Sedaris, Amy 1961-
Sedaris, Amy 1961-
PERSONAL: Born March 29, 1961, in Endicott, NY; daughter of Lou (an employee at IBM) and Sharon (a homemaker) Sedaris.
CAREER: Writer, playwright, performer, caterer, entrepreneur, and actor. Worked as a waitress, 1990s. Actor in films, including Commandments, 1997; Bad Bosses Go to Hell, 1997; Six Days, Seven Nights, 1998; Jump Tomorrow, 2001; Maid in Manhattan, 2002; My Baby’s Daddy, 2004; Strangers with Candy, 2005; Stay, 2005; Bewitched, 2005; Romance and Cigarettes, 2005; Chicken Little, 2005; Full-Grown Men, 2006; I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With, 2006; Snow Angels, 2007; Dedication, 2007; Puberty the Movie, 2007; and Shrek the Third, 2007.
Actor in television series, including Exit 57, 1995-96; Strangers with Candy, 1999-2000; Just Shoot Me, 2001; Sex and the City, 2002-03; Monk, 2002-03; Ed, 2004; Cracking Up, 2004; The Wrong Coast, 2004; Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, 2004; Wonder Showzen, 2005; My Name Is Earl, 2006; Andy Barker, P.I., 2007; and Rescue Me, 2007.
Actor in plays, including Stump the Host, 1993; One Woman Shoe, 1995; Froggy, the Country Club, 1998; The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, 1998; The Little Frieda Mysteries, 1998; The Book of Liz, 2001; Drama Department, 2001; and Wonder of the World, 2001.
Frequent guest on television shows, including Late Show with David Letterman, 2001-04; Daily Show, 2001-06; Late Night with Conan O’Brien, 2003; Oprah Winfrey Show, 2005; Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, 2006; Megan Mulally Show, 2006; and The Colbert Report, 2006.
AWARDS, HONORS: Louise Lortel Award for Outstanding Featured Actress, League of Off-Broadway Theatres and Producers, 2002; Obie Award special citation (with David Sedaris), for One Woman Shoe; Drama Desk Award nomination, best featured actress, for The Country Club.
PLAYS; WITH BROTHER, DAVID SEDARIS; AND ACTRESS
Stitches, produced in New York, NY, 1994.
One Woman Shoe, produced in New York, NY, 1995.
Incident at Cobbler’s Knob, produced in New York, NY, 1997.
The Book of Liz (produced in New York, NY, 2001), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 2002.
Other plays include The Little Frieda Mysteries, produced 1999, Jamboree, and Stump the Host.
(Cocreator and actress) Exit 57 (television series), Comedy Central, 1995-97.
(With Paul Dinello and Stephen Colbert; and actress)Strangers with Candy (television series), ComedyCentral, 1999-2000.
(With Paul Dinello and Stephen Colbert) Wigfield: The Can-Do Town That Just May Not (novel), photographs by Todd Oldham, Hyperion (NewYork, NY), 2003.
I Like You: Hospitality under the Influence, WarnerBooks (New York, NY), 2006.
Reader of audio versions of work by brother, David Sedaris, including Naked, 1997, and Barrel Fever and Other Stories, 1998, both Time Warner AudioBooks (New York, NY).
ADAPTATIONS: Strangers with Candy went into production as a film by Silverstar Productions, 2003; Wigfield: The Can-Do Town That Just May Not was adapted for audio, HighBridge (Minneapolis, MN), 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: Amy Sedaris is a multitalented writer and actress who has written a number of plays—all of which she has performed in—with her brother, writer and humorist David Sedaris. They bill themselves as the Talent Family. She is well known to Comedy Central viewers, particularly for the series Strangers with Candy, which she cowrote and in which she played the main character.
Sedaris was born in Endicott, New York, and raised in North Carolina with two brothers and three sisters, and the family wrote their own plays and performed them. Sedaris had an active imagination and was always on stage, performing as though for an audience, while doing routine tasks like cooking. She did well in school and worked odd jobs after graduation, including at a Winn-Dixie grocery store, and in restaurants. She eventually acted on David’s advice and moved to Chicago, Illinois, and in the early 1990s, Sedaris joined Second City, the comedy troupe that produced such outstanding comics as Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, and Jim Belushi. She dated fellow cast member Paul Dinello for eight years, and with him and Stephen Colbert, she created her early characters and skits.
