an ode to amy sedaris's subversive, slapstick fashion
Comedian Sudi Green makes a case for the co-existence of comedy and style.
Photography Roy Rochlin via Getty Images
Our favorite writers muse on their muses as we bring back the "My i-Con" essay series for the third year in a row.
For comedians, “style” can be an ugly word. It denotes a sense of taking oneself too seriously that isn’t, well, comedy. We all know that the truly funny is made in basements with cheap beer and no less than ten roommates. If you seem to be focused on appearance at all then, why, you’re not focusing on what’s important! Which is comedy, and only comedy. The exclusion of fashion from comedy — except for when you get famous and are expected, immediately, to look like Jennifer Lawrence (who honestly is funny!) — can’t help but feel indicative of a dude-dominated scene. Personal style highlights our gender, puts a sparkly spotlight on us that says, “Here! Pretty lady.” And that is terrifying, I guess or whatever.
Coming up in the New York improv and sketch world, it felt like what women wore was, you guessed it, open season for discussion. Friends of mine were told by men that they would find them more funny if they “showered less.” A girl on my improv team was told she was “brave” for wearing a dress to a show. First responders and veterans are brave. This girl had merely gone to H&M.
So we all dutifully donned the uniform: jeans and flannel shirts. And this is not to knock jeans and flannel. If that’s what you want to wear, hey sister, go sister! But why did I feel that if I wore anything to stand out, I would be less of a “real” comedian?
Amy Sedaris is a style icon to me because her style is her comedy. The two are intertwined into a, sorry this is gross but, “brand” that is as much a look as it is an approach. Like her sense of humor, Amy’s aesthetic is original yet familiar. It’s vintage with an edge of sinister. Feminine but disgusting. Scalloped edges. Polka dots. It has the garage-sale charm of a felt puppet from the 50s or a dinner made mostly out of mayonnaise and pineapple. One of my favorite looks of Amy’s is the dress she wore recently on an appearance of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert that expressed the joy of wearing pink ruffles. When in my life have I gotten to wear pink ruffles? I want to live a life where I say, “Pink ruffles! Hell yeah! Now let’s go on national TV!” Amy’s style can teeter on costume, but that’s truly what I love about it. She’s rocking a look. And it extends to everything she touches: TV shows, books, Instagram. Even food! Try her carrot cake recipe — it’s moist as hell. You cannot separate Amy from her style, and without her style she wouldn’t be Amy and she wouldn’t be as funny.
Seeing Strangers with Candy, Amy’s Comedy Central show that aired in the early 2000s, for the first time in high school was one of those seminal influences that imprints on the brain of a 15 year old. I was at that perfect sponge age, hungrily absorbing pieces of culture to assemble into an identity. For me, those pieces were high school debate, pot, and comedy. Can you believe I wasn’t prom queen? Thankfully, I had an older sister who went to an all-women’s college as my guiding light through the puberty storm — and thankfully I was introduced to Strangers with Candy. It was a bizarro version of the suburban high school life I was living. Jerri Blank’s clip-on earrings, fupa, and dark metallic lipstick colors were not necessarily to be modeled directly in my day-to-day outfits. But she represented a fearless freakdom that translated to a liberating “I don’t care.” She had abandoned any semblance of needing to fit in. Amid a sea of North Face fleeces and Ugg boots, my hero was a 40-year-old ex-con who went to high school and wore magazine bead jewelry and brown lipstick. And liking that was enough of a touchstone in my youth to form…God forbid… the beginnings of a personality.
Some people are mothers, some people are doctors, some people have eight pugs and
that’s their thing and that’s okay. I happen to like what Amy Sedaris likes. That’s my thing, and yes it is derivative. But maybe being derivative is also my thing. Amy’s work too is a reflection of her likes. On Instagram, she has a habit of reposting pieces of art with only the creator or source as the description, or a vintage postcard, or an interesting rabbit. And with each hit of that tiny heart button, I have that wonderful feeling of “Hey, I’m like her. I’m also original, just like that original person.”
Amy proves that style and comedy can and should co-exist. The one can make the other greater. Even in an industry where you’re awarded for originality, the pressure to conform can be staggering. But the longer I’m around, the more I realize the power in rocking a look. Going to a show in something that says, “Look at me and laugh at me. On my terms.” I don’t know if I have a personal style. But I do have a style icon who is wild and fun and unique. And I like what she likes.