Amy Sedaris: Etsy Or Smithsonian?

Apr 14, 2017
Originally published on October 6, 2017 10:55 am

Comedian Amy Sedaris isn't sure if her cult Comedy Central show Strangers With Candy, which she co-created with Stephen Colbert, Paul Dinello, and Mitch Rouse, could be made today. "You just can't make fun of anything anymore," she told host Ophira Eisenberg at the Keswick Theatre outside Philadelphia. "That's what we did in Strangers-- we hit everybody, we made fun of everybody, maybe that's one reason we got away with it back then."

That strategy proved a hit, though Sedaris and crew didn't realize their show's success until they were on a tour for their book Wigfield. "We saw all these ugly people in the audience and we were like 'Oh My God! We have friends from Strangers With Candy'...and I brag that we had an ugly audience because that's the best audience to have."

Since the show ended in 2000, Sedaris has appeared on numerous sitcoms, authored two more books (2006's New York Times Bestseller, I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, and 2010's Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People) and voiced a number of characters, most recently the sassy Princess Caroline, on Netflix's hit show BoJack Horseman.

She's also the owner of her own home business: after ending the run of her popular home cooked cupcakes and cheese balls, Sedaris has since taken up selling decorated lighters, potholders, and catnip toys. She'll be taking her love for cooking and crafting further with her new series, a home making show on truTV, based on her books. "Whenever I watch those shows...Martha Stewart ...or like Bob Ross.....I felt hypnotized...and I want to capture that feeling. But once you start writing a show like that you get bored real quick... I want to teach you how to make a real cream sauce...(but) it's like snooze-a-rooze...They're enough people who can really teach you that. Now I'm thinking maybe I should go for the laughs."

We put Sedaris's crafting knowledge to the test with a game where she must decide whether described objects are art pieces from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, or something that can be bought from the peer-to-peer e-commerce site, Etsy.

Amy Sedaris: Etsy Or Smithsonian?

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JONATHAN COULTON: This is ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia coming to you from the Keswick Theatre outside Philadelphia.

(APPLAUSE)

COULTON: I'm Jonathan Coulton here with Puzzle Guru Art Chung. And now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.

(APPLAUSE)

OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:

Thank you, Jonathan. Before the break, our contestant Courtney won her way to the final round at the end of the show. We'll find out a little later who she will face off against. But first, it's time to welcome our special guest. She's a actress, crafter, author and rabbit educator. Please welcome Amy Sedaris.

(APPLAUSE)

AMY SEDARIS: Thanks for coming out.

EISENBERG: Amy Sedaris, such a pleasure. And I have to say I, you know, I first knew you of course from "Strangers With Candy," your role as Jerri Blank.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: It was a cult hit on Comedy Central in 1999. It was a satiric take on after-school specials. I mean, it was kind of way ahead of its time in terms of the humor level. And I'm just wondering have you thought what it would be like if that series came out now?

SEDARIS: Well, people - RuPaul recently - namedrop - asked me that question.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

SEDARIS: I don't know that it could be made now. I mean, you just can't make fun of anything anymore. But look - I mean, that's what we did in "Strangers." We hit everybody. We made fun of everybody.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

SEDARIS: So maybe that's one reason we got away with it back then. But - and plus now, it just seems like everyone is kind of doing that kind of humor now. So it wouldn't really stand out as much. Where before, we were just in the woods doing a show, making each other laugh, not thinking we had an audience.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

SEDARIS: And we didn't even know we had an audience till we did "Wigfield." And then we saw all these ugly people in the audience. And we were like, oh, my God, we have fans from "Strangers With Candy." And I brag that we have an ugly audience because that's the best audience to have.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Right because there's no social media. You're not getting this immediate feedback. So you...

SEDARIS: Right.

EISENBERG: ...This is - you went on tour for the book.

SEDARIS: Right. Yeah.

EISENBERG: Yeah. And then all of a sudden all the fans come out and you were like, oh, you guys like the show?

SEDARIS: Oh, my God, yeah. We had no idea we had an audience at all. 'Cause that was what we liked about it at Comedy Central, like, they gave us a horrible time slot and nobody was ever around. And we really were in the woods doing that show. But it was kind of fun because then the people that saw it back then, we felt like they discovered it.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

SEDARIS: You know, it's kind of fun when you discover a show and it's not like, you know, people are just wracking over your head saying watch this show, watch this show.

EISENBERG: Well, and also that you hit an audience that is dying for this particular thing, right?

SEDARIS: Yeah.

EISENBERG: The fans weren't just like, yeah, we like it. They were like, this is what I've been waiting for.

SEDARIS: Yeah, that was fun.

EISENBERG: But you have a new show that you're working on for truTV...

SEDARIS: I do.

EISENBERG: ...That is about entertaining and hostessing.

SEDARIS: It's going to be my version of my homemaking show based on my books "I Like You" and "Simple Time." So it'll be a little cooking and crafting and decorating.

EISENBERG: Are there guests?

SEDARIS: I'll have like maybe actors playing guests, you know, like a termite inspector or a fishmonger, you know, people like that coming into my home.