In 1993, Sedaris and her brother began working together in New York City. They produced a number of plays, including their first, Stitches, in which Sedaris played an attractive high school girl who is involved in a boating accident, but goes on to become a television star in spite of her disfigured face. This play and the next, One Woman Shoe, opened at the La MaMa Experimental Theater Club. Back Stage contributor David Sheward reviewed One Woman Shoe, writing that “the simple premise skewers both government bureaucracy and pretentious performance art.” A group of women on welfare are required to put on shows in order to collect their benefits. Sedaris played both Barbara Sheriden, a fifty-eight-year-old former golf pro who has gone on welfare on a lark, as well as a biker chick in her twenties. Sheward noted that Sedaris and her brother “take dozens of pop references…put them in a blender, and pour us a frothy and sharp commentary on our short-attention-span cult
Incident at Cobbler’s Knob is about a community of animals whose lives are interrupted by a coven of witches that move into their woods. Sedaris played the parts of a witch and a raunchy, smelly donkey. Other animals include a lonely worm, a squirrel who spouts family values, and a beaver who advocates gay rights. Nation reviewer Laurie Stone wrote that “the only creatures who survive are free of pretension and the impulse to coerce, like old witch Patty from Shatwell, who has a hefty appetite for killing but posts no platforms for how others should live. The sweet, yearning Worm squiggles through admitting it’s his nature to scavenge in decay, and the Donkey, whose flanks are caked with dried feces, observes, matter-of-factly, that everyone’s face has some kind of s—on it. That’s the play’s moral—cleanliness is a myth—and the Sedarises can’t imagine why anyone would even want to avoid the warm goo of existence.”
In The Little Frieda Mysteries, Sedaris played Aunt Frieda, a woman who collects dollhouse furniture on Long Island and takes on the care of her namesake niece, who is recuperating from a gymnastics accident. Back Stage contributor Robert Simonson called Sedaris’s performances "fearless. There is apparently no role so ugly, so unflattering, that she won’t embrace it: She courts embarrassment. And she has an unfailing knack for playing middle-aged, middle-class busybodies like Aunt Frieda.”
The central character of The Book of Liz is Sister Elizabeth Donderstock (Sedaris), who supports her Amish-type community with the sale of her cheese balls. When the group’s leader, Reverend Tollhouse, hands her operation over to Brother Brightbee, Liz departs for the outside world, of which she knows almost nothing, and where she becomes friends with a Ukrainian immigrant with a Cockney accent who earns his living impersonating the Planter’s peanut character. Sedaris sold her own homemade cheese balls and cupcakes in the lobby during intermission. Her food creations have been a sideline business for years. Sedaris has also appeared in plays written by others, including The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, a satire about the Bible, and The Country Club, in which she played a suburban socialite named Froggy.
Sedaris began writing for Comedy Central, first with Exit 57 and then with Strangers with Candy, which she wrote with Dinello and in which she addresses her character’s problems in an “After School Special” kind of way. Sedaris played Jerri Blank, a former addict and prostitute who returns to high school at age forty-six. Salon.com Web site reviewer Rex Doane remarked that the show “tipped the scales with a warped wit rarely encountered on the small screen.” It was a cult hit but lasted only three seasons when the management in charge of programming changed. Many of the characters that Sedaris creates and portrays are flawed, both physically and psychologically. However, she does not gravitate towards these types of characters simply because they are sometimes grotesque, sometimes wounded and ripe for ridicule. “Though Sedaris is clearly attracted to fringe dwellers, one never gets the sense that she’s picked them as easy targets,” observed Eric Spitznagel in a Believer Web site interview. “Even at their most contemptible… Sedaris never allows them to become victims of her satire. While most comedy writers get their laughs by pointing out a character’s flaws, Sedaris actually embraces them. She truly likes these people, and that somehow makes it easier to laugh at them,” Spitznagel concluded. “I choose to do unattractive people, because then I can pretend they think they’re attractive. My characters always like themselves,” Sedaris commented in a Psychology Today interview with Carlin Flora.
