-by Ken Plume
While most know her from her role as Jerri Blank on Comedy Central’s cult hit Strangers With Candy - or her numerous guest appearances on David Letterman and Sex and the City - friends and family know Amy Sedaris as a hostess par excellence, famed for her parties and dinners, and her fantastic home-cooked cuisine.
Seeing the simple act of entertaining guests as an art quickly atrophying in this fast-paced digital age, she’s crafted the ultimate guide to throwing your own shindigs - I Like You: Hospitality Under The Influence.
Although written with the same wit and delightfully bent perspective that informs her comedy, the book should in no way be taken as a “joke cookbook” - it’s a legitimate presentation of party suggestions (leave marbles in your medicine chest to signal the telltale sound of a nosy guest), hints (like the fact that doing dishes after a party can be a cathartic exercise), recipes (I can’t wait to try her “Crosscut Stump Stew”), and crafts (plastic googly eyes make anything fun) sure to inspire even the most slothlike of hosts and hostesses to send off some invites, fill up the ice tub, fire up the oven, and lay out the welcome mat.
As the holiday season comes swiftly upon us, we chatted with Amy (who was nestled comfortably in the apartment she shares with her pet rabbit and the ghost of her imaginary boyfriend, Ricky) about the book and throwing that “perfect party”…
AMY’S ANSWERING MACHINE: Leave a message and I’ll never call you back.
KEN PLUME: Hey Amy, this is Ken Plume from Quick Stop Entertainment…
AMY SEDARIS: Hi! I’m here…
KP: Oh, hello…
SEDARIS: How’s it going?
KP: I’ve been devouring your book for the past couple of days…
SEDARIS: Oh, devouring’s a good way to say it.
KP: It’s quite delicious, how’s that? Continuing the metaphor, as it were. It’s one of the best books on entertaining I’ve ever read.
SEDARIS: Oh really?
KP: Well, I’m also partial, being from North Carolina.
SEDARIS: What part?
KP: From just above Wilmington…
SEDARIS: Oh, okay. Wow.
KP: So I definitely know some of the influences that you bring to the table.
SEDARIS: Oh, I bet you do!
KP: What was the impetus for putting it all down in the book? It’s obviously something that you’ve lived by for quite a few years…
SEDARIS: Well, as you know, growing up in the South you’re surrounded by that “Suthun’ Hospitality”….
KP: Oh yes…
SEDARIS: And my mom cooked every single night three different meals. And I’ve just always been interested in it, in people’s recipes, good or bad. It just says so much about a person. The more and more people I seem to meet, the consideration for that just seems to go out the window. So I just wanted to write a book about something I felt I knew a lot about, and just try to get people back into entertaining and being considerate of others.
KP: Do you think people have lost the art of entertaining?
SEDARIS: I think so. I think… well, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just because I live here in New York City and a lot of people don’t have the room for it, but I just feel like yeah, it’s all become about going to their computers or listening to music or watching TV, and less and less about having a good conversation with somebody.
KP: What I find fascinating about the book is that not only is it from the perspective of a host or hostess, but also a guest.
SEDARIS: Yes - it’s important. Because a lot of people don’t want to entertain. And they can’t. We don’t want those people to entertain. If you don’t know how to cook a roast, don’t do it. But this will teach you how to at least be a good guest, so you can guarantee a repeat invitation.
KP: When you mentioned people losing that skill within the city, particularly of putting on large gatherings - which, in the South, every gathering is a large gathering, even if it’s a family gathering….
KP: Do you find that your first-time guests tended to be awkward in that situation, not knowing what to do?
SEDARIS: Yeah, I’ve had some people who just don’t have a clue. Because they don’t entertain, they don’t know. And it’s not their fault, but maybe this book will just slowly, like, “Oh, I didn’t realize that. I didn’t know that so much planning went behind it.” I mean, people just don’t really realize it.
KP: What’s the most inconsiderate guest you’ve ever had?
SEDARIS: Well, I write about it in the book. The one where the girl showed up with her elderly parents and a three story chocolate cake for a Greek Easter party.
KP: That’s toward the beginning of the book, isn’t it?
SEDARIS: Yeah. That was pretty shocking to me.
KP: Is that the type of guest that doesn’t even give you a rationale behind their decision?
SEDARIS: Yeah, I didn’t even… What do you say? My mouth was wide open. Of course, it just gave me something to complain about, which is always good, but I just couldn’t believe it. And I was still serving food when she started cutting into the cake.
KP: I’ll bet you washed a lot of dishes that night.
SEDARIS: Oh yeah. Over and over again. And it’s fun with all the people there, and they’ll be like, “No it’s fine if you wanna get high or whatever…” They don’t care, but it’s, like - other people care. No one wants to get high in front of people in their early hundreds, so it makes them feel uncomfortable.
KP: Unless it’s medicinal.
SEDARIS: Yeah. I just want to be like, “Look, let me just secure the rugs. Don’t want anyone falling in here. Don’t want a law suit.”
KP: That’s one thing that will bring a party down, is liability issues. The one thing that wasn’t in your book was where to put handholds.
SEDARIS: Right! (laughing)
KP: That’ll be the book you write when you get older.
