Amy Sedaris channels her vintage aesthetic in her Trump-free analog show ‘At Home’
Amy Sedaris’ apartment, tucked away on a quiet block in Greenwich Village, is a riot of flea-market whimsy, decorated with paintings of her pet bunny rabbits, paper-flower garlands and a lamp made of hair color samples.
The cheerful maximalism may be out of sync with the current, Marie Kondo-inspired vogue for barren bookshelves, but Sedaris is fine with that.
“I read her book. And then I got rid of it because that’s what she says to do. And I feel like I am surrounded by everything that I really like,” says the actress, who on this spring afternoon is sorting her collection of miniatures — itty-bitty dollhouse furniture, food and accessories she keeps in hand-stenciled jars. There are teensy-weensy bags of potato chips, a stamp-sized portrait of Charles and Diana, a vanity made of matchboxes, even a “cute little syringe.”
“I got into collecting these,” she says, opening a box of a dozen or so antique ham-shaped charms, with the words “Smith’s Premium Ham” stamped in gold letters. “I would love to do little hams that say ‘Amy Sedaris.’ Wouldn’t that be cute?”
It would certainly be on-brand for Sedaris, the co-creator and star of “At Home With Amy Sedaris,” a surreal sketch-comedy show rather loosely based on her off-kilter how-to books “I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence” and “Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People.”
The show, which airs on TruTV and recently wrapped its second season, was nominated for an Emmy last year in a category won by “Saturday Night Live.”
Co-created with her longtime collaborator Paul Dinello, “At Home” is a more niche concoction, one that appeals most potently, she says, to “ugly people, misfits and outcasts.”
To be clear, that’s a compliment.
Sedaris has been happy to play the oddball since she first gained a following with the cult comedies “Exit 57” and “Strangers With Candy.” In the latter, which marked its 20th anniversary last month, she starred as Jerri Blank, a 46-year-old who goes back to high school after decades as a “boozer, user and loser.”
An off-color spoof of the moralizing after-school specials of the 1980s and ‘90s, the underappreciated “Strangers With Candy” aired for three seasons on Comedy Central and helped launch the career of Stephen Colbert, who played Jerri’s closeted gay history teacher Chuck Noblet. She thinks the show couldn’t be made today, because people have become too sensitive. (“What a drag,” she says.)
Since then she’s played supporting roles in “Sex and the City,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and “BoJack Horseman”; popped up in the humorous essays written by her brother, bestselling author David Sedaris; and become one of late-night TV’s favorite go-to guests. She’s done well enough that she just bought the apartment upstairs, which she plans to use as a hybrid storage space, studio and writers room. But she’s not interested in being super-duper famous the way her old friend Colbert has become.
“I’d rather be a little bit under the radar,” says Sedaris, who likes that “At Home” airs on TruTV. “You have to really find it. I like the audience that’s willing to do that. They’re more loyal and dedicated.”
Sedaris is trying to decide the appropriate home for some miniature tombstones when Tina, her pet bunny, silently hops into the room. Sedaris explains that she recently learned that the rabbit, who will be 5 in September, is actually a male. She points to a portrait of Tina, painted by her brother-in-law, that’s hanging over the couch. The animal’s left paw looks unmistakably phallic. “Tina must’ve been putting out male energy. Right?”
Sedaris’ twisted sense of humor co-exists with an essentially wholesome quality that dates back to her childhood in North Carolina. She was involved in Junior Achievements and Girl Scouts, experiences that fueled her industrious spirit.
“I always sold the most cookies, always. I like making money. I still sell stuff to make money. I love getting cash and having a table between me and whoever it is. I like that transaction. I keep waiting to see when I’m going to grow out of that.”
Long after she became semi-famous, she sold cupcakes for extra income. Then it was potholders made from a kit. “I used to spit them out: Go, go, go. Then the company changed the loops and I lost the one thing I was really good at.” So she has moved on to decorating butane lighters — “everyone needs one for their tool kit,” she figures — using Dum Dums wrappers and packing tape.
“At Home” draws inspiration from “The Lawrence Welk Show,” “SCTV” and “At Home With Peggy Mann,” a show that aired on the local public television station when Sedaris was growing up and had a stilted, lonely quality she remembers fondly.
In “At Home,” Sedaris plays a version of herself, the chipper host of a homemaking show set in a bright vintage kitchen, as well as a number of eccentric supporting players who could all be descendants of Jerri Blank.
There’s “Regional Wine Lady” Ronnie Vino, a lush who offers tips on getting drunk on cheap booze; Patty Hogg, a busybody with a thick-as-gumbo Southern drawl; and Nutmeg, whose distinguishing feature is a nose turned up with tape. Grotesque is Sedaris’ comfort zone. Several times in our conversation, she slips almost involuntarily into Jerri Blank mode — nasal voice, overbite, crossed eyes, furrowed brow.
Sedaris, who is 58 but looks a decade younger, has never “played the pretty card” because, she says, “it’s much more fun to go ugly.”
Episodes are organized around seemingly innocuous themes (“Halloween,” “Entertaining for Peanuts”) but tend to take gonzo turns. In Season 1’s holiday episode, for instance, Sedaris was attacked by a demonic nutcracker.
“At Home” has attracted big-name guest stars like Justin Theroux and Michael Shannon, who, she jokes, “are in it for the $700.” Her dream guests include John Malkovich and Patricia Arquette, whose performance in “Escape at Dannemora” as a frumpy prison guard she raves about. “I just love when people put themselves out there like that.”
In an era when TV is flooded with topical humor, “At Home” stands out for its utter lack of contemporary references — there’s no Trump, no social media, no cellphones, lending the show a refreshingly apolitical, analog feel.
There is a lot they have to run by the standards department, including a sketch involving pubic wigs made of yarn and, once, a turkey that went to the bathroom in the middle of a scene.
“They wanted us to blur the poop,” she says, “but we didn’t.”
Follow me @MeredithBlake
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