November 22, 2006

Amy Sedaris, Hostess Provocateur

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These last few months have been grueling for Amy Sedaris.

She's touring the country promoting her new book, I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence. Her absence has been tough on loved ones.

Ricky, the ghost of her imaginary boyfriend, and Dusty, her rabbit, are none too pleased with her frequent travels. "Well, usually when I go away and I come back you know you're in the dog house for a while," she confessed. Fortunately, a warm greeting ultimately ensues and life in the Sedaris household goes back to normal . . . almost.

For 13 years, Sedaris has lived in Greenwich Village, a New York City haven for the unconventional, and this actress/writer/entertainer embraces the quirkiness with abandon. Her enthusiasm has proven contagious. She has been a returning guest on "Late Night with David Letterman," and has done cameos in film and TV, including HBO's hit show, "Sex and the City." Sedaris is probably best known for co-creating and co-starring in Comedy Central's "Strangers with Candy," with Stephen Colbert (of "The Colbert Report") and Paul Dinello.

As a performer, she has been delivering her rapid-fire humor for years, and in this, her first book, she jumps in with her comedic voice right from the get-go. Not even the book flap is safe: "Dear Reluctant Shopper, Welcome to my Flap."

Drawing from years of experience and observation, Sedaris has created a worthy resource for the party-weary, inadvertently crowning herself Queen of Hospitality.

"It's more for people who don't entertain," she said last week after returning from yet another out-of-town book signing. "Hopefully it'll [also] help them with being a better guest. We need to have good guests to have a good party."

In the introduction Sedaris writes, "As my guests leave even my most simplest parties, I consistently hear the same thing: 'That was the best time I ever had,' and it's always me saying it. But I do know in my heart they all feel the same way, probably."

I Like You is a grab bag of recipes, tips and craft projects, including instructions for making a carrot and potato bracelet. This sophisticated scrapbook is woven with bright, colorful drawings, doodles and 1950s-'60s-inspired photographs.

"I do entertain a lot and I like to cook and I wanted to do an art book and get my friends involved in it, my talented friends and just be in charge of a project and just be everything that I like. The book is everything that I like," said Sedaris.

Entertaining might be a fading art but the age of hospitality is not dead yet. "I just think it's taken a turn like everything else does. People are just so different."

Still, there are tricky situations that call for some words of wisdom and Sedaris has thought of them all. For example, what to do when your rich uncle comes to visit, or how to entertain the elderly, and what to do with guests who have outstayed their welcome: just tell them, "If you stay you can help me babysit the babies in the back room – I'll go get them."

There are also a few basic rules to follow when throwing a party. If you're going to have a theme, such as Mexican food night, don't mix foods from other cultures. ". . . I'll have Je M'appelle French Night, which might include French onion soup, French fries, French bread, and an endive salad with French dressing. It's not a good idea to mix and match different cultural foods unless of course the theme is Patches," she writes.

When Sedaris entertains she includes more than food. She also makes sure to keep her guests busy with activities.

"Usually my friends are creative people who want to do something," she said last week. "If I just get out a box of pipe cleaners and put them on the table I have the kind of friends who are just going to reach for it and then they'll have something to do while they're talking and then they'll end up leaving these incredible things behind."

Hospitality is a two-way street, and Sedaris includes tips for the guest about how to behave, what to bring, and what not to say: "Don't arrive saying you have chiggers, scabies, ringworm or lice. Keep your parasites to yourself."

While laced with humor, I Like You also offers genuine advice, not to mention a plethora of recipes (from a medley of desserts to some hearty dinner dishes like the meat loaf wreath). Craft ideas also abound: a substantial section on the versatility of pantyhose proves that women's intimates are highly under-utilized.

Some of her favorite advice from the book? "Just to keep in mind that a bath relaxes and a shower perks you up. I like that. And my mom's advice was, 'don't bother other people.' I try to live my life to that."

As an actress, entertainer and now-author, Sedaris has dipped into several creative roles, and she willingly accepts the bad with the good in all of them.

"The thing about working on a book is that it took me out of circulation for a year and a half as far as performing. So that I didn't like, because I like to do different things all the time. I didn't like the pressure of a deadline and having to just focus on one project. And I don't like long-term projects," she said.

On the other hand, a book gets the author up close and personal with the readers, and for Sedaris, little else compares. The plush hotels with indulgent accoutrement she stays at on tour are also a plus.

"The good thing is I like seeing the audience that buys the book," she said. "You know, in TV and film you don't know your audience. But when you're doing a play or a book they're right in front of you and I love that. I love meeting everybody. And I love having those luxurious bathtubs."

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