Strangers? Does a film version allow you more racy material that you were never allowed on basic cable?

“No, our intentions are never to shock. Paul, Stephen, and I just try to always write what’s funny. It was that way with the television show as it was on the film. If Comedy Central said that we couldn’t do something; that was fine, we just wrote something else.”

What about people who might dislike the sexually- and racially-charged antics that are pulled off in this film?

“You know what? We know it’s not for everybody. I’ll even learn as much from a bad review as a good one, but that isn’t going to stop me from doing what I want to do,” states the North Carolina native. “Of course, ‘The New York Times’ isn’t going to like Strangers With Candy, but maybe Rolling Stone will.”

At the beginning of the Candy’s opening montage, in a pleading voiceover Jerri asks the question “can we change?” So, what does the woman who created the character think? Can we change?

“Oh yes, most certainly I do think we can change. I know my dad changed after my mother died. A lot of people believe that they can’t, but I think that you can. Life is so full of those split-second occurrences, like a car crash or a cancer diagnosis, that change us immediately. But in the end, fear is what’s holding us back, but it is fear that I never let take me.”

©2006 Thomas Huff and Joel Fowler,

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