Visit my home studio, and you’ll have ten (or so) sets of eyes tracking you. You might know a few of the faces but most will be unfamiliar. Guests, meet my Hall of Inspiration. The people on that wall all create something that makes me want to tear my clothes off, run down the street, scream and wave my hands. Unnecessary aside: This is a compliment. When I feel this way, I am deeply moved. This reaction differs from when I encounter truth—then I uglyface cry.
As Austin Kleon (author of Steal Like An Artist) calls it, these people comprise My Artistic Family Tree. Which is why this essay exists—I’m methodically digging into the roots. After all, my inspiration’s inspiration is my inspiration.
I’m not self-aware enough to know why I picked this first person as entry #1. Maybe I thought she’d be straightforward (HA!)? After too much reading and watching, it’s impossible to define what makes her tic^. But she’s moved by certain set of stuff, like improvisation, collaboration, and a magnetic connection to the unconventional. She is a minx of disguise and playacting, an author, a demented housewife to one pet bunny, a member of the Talent Family, and a lovable looney and ham. It’s Amy Sedaris.
Is childhood important? It sounds like her’s was rather normal with a dash of that oddball personality. Her family encouraged her, especially her brother, memoirist David Sedaris. The other important cultural stuff included an affinity for unintentionally tragic television (At Home with Peggy Mann), skin conditions and images on the fringe (like Diane Arbus’ freaky collection of photography) and skit-based TV, like Laugh-In and SCTV.
Disinterested in college, Amy Sedaris packed her bags and moved to Chicago. She joined The Second City and that was her bachelor’s degree—a school of improv, sketch comedy, humor, and quick-thinking. It’s not surprising that an institution that describes itself as unconventional would launch her meandering, harlequin career (television, movies, a food book, a craft book, a fabric line, and an amazing talk show guest, funny lady, and on!). I suspect Amy Sedaris learned improvisation on-stage and off and honed her collaborative spirit. She also learned how to make herself the butt of the joke using upbeat, twisted quips while deftly handle sensitive subjects (eating disorders! drugs! sexy sex! race!).
At least two philosophical things drive her. Pretty isn’t funny (usually). And comedy isn’t where the funny lives. Comedy lives with tragedy. Take it away, Amy Sedaris…
A lot of times girls think they’re funny, but they want to pretty at the same time, and if you want to be funny, you have to be willing to get ugly. – Amy Sedaris in a Washington Post interview
Huff Po: So you don’t gravitate toward things that are labeled “funny” right off the bat? Amy Sedaris: No, that’s a big turn off for me. Like if on the backside of a book it says, “This is hilarious!” I’m like, ugh. But if it has the word, “psychiatric,” I’ll buy it. – From an interview on The Huffington Post
Last thing about Amy Sedaris—she readily admits she’s not a one-woman show. Her crew ranges from her brother, BFF Paul Dinello, the team of illustrators and photographers that helped her create her books, her costumer-friend Adam Selman, and her make-stuff group, the Crafty Beavers. Especially impressive is that she can communicate her often-weird vision so clearly that another person can capture that unglued sense of whimsy. AND: She doesn’t internet. As a technical lone-ranger, she doesn’t use Twitter, Facebook, or a cell phone. Her website is very occasionally updated. Her sole line of communication is the telephone. In her house. Given how prolific and wide-randing her projects, that is impressive.
There are so many things I love about Amy Sedaris, including the fact that she is always entertaining. I liked her in a general sense before, but now I appreciate (just a little) how she sees the world. The years of improvisation, reinvention, collaboration, and nurturing an unvconventional world-view makes her an inimitable and unique entertainer. She is someone I look to her for hilarious, unsettling, and fantastically demented persona.
Hooray you, Amy Sedaris! I am so glad you do you.
Down the Rabbit Hole
- Amy Sedaris visited Chealsa Lately to teach about vaginal cleanliness. Included: felt and multi-colored pom poms.
- Amy Sedaris on David Letterman. All of them.
- The Amy Sedaris Interview for The Believer, “Sometimes it’s just enough for me to have the idea. I don’t need to see it through to the end. Strangers with Candy never would have happened if it wasn’t for Paul and Stephen [Colbert]. I was perfectly content with just coming up with the idea. When it actually happens, I’m always disappointed because it’s never like what I imagined in my head. When an idea becomes a reality, then it’s a job. I’d rather just think about it. I know that makes me sound like a pothead, but I’ve always been that way.”
- From the Paper Mag Beautiful People edition, “The last thing I want to hear after a show is, ‘Everyone looked so pretty and thin,'” she laments. “I’d rather hear, ‘Is that really your eyebrow?’ or ‘Do you really have a limp?'”
- She did an advice column called Sedaratives for The Believer.
^ Yes, this is a pun. One that I feel she might appreciate.