Gay essayist David Sedaris’ oddball sister Amy has appeared in many high-profile films and television shows (remember her as Carrie’s book publisher on Sex and the City?), but queer misfits know her best as Jerri Blank, the former “boozer, user and loser” who went back to high school — at age 47! — in Comedy Central’s Strangers With Candy. Now the Late Show with David Letterman regular returns to the role of the fugly, racist, bisexual ex-con in the oft-delayed big-screen prequel to the now-defunct cult series (which, like the film, she co-wrote with co-stars Paul Dinello and Stephen Colbert). We called the actress, author and cook (her cheeseballs and cupcakes are divine) to discuss her little movie that could — plus watersports, lesbian admirers and Nicole Kidman’s ass.
By Brandon Voss
HX: Most PR people connect journalists to celebrities, so it’s very weird having your home number.
Amy Sedaris: Oh, it is? [Laughs] Everyone has my number or a key to my apartment.
Do you feel like a celebrity?
I don’t, actually. My agent will call me and be like, “Oh, they’re having this thing!” And I’ll say, “Is the word ‘celebrity’ attached? Just say no to anything that uses the word ‘celebrity!’”
What do you do around the city for fun?
For fun I stay home. I don’t usually go out for my entertainment, I bring my entertainment to me. I grocery shop every day, but I don’t go to bars.
Do you get recognized a lot on the streets?
Jerri Blank is such a disguise that luckily I can hide behind it. But usually it’s the kind of people who have been to the U.S. Open or wash their hair — those people notice me.
Are fans angry when they realize you’re not Jerri?
Yeah, people get disappointed when I’m not a junkie whore. Sorry! That’s my sister.
Strangers With Candy might be one of the most quotable TV shows in history. Which line are fans most obsessed with?
“Pee on me.” I was stalling because I couldn’t think of my next line in the scene, so I just improvised that.
It’s taken forever to get your film released. That must have been frustrating.
Not at all! I never expected things to go smoothly with it in the first place. It was like, You know what? It’s a really funky seed we’ve planted, and it’s gonna sprout when we least expect it. It’s so Strangers With Candy! Of course Jerri Blank isn’t going to open up on time!
What were you able to get away with in the film version that you couldn’t on TV?
We never set out to get away with stuff on TV. We just went with what was funny, and then once in a while we’d hear something from the censors like, “You can’t say ‘dirty, filthy Jew wallet.’” But we never went out of our way to be shocking, and same for the movie. I know it’s rated R, but I don’t even know if we say the f-word.
Do you not say “fuck” in real life?
Oh! I can say “fuck!” I don’t know why I just said “the f-word!” [Laughs] But the movie is very different than the TV show, and I think one thing that will get criticized is that we had to change a lot of things. We had to do a lot of recasting because the students were looking older and Jerri has to be the old one. It’s like when an independent actor becomes a movie star and you turn on them. I can see that happening with Strangers. But people that were faithful to the TV show still have the TV show.
Speaking of the fans, you’re one of the few personalities whom all gay men seem to agree on — like Madonna.
I guess it’s because I’m a misfit. And Jerri Blank is such a misfit, and I think that a lot of homosexuals find themselves in that category as well.
The film focuses a lot on the secret gay relationship between Colbert’s and Dinello’s teacher characters.
That’s just something that I thought was hilarious, and I’m glad it was heightened in the movie. They had a whole other scene together that was originally going to open the movie, but we ended up dropping it because of the budget. They get into a car accident, and of course they jump in the back seat and start making out.
Did women’s prison turn Jerri on to the ladies or was she always bi?
I think she was always a little bi — “the pole and the hole” — because she just needed to be loved. It didn’t matter to her as long as she got something from somewhere.
How did you cast all those butch lesbians for the opening prison scene?
Very easily, let me tell you! One girl actually did time. I think she had a little crush on me.
How did you get big celebrities like Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kristen Johnson, Sir Ian Holm, Justin Theroux, and Alison Janney to do the film?
Some of them were fans, some of them did it as a favor to me. Really, I’m the weakest one in the movie! I had so much working against me. The heat was beating me down because I had the turtleneck, the wig and the fatty suit on. Then I had stitches in my mouth from dental surgery and I was stretching them to do the face. I don’t even look at it as a Jerri Blank movie — it’s all of our film.
No one minded taking a pay cut?
Are you kidding me? It’s like, You get a hot lunch — what more do you want? Why, who’s complaining?
By the way, your last line as nosy neighbor Gladys Kravitz was the best thing about Bewitched.
People always say, “Oh, they cut you out!” And I’m like, “No, that was my only line in the movie — ‘Abner! Abner!’” I still enjoyed the movie. Nicole Kidman is so good in anything. But I wonder if she wore a fake ass, because in real life she has no ass. And then in the movie, I’m like, Where’d that bump come from? I’m dying to know!
You also have a book on entertaining, I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, coming out in October. Any good advice in there for gays?
For the homo-sex-uals? Well, if gay guys drop by unexpectedly and you want them to leave, just don’t get them started on the color beige, because they’ll go on forever. And it’s a good time to empty your stash of bad liquors. Just dump it all on them.
HX, July 2006.