Amy Sedaris is known as an outrageously hilarious actor, comedian, and writer, best known for her wacky characters, unique voice and over-the-top delivery. While she grew a true cult following with her role as the jilted Jerri Blake in the Comedy Central series “Strangers with Candy,” she was a performer long before she ever had a platform.
Raised in North Carolina among a band of siblings, the self-titled “Talent Family,” Sedaris had a natural funny bone from the get-go. From pranking her family members, to performing plays in the living room and making fake announcements over the loudspeaker at the local Winn-Dixie, she was never afraid to let her talent shine. She may not have always had an audience, but she never failed to find the spotlight.
After moving to Chicago to join the ranks of the iconic comedy troupe Second City, Sedaris would make a name for herself with quirky TV characters like Jerri Blake, Princess Carolyn in “BoJack Horseman,” and Mimi Kanassis in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” She was also the creator and Emmy-nominated star of the TruTV surreal comedy series “At Home with Amy Sedaris.”
In addition to comedy series, her credits also include roles and voice-overs in such films as “Maid in Manhattan,” “School of Rock,” “Elf,” “Shrek the Third,” “Puss in Boots,” “The Lion King,” and more. Most recently, she voiced the character of Peli Motto in Disney’s “The Mandalorian” and “The Book of Boba Fett.”
Sedaris, who has appearances this week in Santa Rosa (Sept. 21), Livermore (Sept. 22), and later this year in Carmel (Nov. 10), took time to answer some of our burning questions about the tour and other matters.
Q: You’re a big character actress, and you really shine in the process of animation with voices, faces and body language. How is it that you physically step into the body of your characters?
A: I feel it in my spine first, when I’m figuring out the physicality of a character. Then, I try to figure out who they are visually. A lot of times this has to do with what I’m wearing, or if I have something to hide behind like a cane or a wig. I’ll stand in front of the mirror and look at myself, and I’ll go, “Oh, I know this lady !” and I physically become her. I find the body, and then I just see what happens when the director yells “Action!”
Q: I’ve heard you’re a very big fan of wigs. A huge part of the wig fan-base, especially in the Bay, is drag queens. If you were a drag performer, what would your stage name be?
A: Lil’ Fudgepot. Not “little,” but “lil” with the apostrophe.
Q: One of your signature traits is your voice. When did you first discover that you had a unique voice, or one that would be good for a performer?
A: I do a lot of voiceovers, but I haven’t actually given much thought to it. I never made a specific effort at going that direction, but I kept getting asked to do them. At first, I didn’t like them, because with studios you go through all these weird steps, and you don’t really know what’s going on in the scene until you see the animation later, and you see things that would’ve been helpful to know during recording.
However, somewhere around “Bojack,” I really started to embrace it, and I love doing them now. Personally, I think my voice is really annoying. I don’t know why anyone wants to listen to it! I feel like I put the emphasis on the wrong words, I talk really fast and I get really high pitched. I’m basically the queen of mispronouncing, but I guess no one really likes the sound of their own voice.
Q: You play the off-screen voice of “God” in the play “The Bible says Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” As a kid, you also used to attend the Greek Orthodox church, and because you couldn’t understand the Greek sermon, you made up your own religion in your head. If you had your own religion, or cult, what would be your No. 1 commandment?
A: Something about being nice. Thou shall listen to other people, thou shall be more present. Thou shall be a big tipper! That’s what it gets down to. Maybe I could make a good cult leader, though. I had a lot of clubs as a kid, and when I’m around young kids now, I’m always trying to motivate them like, “Come on, let’s start a club! Let’s make a movie! Where’s the script? Let’s put on a show!”
Q: A common thread of your characters is that they’re often very eccentric, ridiculous, or sometimes downright crazy. You play these roles so well, one has to wonder, how crazy is the real Amy Sedaris?
A: OK, I really think I’m usually the sanest one in the room. I’m always saying that to my friends! No matter how crazy people think I am, I’m actually pretty sane. As far as playing crazy characters, I don’t like to say they’re crazy. I don’t comment on that, and I try not to judge them in that way.
Q: While your characters do come from a place of comedy, there are a lot of roles you’ve taken on, from Jerri Blank, to Princess Carolyn and Mimi Kanassis, that do have a darker side to them. They have this air of sadness or profound loneliness. Why do you think you so often find yourself in these roles that are part humor, but also part hopelessness?
A: I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about it. Jerri was a drug addict, and I’ve never done heroin before. I don’t have a reference for a junkie, but it somehow just came out of me. Overall though, she was a loser, an outcast, a misfit, and I think a lot of people can relate to that. As for Mimi, I really like her relationship with Jane Krakowski’s character. Mimi is just someone for her to (expletive) on, and I think it’s the same thing again, where that’s something everyone can relate to. Maybe there is a pattern though… .
Q: Do you ever feel boxed in by this outrageous, quirky comedy archetype you so frequently end up playing? Would you ever want to take on a more toned down, gritty drama type of role?
A: While I like to watch dramas and serious stuff, and find what’s funny about it, I don’t think I have the acting chops to do the real stuff. I really have no interest in it. I’m more inclined to want to make fun of the moment. I like funny stuff. I like it to be character driven. I like small parts on other people’s shows. I want to come on, get a laugh, and leave. I like to be able to do both– to catch a big fish every now and then, but then be able to just go live my life.
If we weren’t able to answer all your Amy-related questions, stop in to one of her shows and get your answers straight from the source, live and in-person.
AMY SEDARIS, IN CONVERSATION
Santa Rosa: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 21; Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. $55-$69. lutherburbankcenter.org/
Livermore: 8 p.m. Sept. 22; Bankhead Theater, 2400 First St., Livermore. $65-$95. livermorearts.org/
Carmel: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10; Sunset Cultural Center, San Carlos St. at Ninth Ave., Carmel-by-the-Sea. $49-$85. sunsetcenter.org/