Actor, playwright and bestselling writer Amy Sedaris has made unconventional choices in her life and show business career, but her dedication has resulted in a large and passionate fan base. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following One On 1 report.
It's not every interview where the interviewee is upstaged by a bunny rabbit. But "Dusty," the roommate of actor and writer Amy Sedaris in a Greenwich Village apartment, is not just any other rabbit.
"That breed is smart and dominating, and I need to be with someone who's dominating," says Sedaris.
Once, Sedaris turned down a film role in Los Angeles because it would have taken her away from the rabbit.
"I really want to do a series of videos for rabbit training and rabbit care -- how to trim their nails," she says.
Amy Sedaris is being serious, really. It is sometimes hard to tell.
Her choices for a life and career in show business have been anything but conventional. But as NY1 witnessed at book signings in Brooklyn and Manhattan, Sedaris has a large and passionate fan base.
Her popularity results from hit off-Broadway plays written alongside her brother David Sedaris, her cult hit TV show “Strangers With Candy” with co-stars Paul Dinello and Stephen Colbert, roles in big-budget movies and frequent guest shots on "Late Show With Dave Letterman," in which she describes married life with her imaginary husband, Glen.
But equally important to her are her books, including the bestseller "I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence," and her latest, "Simple Times: Crafts For Poor People."
"I don't go out of my way to make something not mainstream. It just happens," she says. "Costco's not going to pick up this book because of the 'Making Love' chapter. If I really cared about it, I wouldn't have made that chapter, but I didn't think about it."
Yes, Sedaris' book on crafts has a chapter called "Making Love," written with her ex-boyfriend Paul Dinello. There's also a chapter on crafting for the handicapped, a section on stretching before crafting and a chapter on injuries.
Amy Sedaris holds up an example of her handiwork.
"You can staple yourself in the eye, that happens a lot," says Sedaris. If you're trying to iron something, you think, 'Oh, I'll just use my thigh as a flat surface.' And who hasn't done that, right?"
Funny, right? But the subjects of these books -- crafts, recipes -- are serious passions of hers. Sedaris understandably worries that they will not be taken seriously.
"Those are real recipes in that book, my first book. I just made sure the word 'humor' wasn't stamped on it, but I know a lot of bookstores still put it in the humor department," says Sedaris. "But it was important to me -- this isn't a funny book! This is serious!"
Sedaris is best known for the characters she creates, especially Jerri Blank, the ex-con, ex-junkie, ex-prostitute in her mid-40s who goes back to high school in "Strangers With Candy."
"I like to have something to hide behind. I like when i look different, then I feel different and then I can be different," says Sedaris. "When it's just me, then I'm just... it's just boring to me."
Paper Magazine once named her one of New York's most beautiful women. But Sedaris says she didn't know that when she showed up for the photo shoot, made up with bruises on her face.
"I don't like to have my picture taken as me, it's just so boring. There I was in this Catholic [school] uniform with an ax and bloody makeup. I was waiting tables that night at MaryAnn's, so I left it on for that and waited on tables with a big black eye," says Sedaris. "One table, four guys, they asked me, 'Are you all right?' And I said, 'Yes, I'm in love, and she's great!'"
Admirers of Amy Sedaris and her brother, bestselling author and humorist David Sedaris, might understandably wonder -- what was that home like, growing up with her parents, a Greek grandmother and five siblings.
Amy Sedaris and her brother David as children.
"The humor is from trying to compete with each other. Like, we'd sit around the dinner table for hours after we finished eating and it was always about telling stories and trying to be the first one to make it funny," says Amy Sedaris.
When she was 23, Sedaris had a boyfriend who suffered five brain aneurysms. She spent a lot of time with him in rehab and learned a sobering lesson that has served her ever since.
"You don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. It's just not going to do you any good," she says. "So you just concentrate on what you're doing in the moment."
Sedaris says she would have been fine staying in North Carolina, but her brother David encouraged her to go to Chicago to try out for the famed improvisational troupe Second City. One of her standard bits was a tumbling routine, performed with Paul Dinello and Stephen Colbert, reenacted years later on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report."
It was a funny bit, but it was created for a serious purpose.
"When we were at Second City, I was living above a five-year-old deaf girl and we played all the time. So that's where I learned a lot of sign language," says Sedaris. "I thought, 'From now on, I want to do something in the show for deaf people. They just have to see it and they don't have to understand what we're doing.'"
She eventually came to New York, preferring the small plays she co-wrote and performed with her brother David to pursuing bigger gigs.
Sedaris may have been the only client at the William Morris Agency who would finish work on Comedy Central series like "Exit 57" and "Strangers With Candy" and want to return to waitressing jobs at places like Mary's Fish Camp and Gourmet Garage.
From left, Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello during their days as co-performers.
"We were going to have to re-shoot the opening to 'Exit 57,' and I was like, 'I can't! I've got to work!'" she says. I was like, "I just got this job, you guys! There's no way I'm going to ask off just so I can re-shoot the opening of this TV show!"
Sedaris says her father gave her self-confidence, but the sense of humor came from her mother. Her mom died just as Amy's career was taking off in the early 1990s. Sedaris says it has given her strength and made her fearless, but the sadness is right there on the surface.
"It's hard. When people, both their parents are living, they're Christmas shopping and they get their mother like a CD. I'm like, 'Really? Your mother's going to die one day. She's going to get murdered or something and you're going to get her a CD for Christmas?'" says Sedaris. "That's all I'm saying: you better appreciate it, because they're going to be gone one day."
Sedaris describes herself as a domestic person who occasionally might not leave the house for three days -- a woman seemingly at peace with all of the choices she's made.
"I'm not married, I don't have any children. I never wanted to get married, never wanted to have any children. So I love living by myself with a rabbit and getting to do whatever I want to do," says Sedaris. "And I've always done that. I've been so lucky."
Her admirers, no doubt, feel similarly happy that Sedaris long ago chose her own unique path.
"I failed first grade. I think that's where it started. Not to get heavy, but I failed first grade and I learned early on, 'Oh, I'm not going to wait to be picked last for the team. I'm going to be the team,'" says Sedaris. "I'm going to be the captain and I'll pick who's on my team. I'm going to start the project, I'm going to decide to do a play and then I'm going to have auditions and have people. That way, I'm not going to fail, because I'm in charge."