amy sedaris made felt penises and a raisin necklace for her new show
‘At Home with Amy Sedaris’ is a crafting and cooking show that only Amy Sedaris would call “wholesome.’’
Photography KC Bailey
As a child, Amy Sedaris fantasized about breaking into people's houses. Not for any evil scheme (that she admits to me), but just to be a fly on the wall. Invisible child Amy would want to poke around, see other people's decorating choices, watch them prepare snacks, things like that. This is coincidentally what I have wanted to do at Amy Sedaris's home in the West Village since learning that she decorated it with tiny child's crutches and 60 wooden bats. What does a woman who owns a lampshade made from swatches of fake hair cook for dinner?
At Home With Amy Sedaris answers this question but asks many more. (Is TV Amy in love with her fisherman ex-boyfriend? Why is her "guest room" a hovel with a pallet bed and potato sack sheets? Is a platter fetish a real thing?)
Premiering on truTV on October 24, At Home is Sedaris's absurdist reimagining of the 70s homemaking shows that she grew up watching in North Carolina. Two inspirations, she tells me, were At Home with Peggy Mann and The Bette Elliott Show.
Like these apron-wearing women before her, Amy addresses her audience from a sunny kitchen in an immaculately staged set that we are supposed to believe is her home. She cooks. She crafts. She entertains guests. But unlike, say, Ina Garten, her guests are not kindly cake-fed husbands; they are deviant neighbors played by Nick Kroll, Rachel Dratch, and Stephen Colbert. And unlike Martha Stewart, Amy's crafting projects would be medically dangerous to eat or even gift (i.e. "potato ships," baked potatoes fashioned into boats using wooden skewers and a toxic melange of cheese and glue).
Before writing the show, Amy revisited her favorite feel-good TV series. "I watched Two Fat Ladies, The Galloping Gourmet, Julia Childs," she lists. "But also Lawrence Welk, Red Skelton, Ernie Kovacks — people that I've always been a fan of growing up. I just got a taste of their little homemade shows. We got our tableau idea from Two Fat Ladies — you know, when they show the food and do the voiceover." At the end of the first episode, in which Amy cooks a fish dinner, the camera pans over a gingham-clad table set with cabbage-shaped side bowls, parsley-adorned mains, and a "tuna tower" made of shrimp and accessorized with a "conch shell and a beachcomber's hat." The display is touchingly nostalgic and mysteriously unsettling. Amy later turns two shrimp from the "tuna tower" into earrings and develops a face-blistering allergic reaction.
Minus the shrimp (and an "adjustable raisin necklace" she creates later), all the jewelry and shoes Amy wears in the show are her own. Some of the dresses are hers too, made by her close friend Adam Selman (who also designed the instantly iconic pink gingham snuggy in the show's opening credits). The show's costume designer, Victoria Farrell, was responsible for the rest. "Vicky's the kind of person who just gets it," says Amy. This is partly because Farrell also oversaw the costumes for Amy's masterpiece Strangers with Candy (1999-2000). Farrell outfitted Amy as Jerri Blank, a 46-year-old maybe-former drug addict who has re-enrolled in high school. "I needed someone who didn't have to think twice about it," says Amy about working with Farrell on At Home. "I knew that if she was going to make me an outfit for 'Entertaining for Peanuts,' she could just do it and it would be right." In that episode, Amy wears a lace-up burlap dress for entertaining her rich relative on a shoestring budget. She is penniless because "the raccoon that keeps the books never mentioned there was a problem."
The show is filled with delightfully insane asides like this. In a regular segment, comedian Heather Lawless plays The Lady Who Lives in the Woods, a beleaguered hippie homemaker who makes seed art with her "friend" Esther and pet parrot Artemis (who wears a tiny patchwork felt cape). Sedaris herself plays a cast of different characters (International Wine Woman, a country club Southerner) in addition to her role as hostess. And several of her Strangers with Candy collaborators return. Paul Dinello co-wrote this show, David Pasquesi plays a freaky visiting knife sharpener, and Stephen Colbert is Amy's turtle sitter.
Like Jerri Blank, Amy of At Home With Amy Sedaris keeps turtles. "Shelly!!!" she yells over the phone when I ask her about this (Shelly is the name of Jerri Blank's tragically deceased turtle, R.I.P.). "There's a lot of real Jerri [in the show]. That's just in me. Jerri Blank is so close to me that I just go in and out of her all the time," Amy says. But her character in this show is marginally straighter. "I wanted to do a more wholesome show," she says. "I didn't want to go back and do a Strangers with Candy show."
"But sometimes we'd go over that line," she adds. For example, when Amy's former flame Randy Fingerling (Nick Kroll) drops by while Amy is making an ice cream cake. Randy Fingerling helps Amy frost the cake, living up to his name in a montage that will never let you enjoy the pottery scene from Ghost again.
"I really wanted a feel-good attitude," says Amy. "We did do an episode called 'Making Love' and we did a segment on public hair. But we made it with yarn so it's not dirty at all! It's a crafty version! The penises are made of felt."
Despite its more hilariously risqué moments, its felt penises and sexy cake scenes, At Home is the product of Amy's entirely earnest love for crafting. "This show is something I've had in my head since I was a child," she says. "I just love inventions. Like when it's three o'clock in the morning and you're high out of your mind and you have a craft idea. Like, 'Wait a minute, that pepper grinder will make a good shelf!'"
"At Home With Amy Sedaris premieres" on truTV on October 24 at 10:30PM ET.