As soon as I laid eyes on Amy Sedaris’ new book, Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People, I knew I had to grill her on it. I interviewed Amy about her latest masterpiece, and also asked her some questions from, well, you guys!
Interview by Katie Richardson
“Nothing ruins a lazy afternoon of crafting quite like being struck by a cottonmouth snake. Be sure to line the baseboards of your craft room with professional grade snake snares.”
-Simple Times, written by Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello
Katie: Well, first of all, Simple Times. I just love the book so much, but it’s soooo much more “out there” than I Like You. It’s just off the wall. How did you come up with this stuff? What was your inspiration?
Amy: When I worked on the last section of I Like You–the pantyhose crafts and good ideas–it was fun to have that little crafts section. It would’ve been bigger, but I didn’t have room for it. That’s why the instructions weren’t there. So, I knew in the back of my mind that I wouldn’t mind pursuing this. Maybe there’s a craft book down the road. But I Like You just wore me out, so I was like, whatever. I might do the book; I might not. That’s where it kind of felt like I wanted to keep going with that section. Then, I took a year to just think about the craft book, the ideas, and how I wanted it to be laid out, because craft books are really boring. You can’t even steal from them; they’re so boring. I didn’t even finish one. I just didn’t know how I was going to divide the book up. So, then one morning, I woke up and thought, “Oh, crafting for Jesus!” And I knew I liked the idea of crafting with disabilities, and that excited me a lot. That’s when a red flag went up and I thought, “Okay, the whole book will be on that.” But it just turned out to be a really long chapter. So, crafts I’m interested in, I just kind of figured out what chapters they would be. Like, sausage making. I wanted to do that because I wanted to make a real sausage wig, which we ended up not doing. We ended up making that log cabin instead. The only reason the chapter is in the book is because of [the wig].
When I was reading the making love chapter, I remembered when I Like You came out. You said that your dad was mortified by the section on vaginal cleansing, and the picture of the naked woman. I can’t remember–when he gave the book to people, did he tear the page out, or put a fig leaf sticker over the drawing?
He put a fig leaf sticker over it.
So, I have to ask. Your dad was so embarrassed by that. What does he think of this entire chapter that looks like something straight out of an old edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves?
He won’t have as hard a time because it’s not as graphic, except for the little illustrations that Justin Theroux did. Those are the parts that look dirty. I don’t think he’s going to have an issue with the pictures because we’re wearing robes. I mean, it’s different. But Justin’s drawings are a little risqué.
It was funny, I read that and thought, “Oh, I have to ask what her dad thought.”
He hasn’t seen the book yet. He’ll be here next week.
So, what was the process like for putting together Simple Times compared to when you made I Like You, since both books look very much alike. Was it easier this time, since you had a better idea of what you were doing? And I know that Paul Dinello worked on the first book, but was this more of an equal collaboration, or…?
It was very different. I Like You is a little bit more personal, and Simple Times felt like a second child, I would imagine. You know, when people talk about that. Like, I did know the ropes, I kind of knew what was happening schedule-wise, and I was little bit more relaxed in certain situations, and a little bit more open to suggestions and things like that. So, I had some input. And Paul Dinello–we co-wrote Simple Times, and we co-wrote I Like You, too. But a lot of times in Simple Times–like, I don’t know anything about making love. I know nothing about it. I completely asked Paul to do that chapter. I think I contributed a couple words to that, and of course I did all the crafts, but I gave him that whole chapter to do. We would work together on some of the things, and he would just do some things all alone. And then, I wanted it to be the exact same size and everything as I Like You. I wanted it to be like a part two. You know, it’s the same amount of pages and stuff.
What are your favorite crafts from the book, and what are your favorite characters, or looks, from it?
I like all of the characters. I enjoyed doing the lady in the back–she says, “Support your local artists.” She has adult acne. I love that look. All of the parts were fun to do. We were just fooling around. Jesus was fun–doing Jesus and the angel. Those were the only two characters I wasn’t high for [when we were shooting] the book, unfortunately. The Indian was fun. They were all fun. I’ve just always been obsessed with costumes, and I met Adam Selman when we did the Dolly Parton video (Better Get to Livin’). He’s a costume-maker, so we instantly became friends, and he did all of the costumes in the book. We would collaborate on the ideas. I’d say, “I want an Indian outfit,” and he would have his freedom to do what he wanted to do.
