Amy Sedaris, best known for playing hooker-turned- high-school-student Jerri Blank on Strangers With Candy, offers up her sweeter side with I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, out now from Warner Books (also available as an audio book). Sedaris mixes hilarious one-liners with practical advice (there should be an even number of items on any plate, don’t show up with flowers) and recipes for Blue Balls Cheese Ball and Chicken Snatchatoree, all interspersed with photos galore of the comic, in assorted attire, along with what can only be described as food porn. From caring for invalids to lunch with a lumberjack and munchies suggestions (popcorn in bacon grease), this former Southern waitress’s got you covered. Look closely at the photos and you’ll see touches of the hospitality she’s seeking to convey—like the salt and pepper shakers labeled “cocaine” and “heroin.”
You write that you live your life “like a deaf person.” I like to communicate visually but without wearing words on my clothing.
How long did the book take? One and a half years to do the whole thing. We shot through the summer, which is why all the cakes are melting and some food is covered with tin foil. The whole process was challenging.
On the back you’ve dedicated the book “from one artist to another.” That’s a joke. I think it’s funny when people refer to themselves as an artist—I’ll tell you if you’re an artist or not. I think entertaining is very artistic and creative and giving. I don’t think you have to be naturally artistic to do it, even if you are just catering an event. You need to be good at telling people what you want. You have to be a good Mr. Slate, a good foreman.
When did you first learn to be a hostess? Does it ever feel like a burden? Living in the South, being a waitress, watching people—sometimes it can feel like a burden, especially when you are running all over the city buying different things at different stores and then you bust open a bag full of lamb chops and canned tomatoes and red potatoes and watch them roll everywhere, you just want to cry and wonder why the hell you are doing it.
You’re known for disturbing imagery and costumes. I don’t think “oh, I want to make this gross or ugly.” I want it to look real and interesting; people relate to that. Who doesn’t roll their ear of corn in the stick of butter on the table?
Your book’s subtitle is Hospitality Under the Influence, and dealers and drugs are mentioned throughout the book. The chapter I have on drugs is about what a pain in the ass it can be when people get too drunk or take something that makes them feel like they are the life of the party, because they never are—they are the death of the party.
You advocate making almost everything from scratch, even ice. When is it okay to cheat and go store-bought? Just don’t try to hide it or complain about how hard you have to work when all you are doing is warming up a can or boiling a bag. It’s okay if it’s store-bought. It’s probably better, especially if you can’t cook. Go with what you know.
What’s your advice for entertaining people you don’t necessarily like but want to impress? Don’t waste your time. I think it would be transparent what you are trying to do. If I don’t like somebody I would never use food to impress them—it would ruin the food for me.
How has living in New York influenced your taste in decorating? I can find cooler things here in New York and talented friends who can make things on a minute’s notice.
Who would be your dream dinner guest and why? Juliet Low, who founded the Girl Scouts. I would like to talk to her about all that happened and let her know that the Girl Scouts really shaped my life. It was a good idea.
Any advice for the budding host/hostess? Know when to say good night.
You can listen to an excerpt from I Like You here.