Tag Archives: Amy Sedaris

David Sedaris proves himself to be a brilliant diarist as well as humorist

David Sedaris has become a legend when it comes to creative nonfiction. Whenever someone hopes to be an essayist, his name usually pops up as an inspiration – it’s almost a cliche now. What sets him apart from his myriad of followers and imitators is his ability to mine deadpan humor and comedy from some of the most tragic and unfortunate circumstances. His collections of essays – including Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day – have become canonical standards for the genre, and “The Santaland Diaries” has become a holiday classic.

With this in mind, I approached his latest, Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977 – 2002) with enthusiasm. Though many of the stories and circumstances will be familiar with those who’ve read Sedaris’ body of work, his astute observations, even in the truncated and terse form of a diary entry, still find the funny in either mundane or disturbing situations. It’s also neat to stroll through the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and the 200s with Sedaris as he documents historical and cultural moments and milestones with the immediacy of experience them as they happen. Some of it is heartbreaking or chilling, as he recounts, almost off-handedly in 1981 that a new cancer was discovered that only affected gay men; or his reaction and grief in watching the Twin Towers fall while in Paris on September 12, 2001.

Other times, it’s neat to see Sedaris struggle and work, while slowly gaining a reputation as a comedic writer. It’s especially gratifying to read about his success, as they come hard earned. And the genesis of his two most notable essays, the aforementioned “Santaland Diaires” and “Me Talk Pretty One Day” are documented in the collection, and provide hearty laugh-out-loud moments. We also get the courtship of Sedaris and his partner Hugh, as well as the gradual ascendance of his sister Amy’s comedy career as well.

It’s hard to tell if any of these stories have been sweetened for publication. But really, it doesn’t matter, because it’s still a lot of fun to read these pithy, funny, and witty observations from a guy who has been responsible for some of the funniest work in the English language for the last twenty years.

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Find out how it all began – Strangers with Candy the Movie – a review

When movies are spun-off from television shows, audiences are wise to be wary. Too many times a great TV show will inspire a film that will either inspire indifference (X-Files: I Want to Believe) or downright hostility (both Sex and the City movies). In 2005, indie film company THINKFilm released a film version of the Comedy Central cult show, Strangers with Candy to a largely apathetic critical and financial reception. The film, written by stars Stephen Colbert, Paul Dinello and Amy Sedaris, along with Mitch Rouse who does not appear in the film, gives audiences background to the debauched story of how former-junkie turned highschool freshman ended up back in school at the age of 47. While not as good as the television show (the 90-minute length does cause it to drag a bit), the show’s sharp, crewd sense of humor is largely intact, giving the show’s fans exactly what they’d like.

Set up as a prequel, we see our lovable anti-heroine, Jerri Blank (Sedaris), released from jail and return to her childhood home, only to see that her dad’s in a coma, her mom’s dead and she’s got a wicked stepmother (Deborah Rush) and an evil half-brother (Joseph Cross). Greatly distressed at her father’s current vegetative state, Jerri is convinced by his mediocre doctor that if she returns to life the way it was before she left, her dad might wake up from his coma. So Jerri’s solution is to go back to school.

Flatpoint High is greatly expanded from the modest set of the television show to a large innercity-style school. This switch makes the scenes feel more cinematic, however, the writers don’t take enough advantage of their largely increased space. Instead the bulk of the action takes place in the classroom of science teacher, Mr. Chuck Noblet (Colbert), who is a self-loathing, closeted sadsack, whose rage and misery at life eruptes sporadically. He’s in a tortured relationship with the school’s effete, self-centered art teacher, Geoffrey (pronounced “Joff-ree”) Jellineck. The school’s principal, Onyx Blackman (Greg Hollimon) who is highly ineffective, obtuse and corrupt.

The thin plot revolves around Flatpoint High’s entry into a science fair and Blackman’s desire for the school to win first prize, so that he can keep the federal funding he received (and spent on gambling debts). Jerri wants to win the science fair because she thinks it’ll help bring her daddy back. To ensure victory, a Tony Robbins-style science teacher is brought in, Roger Beekman (Matthew Broderick), who has a nasty, ongoing rivalry with Noblet. Beekman gathers a team of the school’s best athletes and most popular students, while Noblet’s team is comprised of overachieving misfits and Jerri. As the movie progresses, Jerri learns her lesson about hard work, friendship and popularity as she tries to stay loyal to her team and while satisfying her lust for the highschool jock.

Part of the charm of the show was the unabashed embrace of politically incorrect humor. Nothing was verboten. In the film, the writers still look to that kind of humor, but have polished it up a bit (presumably for a more mainstream audience). Jerri Blank is still highly offensive and deeply noxious. Her physical appearance still causes some around her to heave. Sedaris is a sorceress when it comes to creating genuinely grotesque characters. Another hold-over from the show is the deeply twisted and inappropriate relationship between Noblet and Jellineck. It’s fraught with shame, secret, resentment and desire and offers some of the most hilarious (and uncomfortable) moments in the show.

Strangers with Candy is a great film for all, but let’s face it: it’s not an actor’s workshop. The performers all do well – Sedaris can do this kind of thing in her sleep and Colbert and Dinello slip into their characters without a misstep. Rush steals all of her scenes as the bitterly unhappy stepmother. Hollimon also is very funny. The show also has some starry cameos: Broderick’s missus, Sarah Jessica Parker, is a hoot as the highly-sexed, but completely unfeeling grief counselor; Alison Janney and Philip Seymour Hoffman are fun as a pair of beaurecrats; Kristen Johnson and Ian Holm scores laughs as well in small roles, and if you look quick enough you’ll spot Sedaris’ pal, Todd Oldham, as a faculty member.