Were there any crafts that you tried to make for the book that just went horribly wrong?
No, nothing that went horribly wrong. Some of them didn’t work out, like the rock candy. There were a couple of them that just failed, but that was fine, and I just said they failed. But I enjoyed making the marshmallow with glitter toothpicks. I liked the miniature knitted sweater–that was really beautiful. I liked the sausages… I don’t think there’s a craft in the book that I don’t really like.
I like the decorative crap caddy. I remember when you sent me a PDF of the book galley last summer, I was sitting at my computer, drinking something, and when I read the section on the decorative crap caddy, I actually did a spit-take.
Oh, yeah. I love the word “shut-in.” I was so happy to find that word, and then I just made [the decorative crap caddy]. I thought, what would a shut-in need? Somebody left that container and I just put stars on it. Nothing goes to waste!
Simple Times talks a lot about the dangers of crafting, and perils in the craft room. What’s the worst crafting-related injury you’ve ever sustained?
When I was little, I remember putting my hand on a hot plate. I think you did these shrinkage things [on it]. It was in the sixties, I was little, and I was visiting my uncle. It was similar to a hot plate, though, and I just set my hand on it for a long time, and it burned it. It was really, really painful. It really hurt. But I just wanted to put that chapter in there [about crafting safety and injuries] because people always have really funny crafting accident stories and injuries. And same with stretching. I talked to a woman who did seed art, and she would always complain that her neck was sore. That gave me the idea to do some kind of crafting exercise.
Now, the Tarheel Sausage Cookies. I’ve gotta know more about these. I know that everybody’s putting bacon in everything now, like candied bacon on cupcakes, but I’ve never heard of putting sausage in anything like that.
It’s a pretty common cookie.
Yeah. I was at a wedding in North Carolina, and that’s what they had. It was like a chocolate chip cookie without the chocolate chips, and they had added sausage to it.
Just fry it and crumble it up, and add that to your dough?
Yep, that’s it exactly.
I guess you don’t have to grease the sheet.
Noooo, you do not have to grease the sheet. No greasing the sheet.
That’s wild. Now, I remember when I interviewed you in 2006 before I Like You came out, you had met with a couple companies and talked about doing a product line to go along with the book–and you ended up selling the fake cakes and jars of jimmies through Fred Flare. Will you be doing some kind of product line for Simple Times, or is that something you would consider?
I don’t know… I don’t think so. The book is what it is. I mean, I make stuff, and then when I go to some of the readings, I’ll sell it. Like, there’s a big craft fair coming up (the BUST Holiday Craftacular), and I’m going to sell stuff there. But I think that’s about it.
You don’t want to market decorative fly strips and rusty nail wind chimes?
No, it’s too much to pursue, and then for it to be exactly right… that’s just about something else. For I Like You, it was nice because after the book came out, I started to see things around–where people were inspired by the book. I think it will be the same for this. Somebody else can just do it.
So, now that you’re finished with the craft book and you’re sick of crafts, are you going to keep the craft room in your apartment, or convert that into something else?
Well, the craft room was the baby’s room–I call it the baby’s room–and I made it look like a baby’s room first. And then I turned it into a craft room. Then, after the book was done, I changed some of the hardware on my cabinets, and put some fresh paint up, and I kept some books, got rid of some other books, rearranged my bulletin board, and got a new rug for it. So, the room already looks completely different. There’s a rocking chair in the middle of it now, and that’s where I do all of my interviews and stuff.
You’re not going to make it a room for Dusty (Amy’s rabbit)?
No, she comes in here sometimes. There’s no door to it.
But you’re not going to do Astroturf flooring, and do all kinds of levels–give Dusty her own room?
No, she’s got the whole apartment. I mean, she has the whole place.
What’s your next book going to be about? My mom wants to know if you’d consider doing a book on home decorating?
I was thinking that if I did another book, it would be about decorating.
On which TV show would you love to guest star?
