Arts & Culture

Amy Sedaris on Humor, Hospitality, and Greased Watermelons

The North Carolina–raised comedian entertains us all on the new TV series At Home with Amy Sedaris

photo: Robert Trachtenberg/truTV Gallery


Somewhere between Julia Child and your favorite kooky Southern aunt comes Amy Sedaris. Over the years, the comedian, actor, and writer—a frequent guest on the Late Show with David Letterman, and star of the cult-favorite Comedy Central series Strangers with Candy—applied her signature quirk to handicrafts and hostess tips through two books, I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, and Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People. Now, Sedaris—who was raised in Raleigh, North Carolina, along with a tribe of sisters and brothers that includes the writer David Sedaris—will host a much bigger crowd than usual: This week her new TV show, At Home with Amy Sedaris, debuts on truTV.

On the eclectic At Home, Sedaris mashes up the formats of sketch comedy and talk shows with cooking and crafting how-tos, and welcomes a range of notable guests (including fellow Southerner and Strangers co-creator Stephen Colbert). The colorful, vintage-inspired set—which looks “like my apartment, but a lot bigger and cleaner,” says Sedaris—references midcentury homemaking shows like the ones Sedaris watched on North Carolina’s public access channels as a kid. Here, Sedaris dishes more on those Tar Heel State inspirations, Southern country clubs, and her family’s nontraditional Thanksgiving plans.


You grew up in Raleigh. What did you learn back then about throwing a good party?

We belonged to a country club that didn’t have any money. It wasn’t fancy. But I loved everything about it—buffet tables, families dressing up, greasing a watermelon and throwing it in the pool so everyone would chase it. My dad played golf, my mother was sun-tanning, and we were all in the pool. Everyone would bring their own liquor and extra fried chicken and there would be a big meat spread with a meat carver. I loved that fruit cocktail mixed with whipped cream. We didn’t go to a fancy country club, but it was fun being a member of a poor one.

 

Your show pays homage to the public-access shows you watched in North Carolina. In particular, At Home with Peggy Mann and Bette Elliott’s Femme Fare.

When I saw those shows when I was younger, I thought, I’m going to do that one day. It felt like somebody was playing house, and that was my favorite thing to do growing up—play house and turn my room into a soap opera. Those ladies on TV would say, “welcome to my home,” and it was clearly a set. They used that boring, monotone, old-money voice, which I loved. They would have a sewing segment, or Tammy Faye Bakker on for a cooking segment—she was the first character that I remember on TV. She was a Southern woman making Southern food, wearing a lot of bad makeup, and I just loved her.

Jon Pack/truTV

One of the characters you play on the show, Patty Hogg—is she based on Tammy Faye?

Patty comes from old money. She’s a combination of every Southern woman I ever came across. Patty is me but much older, with more makeup, and raising my eyebrows because she’s had a facelift. I always think, Wow, Patty looks good for her age, she’s got great skin. I celebrate people more than make fun of them. I really appreciate every misfit out there.

 

In addition to the side characters, you play the main host of At Home. Is that just you being yourself?

It’s a TV version of me without a live audience. When I go on talk shows, it’s still me, but it’s amped-up me. And here it’s amped down because there’s no audience, so you don’t know if you’re getting a laugh. I thought I would have a hard time with that, but I ended up liking it, because it lets me get a little more of that PBS vibe.

Alison Cohen Rosa/TruTV

One scene features a shrimp tower and shrimp cocktail. Do you often serve shrimp?

Shrimp towers make me laugh. But I’m allergic to shellfish. I just put those in that episode so I could do an allergic face at the end.

 

And there’s some sort of meat cake?

It’s a cold-cut cake. That’s just another beautiful thing to look at. You have to have cold cuts on hand. Cold cuts any time!

 

Cold cuts, got it. What are your other go-to tricks for making people feel welcome?

You offer them a drink. You’re prepared for them to come over. When people come through the door, they know I’m going to listen to them. They don’t see any wires, phone cords, or a TV—all those are hidden. My house feels like a therapist’s house—you’re not reminded of the outside world. I used to host bigger parties, but my hosting now revolves around some project, like, can you help me rotate my mattress and I’ll make you a steak? It’s more of an exchange.

KC Bailey/truTV

And if you have a surprise visitor?

I usually have a bottle of wine handy, and I always have nuts in the house. I don’t have an ice cream cake in the fridge—they say you should always have a Pepperidge Farm ice cream cake on hand.

 

What are you doing for Thanksgiving this year?

My brother David bought my family a beach house in North Carolina, and we go there three times a year. For Thanksgiving, we all chip in and we cook a big Greek dinner.


At Home with Amy Sedaris premieres Tuesday, October 24, on truTV at 10:30 p.m. Eastern.