Q&A with Amy Sedaris

with Billy Warden and Greg Behr

Oh sure, it’s easy to love Amy Sedaris…now. Who doesn’t want to cozy up to a movie star (two Shreks and an Elf), bestselling author and cult leader (TV Guide ranked Strangers with Candy, her Comedy Central hit, among television’s all time top cult shows)?

But in her pre-fame teenage days, Amy rattled North Raleigh by making unauthorized announcements over the loudspeaker at the old Six Forks Winn Dixie.

Back then, Amy represented a new breed: The Yankee kid scrambling to make sense of a strange and twangy new home.  That shared sense of separateness informed a whole generation in Raleigh. For Amy and brother David, the celebrated essayist, it seemed to lead to a peculiarly poignant and irresistibly irreverent brand of performance art.

Here, the patron saint of Raleigh rebels and made-up middle-aged crackheads dishes on the town that has shocked some of her best friends …

Between jaunts to NYC and LA, have you had time to bring show biz buds back to RAL? 

Yes, I brought my friend (and Strangers co-star) Paul Dinello back to Raleigh, and the minute he got off the plane he saw a guy put a cigarette in his mouth using his foot. The State Fair was in town and that freak was sitting there right at the exit of the plane. And, I had to say, “No, no. It’s not like that. I promise!”

With greetings like that, is it easy to get back into the Raleigh groove? Do you have an accent that fires back up?

When Stephen Colbert (another Strangers co-star) goes back to South Carolina he comes back without any verbs in his sentences. But I love the accent from Raleigh. And it drives me nuts when a character on TV has a generic southern accent. Because when you come from a place like Raleigh, you can tell who’s from Fuquay-Varina or Garner or Wendell.

When you’re here, do you take a shift at your brother’s company, Sedaris Hardwood Floors?

I would like to, but I wouldn’t be any good. Instead, whenever David and I are in town, we always offer to clean out his van.

Where do you go when you’re here?

The farmer’s market is a favorite. I think of the flea market all the time, but it’s changed. Now, it’s more about people selling tube socks. And the Village Deli in Cameron Village.

Do you take part in any of Raleigh’s high culture offerings?

Like what? Mini-golf?

Well, yes. And the new N.C. Museum of Art?

I’ve driven past it, but my dad has gone and thinks it is fantastic.

How would Raleigh receive Jerri Blank, the “junkie whore” runaway you played in Strangers with Candy?

Jerri might stick out a little bit depending on what area she lived in. I always thought if she did live here she would be a cake decorator, but it would be hard for her to get that job because of all of her tattoos. I always pictured her home as Fort Lauderdale. So, if there’s an area in Raleigh with a lot of broken glass on the ground, that’s where she would be happiest.  She could do mosaics with all the broken beer bottles.

How about your career in Raleigh? Did you make it to the heights of Piggly Wiggly?  

I worked at the Winn Dixie and loved that. Then I worked at the Red Lobster on Highway 70. That’s where I learned, “Do you want a baked potato? …french fries? …or rice? Do you want that sweetened or unsweetened? All you can eat?” And that’s when I was first introduced to older women having hard times.

Seems like you drew a lot on the hard times theme and on being in a twangy new environment.

We moved to Raleigh right when IBM moved to the South. We were the new people in town, and I know my mom had issues with that because sometimes people weren’t so friendly, though with time that changed. I was obsessed with the women’s prison and the first woman to be executed in the state (Velma Barfield). Raleigh just has all these great little crime stories. I remember this woman at Crabtree was robbed and had her hands tied her back. She ended up dialing the police on the pay phone using her tongue.

With your bestseller I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, you became an internationally renowned expert on the art of entertaining. Besides our crime rate, how do you rate Raleigh’s hospitality skills?

I give Raleigh a 10 in this department.  Southern hospitality is the best.  Raleigh is where I learned a few important freezer tips such as: Always leave room for a frozen cake in the event of unannounced guests, and during winter, always leave room for a deceased pet for spring burial when the ground thaws.

Unlike traffic on the Beltline, you move extremely fast. What’s next for Raleigh’s own Amy Sedaris?

I’m trying to figure that out myself but I’ll tell you one thing – I ain’t movin’ back to hee-haw central, no way, no how.  I’ve shaken the dust from that two-tooth town off my clogs, and Raleigh is a distant memory, unless of course there is an offer, and in that case, I’m coming home on the next train!