Oh, God, I don’t know… there’s so many good ones. There’s some I watch–I like Amy Poehler’s show a lot.
Parks and Recreation? That’s my favorite show on right now. I would LOVE for you to guest star on that.
Yeah, that would be a fun show to do. And then, there are shows that I like that I just know I would never… I mean, I love Bill Mahr’s show, but I would be too scared to be on it. But I love watching it. And I love Friday Night Lights… I like Mad Men. I’m sure there are others, I just can’t think of them right now.
Before we get to the next part of the interview, David (Sedaris, Amy’s brother, who is a best-selling author) was here at the Weinberg Center two weeks ago. When I got up to him in line to get my books signed after the reading, I told him I was interviewing you, and asked what would be a good question, or something to ask you about. He said, “Ask her about her first boyfriend.”
Hmm. Well, my first boyfriend… Hmm… Well, the first guy I kissed had a waterhead. It was when I was little, and had to kiss him. He had a waterhead. I know he didn’t live. I know he died. If that’s who he’s talking about… I’m trying to think, who was my first boyfriend? Maybe that’s what he wants to know.
Well, it was hilarious, because he said, “Ask her about her first boyfriend… His name was um… Oh, what was his name?… It was… Oh… I can’t remember his name. Ask her how many black guys she’s slept with.”
That’s hilarious… No black guys I haven’t slept with yet! He’s probably talking about this guy I went out with, his name was Bobby, and he was an expediter at Red Lobster. And yeah… he was a little slow.
The next part of the interview is questions that people sent in on amysedarisrocks.com. After you said you’d be interested in doing an interview a few weeks ago, I put an announcement on my site asking people send in question ideas. I got a lot of really good ones, and I went through them all and chose about ten to use. So, the first one is:
How old were you when you started making crafts? Who was your role model in that category? Can you tell us about the first “craft” you ever made, or even gave as a gift?
I started crafting like all do–when we’re young. I did a lot of crafting in Girl Scouts and Junior Achievements, and I just always stayed with it. My family made their own Christmas decoration, and stuff like that. The first crafts I remember making were, like, clay ashtrays and things like that. You know how you’d make them for your dad’s office. Or painted rocks, and you’d put felt on the bottom. For my role models, there was a local hospitality show on, and I liked to watch her do stuff. And the PTL Club, with Tammy Faye Baker. Sometimes she would do some demonstrations. When I got older, my favorite actress was Jennifer Jason Leigh. I was obsessed with her acting, and I always like all of the parts that she did. I followed her career all the time. I thought she was really good.
The next question comes from someone who didn’t include their name. The question was, “Ask Amy who her favorite teacher at Sanderson High School was.” And also what I’d like to add to that is, what was your favorite school subject?
I liked taking drama in high school. My favorite teacher in high school… It would change all the time. I liked Mr. Talley. He taught drama, and he was my favorite. He encouraged me to keep acting and stuff like that. But I got along with all of my teachers, that’s for sure.
I share my home with two house rabbits and I want to make them cool holiday gifts. Do you have any Dusty or Tattletail-approved suggestions? They love the Smack Snacks in your entertaining book!
Well, I’ve got the Dynamite Sticks in this book, where you fringe the edges of a toilet paper roll, and then you fill it with hay. The only thing is, the rabbits love it–especially the fringed edges because they can get a good grip on it–and they’ll swing it, and hay tends to go everywhere. But they love it. They loves those little dynamite things.
I was a little disappointed, though, when I got the book, because when you came up with that idea a few years ago and sent some to me, you had written “stixx” on the bag–and you didn’t spell it like that in the book.
Oh, I didn’t, did I?!
No, it’s spelled wrong in the book. It’s gotta be the double X’s!
Yeah, you’re right. You should’ve written me right away, but you didn’t know. That’s good, I wish I would’ve remembered that.
Would you ever consider doing a theatrical/comedy one woman show about your life?
Before I heard about your newest book, Simple Times, I was working on an idea for a weekly or perhaps a book called Welfare Well- To- Do: A Poor Person’s Guide to Appearing Unpoor. I found this a bit uncanny. My question to you is how is it that, in all your success, can you maintain such an accurate viewpoint of the middle to low class American plight?