(LAUGHTER)

SEDARIS: But then, you know, whenever I watch those shows, like I watch Martha Stewart or I watch a show like that, you know, you - or like Bob Ross, you know, I watched Bob Ross recently. And I just love the feeling. I felt hypnotized.

And by the end of it, I really felt like wow, I - that was really - I mean, I want to capture that feeling. But once you start writing a show like that, you get bored real quick. Like, you're like, oh, my God, you can't mix comedy and real in a way. It's like you want one or the other.

EISENBERG: Right.

SEDARIS: You know, so I'm learning that right now because every time I'm like no, I want to do it for real, I want to teach you how to make a real cream sauce it's like snoozearoos (ph). It's like there are enough people that can really teach you that.

EISENBERG: Right.

SEDARIS: Now I'm thinking maybe I should go for the laughs.

(LAUGHTER)

SEDARIS: So you're not really going to learn anything but that's what I want you to do - learn what not to do.

EISENBERG: You are a excellent rabbit mother.

SEDARIS: Yes.

EISENBERG: The name of your rabbit...

SEDARIS: Tina.

EISENBERG: Tina. How's Tina doing?

SEDARIS: Tina's up to 7 pounds. And she's chewing me out of house and home. She - I've never had a rabbit that's chewed this much. I've given - I gave her way too much freedom too soon. And you can't really discipline a rabbit, so there's nothing I can do about it except lock her up at night. But Paul Dinello came over the other day and he had a satchel with a leather strap - gone, gone.

(LAUGHTER)

SEDARIS: Now I have to track down the company. He's like you got to replace this strap. I'm like OK. Yeah. She chews everything. I don't - you know.

EISENBERG: But you were just saying you can't discipline them because you're an educator with the House Rabbit Society.

SEDARIS: I have a badge.

EISENBERG: You have a badge?

SEDARIS: Yeah. I have a badge and I use it.

EISENBERG: Is it...

SEDARIS: Any excuse to get into anyone's home, I'm there. I forget about the rabbit. I'm like looking at their artwork, going, you know, you need to go out and get these clippers. And meanwhile, I ransack your house.

(LAUGHTER)

SEDARIS: Yeah. It's pretty bad.

EISENBERG: Is the badge - does it look like a...

SEDARIS: It's laminated.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: That makes it official. And what is a common mistake people make with their house rabbits?

SEDARIS: Well, you shouldn't give them the whole entire apartment because it's really not safe for them jumping up and off the bed or, you know, they can really easily hurt themselves. So, you know, I should have her in a hutch of some sort in my apartment.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

SEDARIS: And they don't know what to feed them. And they expect rabbits to be cuddly and, you know, fun like a puppy or a kitten.

EISENBERG: Right.

SEDARIS: And they're just not really like that. You just kind of stare at them stoned and then you're like - you just can't believe, all of a sudden they'll hop and skip and jump and twirl and you're like E-E-E-E (ph). And you think - it's like in a movie - in a cartoon when you see the plant move across the thing. You're like, did that - did I just see that happen? So it's more like just fascinating to watch, watch them clean themselves or watch them chew expensive chairs. You know, that's what they're for.

EISENBERG: Right. So it's a participant - observational relationship more than - OK.

SEDARIS: Yes, you stay there. I stay here. We work.

EISENBERG: You were also - I remember I really wanted to take advantage of this when I first moved to New York - that you ran a cheese ball and cupcake business out of your apartment.

SEDARIS: Yes. Allowance money, that's what that was for. Allowance money, yes.

EISENBERG: But it ended.

SEDARIS: It did because, A, everyone started doing cupcakes and, B, I got a cockroach and mouse problem pretty quickly (laughter). And I just decided to put it to rest. So I stopped that. So now I just sell lighters and potholders. But the potholder kit that I use decided to change their colors and the quantity of potholder loops you could get. Oh, I could go on forever about the potholder company. You know, they're like, you can get bigger ones. Who wants a large potholder, you know? Anyway, I get so mad. And when I think about it - sorry, I'll get over it. Hold on.

And then I sell catnip toys. I have a - no, I have a fabric line. It's not successful, but I have a fabric line. I know, my money manager's like, OK, here's a big $4 you got for eight months of sales. And it's me ordering the fabric. I get online, and I order my own fabric. I'm so - the Lower Eastside Girls Club makes the catnip toys for me. I supply the weed and the fabric, and they make them for me.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: I just want to clarify one thing. When you said you sell lighters...

SEDARIS: I sell lighters. My godson, you know, he likes Dum Dum lollipops. So I gave him, like, his fifth one, and he handed me the stick back. And I was putting it on my counter where there was a lighter, and I was like - ping, ping - Dum Dum lighters. So I cover my lighters with a Dum Dum wrapper. And on the wrapper it says, save wrap to make fun stuff. And I'm like, this is ridiculous. I'm so proud of myself for coming up - I haven't had a new idea in so long. So I'm very busy.

EISENBERG: Yeah, how many lighters are you...

SEDARIS: I can't even believe I had time to make it here tonight (laughter).

EISENBERG: You know, these lighters sound kind of amazing. Everyone needs a lighter.

