You couldn't make her up if you tried.
She's an actress, a comedian, and a mistress of disguises (not to mention imaginary lovers). In her new book, Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People, Amy Sedaris brings her off-kilter humour to projects such as making baked potato ships (yes, you read that right) and heel-less socks for the wheelchair-bound. Here, then, is a guide on how to put together her quirky personality.
Keep a costume trunk.
She arrives for the interview in a homemade, frumpy dress, her shoulder-length blond hair thrown up in a clip at the back. She wears big, black-rimmed glasses and no makeup. (She is photographed later in the day when "camera-ready.") Almost everything she owns has been homemade by a dressmaker. "I have a storage room of costumes. I save everything. I repair dresses a lot. People with stylists don't seem real to me."
The dress-up obsession all started when she was a child, a geeky one, she explains, who liked making up clubs with her friends and was a Girl Guide into the last years of high school.
Come from a weird family.
The 49-year-old is one of six children in a clan that her elder brother, the humorist and essayist David Sedaris has written about extensively. It was a loving dystopia, Planet Sedaris, in upstate New York and later in Raleigh, N.C. They all vied (desperately, by his account) for attention. Once, the siblings convinced their youngest sister, Tiffany, to lie down in the road and try to get hit by a car to make their parents feel bad for locking them out of the house in the winter.
Ms. Sedaris, in the middle of the siblings, with two younger and three older, often collaborates with her brother on plays. They co-write under the name The Talent Family. "David and I like that feeling of stitching up the curtain minutes before a show," she says.
Her brother's description of their shared childhood doesn't bother her or anyone else in the family. "On the contrary," she asserts merrily. "I think it makes us look good! … I'm more surprised by what he remembers," she says, adding that he always shows the family what he is writing before it's published.
Create your own aphorisms.
At the restaurant where we meet, she sets about reading the menu as though it's a novel she can't put down. She chooses a salad and soup. "Eat lunch like a citizen. Citizens eat soup," she pronounces. When asked to sign a copy of her book, she pauses to think a moment, biting the end of her pen, and then bends over the page, as intent as a schoolgirl writing an exam essay. "Drinking Kills Feelings," she scribbles, in part.
Never think you're odd .
"Are you kidding? I mean, who's the oddball? That [observation]seems like such an easy thing to say," she retorts.
Make up your boyfriends and husbands. It's easier.
She used to talk about a boyfriend called Ricky she'd been dating for 12 years. He was imaginary. Then, in May 2009, she showed up on Late Night with David Letterman sporting a wedding ring - oh, and dressed in a floor-length, flounced gingham dress in honour of Memorial Day. (Once she used it as a room divider, she said.)
When Mr. Letterman asked about her husband, she said his name was Glenn and that he was a merchant marine. She failed to mention that he wasn't real either. Now she does. "Yeah, that was just a Letterman thing. He had just married so I thought I would too."
She scoffs at the thought that anyone would think she would actually deign to marry. A romantic relationship "always seems like more trouble than I want. … And I have no patience for kids."
"I don't date," she continues matter-of-factly when asked about her personal life. "I haven't dated in 10 years. I'm not even open to it." And if a man were to show interest in her? "Oh, that's the worst." She shakes her head vehemently. "I don't like aggression." She makes a face of utter disgust.
The way romance works, if it works at all, is that she initiates it when she sees someone who interests her.
Work with your ex .
For eight years, she dated Paul Dinello whom she met when they both worked at Second City, the comedy troupe, in Chicago. They collaborated (along with Stephen Colbert) on Strangers with Candy, a cult TV show that ran for three seasons on Comedy Central, featuring Ms. Sedaris as Jerri Blank, an ex-drug addict, ex-prostitute, ex-con and runaway who returns to high school in her 40s. (It was later made into a film.)
When their relationship fizzled, they continued working on projects together. He is her collaborator on the new book and on her last, I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, a guide to entertaining at home with such advice as stocking the medicine cabinet with marbles so you can hear if you have a nosy guest.
Ms. Sedaris is famous for her love of pet bunnies. She is an advocate for bunny welfare and care on the EtherBun informational network on the Internet. She has had two pet bunnies, Tattletale, who died, and now Dusty, named because her hind legs were always dusty. "They're quiet. They can see behind them. Good for apartment living. The thing is, they need a hutch. I have a place for mine under the dining room table. I have a pile of hay under there. I just move it to the side if people come over for dinner."
Live with at least one regret.
"I should have called my rabbit Buckles. I always liked that name. And I was going to name her that. It's the one regret I have in my life."
Develop other personae.
"Want to know who's my favourite in here?" she says suddenly, grabbing the copy of Simple Times. In every chapter, Ms. Sedaris appears as a character - and once, as herself, looking normal in a homemade dress - to demonstrate a craft. She flips to a page where she is featured in a short, blond wig with a cap on her head, dressed in denim jeans and a jacket. "I could do a show about her. She is a local artist. And they're really weird," she says, screwing up her face. "They have no idea that they lack talent. And look, she has adult acne. She's really upset about that acne," she says with chagrin, shaking her head.
Don't be afraid to look ugly.
It's a way to manage expectations. "When people meet me for real, they're always sayin', 'Oh, you're so pretty!'" she says, smiling broadly and cocking her head to one side.
She is not performing over her lunchtime soup. Or is she? Is this the real Amy Sedaris: slightly caustic and reticent, someone who doesn't seem willing to engage in conversation? Maybe that's Interview Amy, fashioned to be difficult. Her professional life is a second skin. Her appearances on Letterman are a bit of performance art, she acknowledges. It's even hard to know if she wrote Simple Times to be purposefully ironic, serious or crudely funny. ("A bit of all that," is her answer.)