Sedaris had roles in a number of films and television series, including Just Shoot Me and Sex and the City. Turning her wit, caustic observations, and comedic talent to prose fiction, she collaborated with Colbert and Dinello to write the novel Wigfield: The Can-Do Town That Just May Not. The book includes photographs by designer Todd Oldham. The story finds hack journalist Russell Hokes checking out an assigned story, the payment for which he has already spent. The town of Wig-field is his subject, threatened with extinction if the federal government destroys a nearby dam, and he hopes to capture its small-town essence through interviews with its residents, who, in fact, would like to profit from the government’s action. Book reviewer Steve Wilson commented that “complete with outrageous photographs of derelict townies, this book is smart and often hysterical.” A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that the story “is one of those rare works of satire that combine creative form, uproariously funny text, and a painfully sharp underpinning of social criticism.”
With her off-the-wall humor as the springboard and her culinary experience as her foundation, Sedaris steps into the world of the domestic entertainment hostess with her nonfiction book, I Like You: Hospitality under the Influence. “This funny, bighearted book has solid advice on every page,” remarked Patricia Volk in O, the Oprah Magazine. In addition to practical advice and genuinely tasty recipes, the book is leavened with generous doses of Sedaris’s skewed sense of humor. Throughout the book, Sedaris provides recipes for cleverly named dishes such as “Brenda’s Vulgar Barbecue Sauce” and “Billy Goat Tin Can Potatoes.” Elsewhere, she proffers tongue-in-cheek advice for entertaining the elderly, feeding ravenous lumberjacks, dealing with guests who’ve had too much to drink, and properly conversing with the grieving. “This is an irreverent, funny, yet informative guide to entertaining,” noted Carol Memmott, writing in USA Today. In assessing Sedaris’s book in a New York review, Emily Nussbaum observed: “It’s charming, it’s offbeat, it’s a little hard to explain. Which makes it her favorite kind of project: too weird to imagine everyone loving it, but perfect for those who understand.” A Publishers Weekly reviewer named it an “outrageous and deadpan delight.”
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Back Stage, June 23, 1995, David Sheward, review of One Woman Shoe, p. 29; February 28, 1997, Robert Simonson, review of The Little Frieda Mysteries, p. 60; July 18, 1997, Robert Simonson, review of Incident at Cobbler’s Knob, p. 40.
Book, May-June, 2003, Steve Wilson, review of Wig-field: The Can-Do Town That Just May Not, p. 76.
Booklist, April 15, 2003, Carol Haggas, review of Wig-field, p. 1451; August 1, 2006, Barbara Jacobs, review of I Like You: Hospitality under the Influence, p. 5.
Dallas Morning News, July 20, 2006, Manuel Mendoza, “Amy Sedaris Sells Strangers with Props, Eye Candy.”
Entertainment Weekly, April 13, 2001, Melissa Rose Bernardo, review of The Book of Liz, p. 67; March 4, 2005, “Amy Sedaris,” p. 76; October 20, 2006, Jessica Shaw, review of I Like You, p. 85.
Hollywood Reporter, June 6, 2003, Chris Gardner, “‘Strangers’ Principals Prep Movie,” p. 1.
Houston Chronicle, July 12, 2006, Bruce Westbrook, “Second Chances; Amy Sedaris at Home with Funny ‘Strangers’; Witty Actress Heads to the Big Screen with Her Friends and Her Offbeat TV Character from Canceled Show,” profile of Amy Sedaris, p. 1.
Interview, July, 2006, Whoopi Goldberg, “Amy Sedaris: Ever Wonder What the Image of a Craggy, Inappropriate 47-year-old Ex-teenage Runaway, Recovering Drug Addict, and Retired Stripper Would Look like Projected on a Big Screen, 15 Feet High? With the New Film Version of Her Cult Television Show, Strangers with Candy, Amy Sedaris Is about to Show You—and That’s Just the Beginning,” interview with Amy Sedaris, p. 90.
Library Journal, October 1, 2006, Deborah Ebster, review of I Like You, p. 101.
Nation, September 8, 1997, Laurie Stone, review of Incident at Cobbler’s Knob, p. 32.
