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Playing it straight to be funny

Playing it straight to be funny
02 Sep
10:05

NEW YORK • Amy Sedaris, the prolific actor and comedian, has been one of the funniest people on television for decades, yet Emmy recognition has usually eluded her.

That changed this year when her gonzo homemaking spoof for TruTV, At Home With Amy Sedaris, was nominated in the best variety sketch category.

Episodes begin as goofs on The Martha Stewart Show and the like, but end up somewhere decidedly more outrageous. Along the way Sedaris, as host, creates “Girl Scout-level” crafts (“potato ships”, bottle cap castanets), dispenses kitchen tips (“ouzo kills feelings”) and occasionally breaks into song in the typically chipper demeanour of a professional TV homemaker.

“You play it straight because the straighter you go, then the jokes are even funnier,” she said. “If I’m earnest in giving you real information and singing at the best of my ability, even though I can’t sing, that’s just funny.”

Inspired by At Home With Peggy Mann, a local show from Sedaris’ North Carolina youth, At Home is an apotheosis of sorts for her.

It combines the skewed whimsy of projects like Strangers With Candy, the cult comedy she created and starred in with her longtime collaborators Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello – Dinello also co-created At Home – with the absurdist DIY vibe of her books I Like You: Hospitality Under The Influence and Simple Times: Crafts For Poor People.

The sister of humorist David Sedaris, Sedaris emerged from the Chicago improv scene in the 1990s, starring in the short-lived Comedy Central sketch show Exit 57 with Colbert, Dinello and others.

Since then, she has enlivened series both cultish (The Heart, She Holler) and more mainstream (Sex And The City, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), and been both a reliably great late-night guest and a prolific voice actor. Next month she returns as Princess Carolyn in the new season of BoJack Horseman.

In a recent phone interview, she discussed her Emmy nomination, the various characters she played and rabbit care. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

How would you describe At Home to somebody who’s never seen it?

It’s a homemaking show that starts off like Martha Stewart, where you would address the camera, but then it goes into a narrative story.

It is a little bit of everything. I mean I could rattle off 31 things we were inspired by. Everything from Lawrence Welk to Red Skelton to Two Fat Ladies, Mister Rogers, Ernie Kovacs. It’s been inspired by so many old shows, but nothing new really.

What was it about those earnest old shows that is so appealing?

They were real people that seemed so character-like to me. I just always thought it would be fun to make that up. When you see shows like that, it’s easy to think what would be funny about them.

Is it tough to play a version of yourself?

Yes, I was scared about playing myself. And then once I started playing the other characters, I thought, oh, I get it: I’m the straight guy. And those characters can make fun of me. So now it’s easy because I just think of myself as the straight one.

Those other characters you play on the show, along with past ones like Jerri Blank on Strangers With Candy and others, are heavily made up to the point of being grotesque at times. Do you prefer those kinds of roles?

It’s just more fun. If I’m going to be in the make-up chair, let’s get ugly for it. Ugly is so much fun to play, and then your body takes over, and you can be anything.

It’s scary if you look in the mirror and you look like yourself, or a version of yourself with all that make-up on, which is just as scary to me because I don’t wear make-up like that. I just like to hide behind something. Once you have a mole on your face, anything goes.

I find it hard to believe this is your first Emmy nomination. How did you react when you found out?

I laughed. I’m not part of that fraternity, really. So it’s great. I was happier for everyone else on the show.

I was just so surprised by it, and I’m excited about it; it’s really nice. But I’ve never gone to the Emmys.

My first thought was, “Oh God, I have to wear make-up and dress up.” So that’s kind of weird. I don’t really do things like that, so I’ll be a fish out of water.

You do lots of talk shows. Does that make you nervous too?

I get eager more than nervous. But with the Emmy thing, I don’t know. I guess I would have to think of some kind of speech to prepare myself. But it’s also my style not to.

And I think of all the people who we’re up against – there’s no way. But then I would hate to be that person who wins and gets up there like “Oh my God, I don’t know what to say”.

I’m just not going to think about it. I think more about, Who’s going to watch my rabbit while I fly to LA, in the middle of shooting, to do this awards thing?

Don’t you have a rabbit person?

Well I’m so glad you’re bringing it up, because now I have someone to talk to about it. I do, but if I go to LA on a Saturday, when am I going to get my rabbit, Tina, to the sitters? Because I work Friday.

Do you know what I mean? Oh, it’s a whole thing.

NYTIMES

• The Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony will be held in Los Angeles on Sept 17.

Source: https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/entertainment/playing-it-straight-to-be-funny

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