SEDARIS: Everyone. I gave it to a 13-year-old. And the mother's like, no. I said, you know, she can light incense or a, you know, votive candle for some dead person. You know what I mean? It's like, everybody needs a lighter. I mean, you learn that in Girl Scouts.

EISENBERG: That's right.

SEDARIS: Yeah.

EISENBERG: I was very interested in that you hosted an art auction for the Super 8 hotel chain.

SEDARIS: Yeah, yeah.

EISENBERG: Because they were getting rid of their art.

SEDARIS: All their ugly art. And they asked me - I thought it would be fun because I had to rename it all. And it was really hard, like, hard to think of something boring and vague. Our heads were hurting. I got a group of friends together just to come up with the names.

(LAUGHTER)

SEDARIS: And we were like - I think one we named Early Menopause just because it had that color, but yeah.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yeah, exactly. Very good.

SEDARIS: It was pretty funny.

EISENBERG: So you wrote a book called "Simple Times: Crafts For Poor People," and we have actually made a guessing game for you about crafts.

SEDARIS: OK.

EISENBERG: As you know, some crafters sell their work on websites like Etsy. And others take the art form to the next level, and their work has made it all the way to the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

SEDARIS: Woo (ph).

EISENBERG: So in this game, we are going to describe a craft and you just have to tell us, is it something that you can buy on Etsy or is it something that you would find in the Smithsonian?

SEDARIS: OK.

EISENBERG: Very easy.

SEDARIS: That's fun, OK.

EISENBERG: Depending on how well you do, our listener Callie Sergeant (ph) who lives in Virginia and is 12 years old...

SEDARIS: Oh.

EISENBERG: ...Is going to win an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cube.

SEDARIS: Oh.

EISENBERG: OK, so this could change her life.

EISENBERG: That sounds fun, a Rubik's Cube (laughter). I think she'd rather have a lighter, don't you?

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: All right, let's give it a shot.

SEDARIS: OK.

COULTON: This piece is called "Hairy Armpit Tee." The artist statement says this is a feminist work. It is a plain white T-shirt with simulated armpit hair made of black thread hand-embroidered in the underarm areas. Etsy or Smithsonian?

SEDARIS: It's Etsy.

COULTON: It is Etsy. You are correct.

SEDARIS: Yeah, yeah, it's Etsy. It's a good idea.

EISENBERG: I like the idea of little pit wigs. Those must exist, right, a little pit wig? You've had some little wigs, small wigs.

SEDARIS: Oh, yeah, I have a lot of little wigs. I used to cover my door knobs with them.

(LAUGHTER)

SEDARIS: It's a lot of hair to have in your apartment. In the summer, it sucks.

EISENBERG: This piece is called "Black And Grey Toaster." From afar, it looks like a purse. But upon closer inspection, it's actually a fake toaster made of black vinyl, copper wire and thread. Etsy or Smithsonian?

SEDARIS: What is it? You tell me. What is it? What is it? Smithsonian? Smithsonian.

EISENBERG: Yeah, that's correct.

SEDARIS: Oh, thank you.

EISENBERG: It's the Smithsonian.

SEDARIS: I totally cheated. Yeah, Smithsonian, easy. Definitely Smithsonian.

EISENBERG: Yeah, that's correct.

SEDARIS: OK.

COULTON: This piece is called "Batman 2." It's a knit Batman onesie sized for a 6-foot-tall adult.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: Etsy or Smithsonian?

SEDARIS: Oh, it's Etsy.

COULTON: No, it's Smithsonian.

SEDARIS: No way.

COULTON: Yeah, the piece is by Mark Newport who knits intentionally sad-looking superhero costumes...

SEDARIS: Wow.

COULTON: ...Which is a kind of art.

SEDARIS: OK.

COULTON: Yeah.

SEDARIS: Is he seeing anybody?

(LAUGHTER)

SEDARIS: OK.

EISENBERG: This is your last clue. This piece is called "Neutrophil Cross-Stitch."

SEDARIS: OK.

EISENBERG: It's a scientifically accurate cross-stitch diagram of a white blood cell. Smithsonian or Etsy?

SEDARIS: OK, you're selling it. You're selling it to me, so I'm going to say Etsy.

EISENBERG: Yeah, its on Etsy, yeah.

SEDARIS: OK, OK, OK, OK (laughter).

EISENBERG: I got to say, I kind of want this. It's 19.99 on Etsy. And the description says it's perfect for lab techs, nurses, doctors and vampires.

SEDARIS: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: I just love that.

SEDARIS: Check, check, check, check, check, check, check.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yeah, exactly.

EISENBERG: All right, puzzle guru Art Chung, how did Amy do?

ART CHUNG: Congratulations, Amy. You and 12-year-old Callie Sargeant (ph) have both won ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cubes.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Just an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much.

SEDARIS: Thank you for having me.

EISENBERG: Amy Sedaris, everybody.

SEDARIS: Thank you so much.

EISENBERG: Amy Sedaris.

SEDARIS: Thank you (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF DJ JAZZY JEFF AND THE FRESH PRINCE SONG "PUMP UP THE BASS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.