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Sedaris’s comic persona may be her most eccentric craft project

Michael Ingulli

Fifteen years ago, Amy Sedaris’s Comedy Central series, “Strangers With Candy,” co-created with pals Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello, blazed a cult comedy trail with its demented story of a self-absorbed ex-junkie-prostitute, Jerri Blank, who returns to high school at 46 and tries (and fails) to change her awful ways. It’s been nearly a decade since “Strangers” was turned into a feature film, but Sedaris continues to reinvent herself and seems to pop up everywhere these days.

The actress and funny lady, who comes to the Wilbur Theatre on Friday for “An Evening With Amy Sedaris,” has been called “Martha Stewart on crack” for her kitschy craft projects and wacky home-entertaining ideas, catalogued in the best-selling books “I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence” and “Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People.” She’s turned up in guest-starring roles on shows including “The Good Wife,” “Raising Hope,” and the new Comedy Central series “Broad City.” She’s a perennial guest on the late-night talk show circuit, but it’s her longtime on-air friendship with David Letterman that’s been the most enduring. She’s appeared on the “Late Show” countless times, amusing the host and audiences with tales of her beloved pet rabbit Dusty (recently deceased) and her imaginary boyfriend Ricky.

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This month, Sedaris can be seen in the Jon Favreau-directed comedy “Chef” and in June in “Ping Pong Summer,” starring Susan Sarandon. On Friday, she’ll be honored with the Women in Comedy Festival’s inaugural Award for Excellence. She will be interviewed live on the Wilbur stage by comedian Julie Klausner and take questions from the audience. We rang up Sedaris at her West Village apartment to chat about awards, what it was like growing up in the Sedaris household (her brother David is the best-selling author and humorist), and the recent shake-ups in late-night television.

Q. You’re a comedic actress, but you don’t do a traditional stand-up act. How would you describe your comic sensibility?

A. I’ve never done stand-up, and I don’t consider myself a comedian at all. I don’t sit at home and write jokes and work the circuit. I’m better if I’m working off of somebody else or just trying to make light in the moment, if there’s an audience. I enjoy character-driven comedies. I like to have a character that is humorous on some level, but yet what she’s saying isn’t funny to her.

Q. As Jerri Blank, you wore a fat suit and false teeth. Is getting into costume a key part of your process as an actress?

A. Yes, that’s what’s fun for me. Some people say, ‘Oh, you’re just hiding behind a costume or a fat suit,’ and I’m like, ‘Well, that’s OK.’ It just seems more playful when I can look in a mirror and say, “Oh my God, I don’t look anything like myself. This is going to be great. Who is this person?” And then I can really get into their skin.

‘I like to have a character that is humorous on some level, but yet what she’s saying isn’t funny to her.’

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Q. Does a lot of that come from your childhood? Didn’t you and your siblings play dress-up and put on plays as kids?

A. Yes, I’ve always been fascinated with costumes and wigs and disguise kits and makeup. That hasn’t stopped since I’ve become a grown-up at all. Mostly I remember playing house. We’d do fake talk shows and write our own little soap operas, that kind of thing. The characters were always drinking. We’d put food coloring in water and act like alcoholics.

Q. Back in the ’90s, you and your brother David used to put on hilariously demented plays like “The Little Frieda Mysteries” and “One Woman Shoe,” under the banner the Talent Family. You even won an Obie Award. Were you two kind of channeling the kind of stuff you used to do as kids?

A. Yeah, pretty much. David and I would get together and brainstorm until we exhausted the damn thing. Then David would write it, and then we’d rip it up and start from scratch again. I miss doing those plays. It feels like they were the most creative thing I’ve ever done. It was fun putting them together — coming up with the stories and characters and casting the roles and literally sewing the curtain before showtime. And being in charge of your own hair and makeup and wardrobe. I loved everything about it.

Q. What was your reaction to David Letterman’s retirement announcement and the news that your pal Colbert would be taking over the “Late Show” desk next year?

A. I’m sad that David’s leaving. His show was just the best of the best. I really feel like I can talk to him about anything. They can call me last-minute, and I’ll be there. I don’t really know Letterman outside of his desk and chair, but I’m really going to miss him. And I’m so happy for Stephen. I think he’s the perfect replacement. I actually did Letterman’s show [May 1].

Q. Did you talk to him about his big retirement news?

A. I had a bunch of retirement stuff to bring up, but I got the idea that he didn’t really want to talk about it. Usually I get on there and just talk and talk, and he can’t get a word in edgewise. But this time he carried it.

Q. You’ve turned up as a guest star on a seemingly endless array of TV series lately. What’s been your favorite one?

A. I loved doing “Broad City.” Those girls were really funny and open to anything. I like being a guest star. It’s easy. You’re on their turf. You’re like, “Where do you want me, chief?”

Q. You and Paul Dinello had a deal a few years ago to produce a sitcom pilot but it didn’t get picked up.

A. Yeah, I start something, and then something else happens and it doesn’t work out. It makes it so hard. Every time you just keep changing the idea or the character, you just drive yourself crazy. But hopefully a TV series will be the next thing I’ll be doing.

Interview was edited and condensed. Christopher Wallenberg can be reached at chriswallenberg@gmail.com.
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