Fans of the show will undoubtedly miss some of the characters or actors: Jerri’s Filipino friend Orlando (Orlando Pabotoy) has been replaced by Carlos Albon, who plays the Indonesian Megawait Sukarnoputri (named after Indonesia’s first female president). Dan Hedaya steps into Roberti Gari’s slippers as Guy Blank and Cross takes over for Larc Spies as Jerri’s awful half-brother. The replacements are up to the task, despite the affection devotees will have to the originals (Sedaris explained in a DVD commentary that Pabotoy and Spies aged too much in the time after the show and would not be convincing as high school teens – truth be told, though Maria Thayer who returns as the red-headed classmate, Tammi, also looks a touch long-in-the-tooth).

While not as strong as the show, the film is still a worthy entry in the Strangers with Candy mythology and doesn’t adversely affect the dark and twisted legacy of the popular TV show.


See my review of Strangers with Candy the TV show

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Strangers with Candy – the Completed Series – A Review

Strangers with Candy was a twisted show that ran for 3 seasons on Comedy Central. The main character, Jeri Blank (Amy Sedaris), was inspired by Florrie Fisher, a former junkie who turned her life around and became a motivational speaker. Fisher’s “hook” was her candid and unvarnished account of her debauched and terrifying life. Her speech includes such colorful phrases like “18-karat pimp” or “I’d drop a dime on him” and “Twenty-three years of living with nothing but gutter hypes and junkies.”

In Strangers, Jeri has been released from jail and now lives with her father, Guy (Robert Gari) an elderly man who is frozen in some kind of suspended rigor. Guy is remarried to Sara (Deborah Rush), Jeri’s spiteful and loathful stepmother. Jeri also has a half-brother, Derrick (Larc Spies), a particularly obnoxious and horrible teen who tries to make Jeri’s life hell.

Not only is Jeri trying to rebuild her relationship with father, but she has also returned back to high school, Flatpoint high, which is populated by various students and faculty, including her best friend, Orlando (Orlando Pabotoy), a Filipino kid, who is often the butt of Jeri’s racist jokes; art teacher, Mr Jellineck (co-writer and co-creator, Paul Dinello) a fey, self-involved man who is in a secret relationship with married history teacher, Mr Noblet (co-writer/co-creator Stephen Colbert). Ruling the school with an iron fist, and oblivious mind is Principal Blackman (Greg Hollimon).

The show was created by Dinello, Colbert, Sedaris and Mitch Rouse. The writing is comedy at its darkest – the humor is mined from various physical disabilities, racial or ethnic differences, ailments or emotional problems. Jeri is a misanthrope who looks through life through a warped and acrid view – she’s solely interested in instant gratification, whether it be her addictions to drugs or sex (with both sexes). Jeri’s not the only likably unlilkable character: the faculty at Flatpoint are highly indifferent, if not often hostile to the students. And Jeri’s family life can be charitably described as disastrously dysfunctional.

Taking pot shots at After-School specials, the episodes have Jeri addressing the audience with some insane “lesson” that she’s learned from her decadent, drug-fueled adventure. For example, in one episode, Jeri’s quest for popularity has her cooking a highly-potent drug that kills one of the students, and due to related circumstances, her pet turtle dies, as well – the kicker of the episode, is that Jeri only learns the lesson after her turtle dies (she actually is relieved the student dies, because Jeri won’t be found culpable); In another episode, Jeri’s illiteracy prevents her from being a cheerleader, and at the same time, she befriends a former busdriver who cannot drive. The two form a pact to achieve their respective goals, but it ends in tragedy, when the driver tries to drive a bus, even though he still cannot drive – the lesson? nothing good comes from reading.

The jokes aren’t for the easily-offended. There are racist, sexist and homophobic quips all through the show and though it’s all done to show the ignorance of the characters, it can be difficult to hear at times. Also, one should approach the show, knowing that good won’t always prevail (in face, evil will often win). There are no real lessons to learn, and there aren’t really any characters to root for.

So with a show like this without any sympathetic characters and unimaginably horrible situations, why would anyone want to watch Strangers with Candy? The answer lies primarily in Sedaris’ on-point performance. The comedienne, who in real  life, is very attractive, creates a grotesque alter-ego, with a bow-legged gait, and an overbite with teeth that look like candy corn. To be sure, Sedaris isn’t called on to mine too many emotions beyond disgust, anger, lust and contempt, it’s still a sure-footed comedic turn. Her costars, Dinello and Colbert are also brilliant – in fact Colbert, unsurprisingly, steals scenes as the embittered, closeted Noblet – there’s a simmering layer of rage and misery that leaks out spontaneously, and with Colbert’s very nondescript looks and appearance, the peaks into a psychotic pathology makes it all the more startling and hilarious. Also important to the show’s success is Hollimon’s perfect essay of the pompous Mr Blackman. I would also be remiss to not give a special mention to Rush, who is along with Colbert, the show’s greatest asset, as the wicked stepmother. There are some good guest stars including Will Ferrell, Janeane Garofalo, Richard Kind and in an especially brilliant performance, Winona Ryder playing against type.

The show only lasted for 3 seasons (there was also a film), and the episodes are surprisingly consistent in their quality. The show didn’t have time to dip in quality – and though the show does seem a bit one-note, but Strangers with Candy isn’t a show to watch for emotional truths – it’s a show that takes every cultural taboo we hold dear and shred them mercilessly.



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