New York, June 12, 1995, Chris Smith, “The Lighter Side of Welfare: Amy Sedaris on Dependency, Performance Art, and Not-So-Old Ladies Who Live in a Shoe,” p. 52; July 28, 1997, John Simon, review of Incident at Cobbler’s Knob, p. 46; April 16, 2001, John Simon, review of The Book of Liz, p. 72; July 3, 2006, Emily Nussbaum, “Amy Sedaris Gets up in Your Grill: And She Hopes You’ll Love Her New Movie. Just Not Too Much,” profile of Amy Sedaris, p. 78.
New Yorker, April 9, 2001, John Lahr, review of The Book of Liz, p. 128.
New York Times, June 22, 2006, Ginia Bellafante, “Where a Comedian Does Her Serious Entertaining,” profile of Amy Sedaris, p. Fl.
New York Times Book Review, October 29, 2006, Henry Alford, “It’s Her Party,” review of I Like You, p. 13.
O, the Oprah Magazine, November, 2006, Patricia Volk, “Amy Sedaris, Hostess: A Hilariously Impolite Guide to Making Guests Feel Weirdly Welcome,” review of I Like You, p. 238.
People, November 14, 2005, “Free Association: With Comedian Amy Sedaris,” p. 152.
Psychology Today, July-August, 2004, Carlin Flora, “Amy Sedaris,” interview with Amy Sedaris, p. 88.
Publishers Weekly, April 28, 2003, review of Wigfield, p. 46; February 28, 2005, Jason Anthony, “Amy Sedaris, Star of the Sorely Missed Comedy Central Series Strangers with Candy and Frequent Subject of Big Brother David’s Essays, Will Next Write I Like You for Warner Books,” p. 12; July 17, 2006, review of I Like You, p. 144; July 31, 2006, Kevin Howell, “PW Talks with Amy Sedaris: Getting Acquainted with Strangers,” p. 67.
Redbook, October, 2006, Tara Rummell Berson, “Amy Sedaris: Throw a Better Party with Tips from This Comedienne and Hostess Extraordinaire,” interview with Amy Sedaris, p. 42.
Rolling Stone, May 13, 1999, David Wild, review of Strangers with Candy, p. 101.
Saint Paul Pioneer Press, November 15, 2006, Amy Carlson Gustafson, “Amy Sedaris Gives Us the Lowdown, Dishing Martha.”
South Florida Sun-Sentinel, November 2, 2006, John Tanasychuk, “Hostess Ding-dong: Amy Sedaris Brings Her Wacky Sense Of, Uh, Something to a Semi-satirical New Book on Entertaining”; November 8, 2006, John Tanasychuk, “Amy Sedaris Brings Her Wacky Sense Of, Uh, Something to a Semi-satirical New Book on Entertaining.”
Time, February 7, 2005, Sora Song, “Is This an Advertisement or a Threat?,” p. 85; July 10, 2006, Rebecca Winters Keegan, “People,” interview with Amy Sedaris, p. 75.
TV Guide, August 17, 2002, Paul Bernstein, “Sex and Candy; Amy Sedaris Is Baking Her Cupcakes and Eating Them, Too,” p. 3.
USA Today, September 7, 2006, Carol Memmott, “Humor,” review of I Like You, p. 5.
US Weekly, June 26, 2000, Tom Conroy, review of Strangers with Candy, p. 45.
Variety, October 4, 1999, Charles Isherwood, review of The Country Club, p. 96; April 2, 2001, Charles Isherwood, review of The Book of Liz, p. 30; September 12, 2005, Lily Oei, “Sugar and Spice: She’s Got Nearly a Half-dozen Projects in the Works, but the Subversively Witty Amy Sedaris Can’t Stop Thinking about a Baker’s Dozen,” profile of Amy Sedaris, p. 30.
Village Voice, October 27, 2006, Rachel Kramer Bussel, “Life of the Party: Talking with Amy Sedaris, the Hostess with the Mostess,”interview with Amy Sedaris.
Believer,http://www.believermag.com/ (November 12, 2007), Eric Spitznagel, interview with Amy Sedaris.
Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com/ (November 12, 2007), filmography of Amy Sedaris.
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (May 5, 2000), Rex Doane, “Amy Sedaris Digs Wigs and Baking,”interview with Amy Sedaris.*