SEDARIS: Yeah, right…
KP: How To Entertain The Elderly.
SEDARIS: Yeah, it’ll just be like, “Hang on!”
KP: “Make sure you have pill dispensers. A nurse on call is always a smart move.” What, for you, would be the ultimate guest?
SEDARIS: The ultimate guest, to me, would be just someone who’s not high maintenance. Someone who knows what they’re doing, they’ve entertained before, they know when to help out. They’re watching just as much as you are, even though it’s not their party.
KP: So someone who’s flexible to the moment…
SEDARIS: Yes. They’re helping you keep the ball up, so to speak.
KP: Do you find that, over the years, you’ve been able to train people?
SEDARIS: Yes. Yeah, definitely. It’s always good to have someone be your deputy, and I have a good friend for that. She can kinda be my backup person, or I’ll be like, “Oh god, I have to go get…” and she’s like, “Don’t worry, I already did it.” Or to have a meat carver. Someone who has meat carving abilities is always good to have on hand.
KP: What’s the optimal size then for a party?
SEDARIS: Well, I’ve had, like, 20 people in my apartment for big events, and I’ve had just small gatherings. I can’t get any more than 20 in my apartment…
KP: Have you tried?
SEDARIS: No, not like 30. I just know my limit. Sometimes people will come and go. Some people leave and then other people would show up. So I just don’t want that, because then it just gets uncomfortable.
KP: How often would you say, within a given month, do you have a party?
SEDARIS: Well, my parties lately… when my brother lived here in New York, I had bigger parties and I had them a lot. But since he moved, I tend to have smaller gatherings where I’ll invite four or five people over, and then you usually have an activity to do. Or let’s say I’m rearranging the artwork on my wall, so they help me do that and then I make them dinner as payment. I’d say at least maybe five times a month, maybe six. I’ll just call at the last minute and say, “Hey, you wanna come over for dinner?” and I’ll throw together something.
KP: I enjoyed your suggestion in the book that, not only can you put a tip jar out, but you can also sell your unwanted items during a party. Do you find you’re making less money now that the parties are smaller?
SEDARIS: No, I just charge more. Inflation.
KP: And they accept that, like everything… like gas…
SEDARIS: People who know me know they’ve got to bring small change when they come to my house.
KP: Do you ever prorate for a certain guest that you like more than another?
SEDARIS: (laughing) Yeah, favoritism… You have to. Just be honest with them. Or, like, when I was shooting the book, I bought a time clock and I made everybody clock in and out, and then I had to turn my kitchen into a smoking area because everyone smoked but this one girl. And then I had an employee of the week, and this one girl was like, “Oh, I can’t wait to be employee of the week,” and I said, “That’ll never happen. Because we only have a smoking area because of you. There’s no way, I am telling you right now, you will never be employee of the week,” and just watched her face drop.
KP: That is so unfortunate, to just crush a dream like that.
SEDARIS: It was. Hey, you know what? It’s a tough business.
KP: That should be your next book.
SEDARIS: Yeah, Tough Business.
KP: Writing about the home workplace.
KP: How much extra material did you have to cull from the book in the final edit?
SEDARIS: I had to lose 25 pages. So I ended up cutting the instructions from the craft section. Because I figured you could just look at it and figure it out. And then I lost a lot of recipes.
KP: But isn’t that half the fun, to look at the crafts and try and figure it out?
SEDARIS: Yeah. Especially crafts like that. Mostly they were inspired from Girl Scouts, when I was a Girl Scout. So those are just the things I’m drawn to. So yeah, you just look at it…
KP: Or when you had an art teacher who was a bit of a lush…
SEDARIS: Aren’t they all?
KP: … and would give you stuff and say just go at it.
SEDARIS: “Alright, boys and girls, wrap the bricks in shelf paper and I’ll be right back.”
KP: I thought that was brilliant. I had never seen that before I saw it in your book…
SEDARIS: Oh really? I still make those.
KP: It’s practical and it looks quite crafty-nice.
SEDARIS: Yeah, it does.
KP: But I have to admit, I’m a huge fan of the googly eyes.
SEDARIS: Yeah, me too. They’re everywhere in my apartment. Everywhere. You can put them on anything and it just brings something alive.
KP: I think I’m going to introduce my young nephew to them…
SEDARIS: How old is he?
KP: He is two-and-a-half.
SEDARIS: Yeah, because I did Letterman last week and I did a googly eye craft for him, and he just said it wouldn’t be good for small children, it could get lodged in their throat. I go, “Oh wow, that never occurred to me.”
KP: Maybe he should be a more observant father.
SEDARIS: Oh, yeah, there you go. Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo dear Dave.
KP: You just don’t leave the kid alone with the toys.
SEDARIS: Yeah, but they could put it in their mouth without you noticing… you could miss it.
KP: Then the googly eyes will be a part of them for at least 24 hours.
SEDARIS: That’s a good attitude.
KP: And it creates a lesson that they’ll have the rest of their life… “Remember the time the kid swallowed the googly eyes?” “Yes, it was all Amy Sedaris’s fault. Remember that book? We get it down every once in a while just to enjoy good times.”
SEDARIS: (laughing) Good times!
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