Chasing Amy

Written by Jerry Portwood on . Posted in Arts & Film, Posts.


Amy Sedaris will never be a movie "star" in the typical sense. It’d be hard to pull off when you’d rather wear a fat suit and sit in a makeup chair sticking more hair on your upper lip instead of getting it waxed.

Yep, that’s right, Amy’s bringing her signature overbite to the big screen when Strangers With Candy opens in New York June 28. Despite all of the expectation from fans of the original television series, Amy seems to have retained her usual self-effacing tone about the whole affair.

"I’m not sure how well TV shows transfer to the big screen," she admits. "But the show has such a cult following. I like to be loyal to those people."

Wait. Before going any further, let me tell you: It’s difficult writing about Amy Sedaris without rehashing all the same quirky details that have been discussed in just about every other story written about her. So, let’s just get that out of the way.

Things that are nearly always mentioned in articles about Amy Sedaris: fat suits; her dead bunny, Tattletale; her brother David; the cupcakes and cheeseballs she makes and sells from her Village apartment; waitressing; taxidermied animals; a penchant for looking unattractive; how pretty she can be; her talent for subversive humor.

So let’s forget all that and concentrate on the latter: Sedaris is so funny that she doesn’t even seem to know how funny she is. It’s that sort of sincerity that keeps folks from hating her freakish, fringe characters and, instead, embrace them as endearing everywomans. Now, with a real, honest-to-goodness film dependent on her talent, it’s Amy’s chance to take her gospel of love for the underdog to the wider world—in the dark, with popcorn.

I have to admit, I was never an adoring fan of the original Comedy Central series, but it was peculiar enough to draw my attention: 46-year-old Jerri Blank, a former prostitute and recovering drug addict, returns to high school to put her life in order.

Strangers was an after school special with heroin cracks, teachers who did more harm than good and sick jokes that revealed uncomfortable truths. It was the energy and commitment that Amy brought to the role that had me hooked (along with Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello, her collaborators on the show, who are both involved in this "prequel" to the defunct series).

David Sedaris’ descriptions of his sister in his stories only further trumps up her bizarre tastes, but Amy insists that she’s not some glutton for punishment for choosing to look ugly rather than glamming it up.

"If I’m creating something for myself, then I want to have fun," she explains. "I like to play unattractive people who think they’re pretty. You can do what you want, but I prefer to look interesting."

Although her characters almost border on an exploitative, "Hey, look at these freaks!"-type humor, she somehow manages to bring an authentic compassion and understanding that makes them sympathetic rather than hideous.

"I’m drawn to people who look different," she explains. "I’m not exploiting; I’m not making fun of them. I’m drawn to them. We’re all used to seeing pretty people; I want to see real people."

It’s that exuberance for the kooky, for the oddball that gives her a leg-up over other Second City alum or Saturday Night Live spinoffs. Sedaris isn’t weird for the sake of finding an untapped Hollywood niche market; she genuinely likes what she likes.

She describes herself as a perpetual "busboy," a behind-the-scenes player, but now that she’s finally getting front-of-the-house attention, don’t expect Jerri to disappear.

"She resurfaces like a bad rash. It’s a look I’ve played for years," Amy says. "I only have one character: When I audition, I have to do Jerri to understand it. I use her as the actress part of me. I’m more like a clown."

Now that this cupcake baking clown is in a movie, it’s time to show what a junkie whore with an overbite can do.

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