Well, the thing is, “crafts for poor people” was a subtitle I had like a year and a half ago, and I just kind of dropped it–and the book was called “Past Times.” Then Paul Dinello and I came up with “Simple Times.” And then when I turned the book in, my book agent and editor were like, “We really liked ‘Crafts for Poor People.'” And I said, well, I didn’t even keep that in mind when I was working on the book. I just naturally didn’t want to put a lot of money–didn’t have a lot of money to put into the book. I think that way anyway. You know, when you’re crafting or thinking about projects, sometimes it’s more out of necessity that you’re doing it, and don’t want to spend a lot of money. So, I said okay, and I used that subtitle after all–and now everything in the book is kind of tainted with that in mind. But I don’t think I have a grasp on it. I think everybody, even really rich people, likes to think of themselves as poor. They get a kick out of it. You know, all of the sudden, no one has any money. And you’re like, “How is this affecting you again?” So, it’s not that I have a handle on it. The materials I like to work with just happen to be very inexpensive and more on the resourceful side. Like, I don’t scrapbooking, and I don’t like where you go and buy kits at craft stores, and all you do is paint it, or whatever it is. That, to me, isn’t crafting at all. Crafting is how poor people do it–you do it because you have to do it. You need it. Necessity. I guess you could just get into crafting, but you either want to do it, or you don’t.
When was the last time Amy did a cartwheel?
What music would be we be surprised to find out she listens to?
What’s her favorite store in the whole world? Craft, Clothing, Hardware, etc..
New York, NY
I have several favorite shops, so I’ll just say that I really enjoy flea markets. I’m a flea market person. I couldn’t name a particular shop, but I go to flea markets every weekend. And then… the last time I did a cartwheel. I can’t remember. I have no idea. It’s been a long time. Music… I don’t think you’d be… I like what I’ve always called “Negro music.” I think black people sing the best, and I tend to listen to soul music, and things like that. I do like jazz. I’m pretty open to what I’ll listen to. I’m not a big indie fan. Those songs get old fast to me.
What is the ultimate hand-crafted gift for all occasions?
What craft project did not quite make it into your book and why?
There wasn’t one that didn’t make it into the book. I’m pretty sure they all made it into the book. And ultimated hand-crafted gift… Well, I like potholders. I get those potholder kits off of a website, and I make those like crazy. That’s one thing I’m going to be selling. I think that’s a good gift, and I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want them. They’re great.
Oh, yeah. Remember when you brought them when you did the show here–and you had me sell them at your book signing? You were like, “Oh, no one’s going to buy these,” so you only brought about twelve–and they were gone in five minutes.
Well, I think I’m going to sell them individually. I’ll have some sets, but I think I’m going to focus on selling them individually.
To what extent and in what ways does you private persona differ from your public persona? Over the years, Amy, as your notoriety has grown, do you find them converging or diverging?
New york, NY
It’s all very different. If there’s an audience, I act differently. You get energy from the audience, and you’re more “on.” If it’s a two-person conversation, it tends to be more conversational and low-energy. You know, I can be a little bit more serious. But if there’s an audience there and you want to laugh, then naturally it’s like you’re at a party, and you want to keep the ball up. So, I don’t think I’m any different. It just depends on where I am, and who I’m with.
I absolutely adore you and have bought your books and watched Strangers With Candy while it was on the air, and have the DVDs. My only question is, will you ever do another main character project on TV or movie again? I know you have had small roles, like in Elf, but I miss seeing you in the spotlight!
I do hope to do one. I want to do one with the “support your local artists” lady [in Simple Times]. I want to do a show around her–the lady with the adult acne. So, that’s something I’ll pursue once I’m done with the book tour.
What ever happened to the pilot that Twentieth Century Fox ordered a couple years ago?
They didn’t pick it up. It was a cop thing, and I always liked it, but I think I was okay with them not picking it up. I trust that, too. You know, people who have these shows on–they know what people want to watch, and what they don’t. So, yeah, nothing every happened with it. But when this is done, hopefully I’ll pursue a new TV show idea. I think it’s going to be that lady.