Comedian Amy Sedaris is taking traditional women's shows from the 1950s and spinning them out of control in At Home with Amy, which debuts tonight on truTV. Her show is a parody of a Martha Stewart-style set where things get crazy—there's dinner party mayhem with a toilet, a crazed knife sharpener, and gross tutorials on gutting fish. Riddled with home-economics class how-to's, Sedaris's experiments always fail (she can't even bake a potato).
Sedaris's style pays homage to 1950s TV personality Dinah Shore, who pioneered daytime television with The Dinah Shore Show. But on At Home with Amy, this retro style is foil for a forward-thinking message that reveals the ugly underbelly of an era gone wrong. There are beehive hairdos, a BBQ class on a golf course, and playful pokes at suburban ignorance and domestic imperfection, plus a roving cast that includes Stephen Colbert, Paul Giamatti, Michael Shannon, and Jane Krakowski.
Sedaris, who is also the voice of Princess Carolyn on Netflix's critically-acclaimed animated dramedy BoJack Horseman, has always been a homemaking junkie. She's the author of I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, a no-nonsense guide to entertaining the worst guests in your home, and Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People, a how-to for egg carton crafting. Sedaris spoke with Broadly about the long-lost '50s, Pee-wee's Playhouse, and making lampshades out of hair.
BROADLY: How did At Home with Amy come about?
AMY SEDARIS: I grew up in North Carolina and we had two hospitality shows, one was called At Home with Peggy Mann and the other was the Betty Elliott Show. When I was young, between the ages of seven and 10, I was watching with my mother and I always said, "I am going to do that show when I grow up." I loved playing house, my mom was a big cook and I was a Girl Scout who loved crafting. When it came time to finally do it, I did books instead, a cookbook and a craft book. Then, I could pitch the show with the books and say "this is what the show looks like." It was hard to explain to people this concept because we don't have TV shows like this now. Martha Stewart and Barefoot Contessa are as close as you come to it, but I wanted something realistic. I wanted to make something more on the funny side.
What is it about Dinah Shore that inspired you?
I did watch her growing up, same with Tammy Faye Bakker, Lawrence Welk and the comedian Ernie Kovacs, who was a big inspiration because he did lots of crazy characters and did all these surreal things. These are the shows I grew up with and they inspired me. But now, I don't watch any do-it-yourself or home-ec shows anymore.
Are you making a parody or is it an homage to old 1950s shows that no longer exist?
I'm doing both. There is a fun feel to the show with fun sets, colored walls, and a pewter platter. I love going into people's homes and seeing how they decorate, I basically pay attention to everything except what they are saying. I'm not trying to be funny here but if a deaf person were to watch the show, I would want them to still enjoy it because it's so visually entertaining. I wanted ideas to come alive visually, which is what I did with the books, as well. Even if you can't read my books, you'd still be inspired.
The set of your show has been compared to Pee-wee's Playhouse, was that intentional?
I get that but it's not campy, it looks like the inside of my apartment but prettier and bigger. I wanted to celebrate artists that never get celebrated. The crafts are inspired by Maud Lewis, a Canadian folk artist. We used great artists in the set design like Rebecca Morgan and Marcel Dzama. The paintings are what I have in my apartment, it feels really personal to me and really pretty, there is trim everywhere. You have no idea how expensive trim is.
You also have a lampshade made of hair, right?
Yes, I made that. I always wondered: Why don't people make lamps with hair swatches? So that's what I did!
Have women's domestic expectations changed?
A lot of women have talked to me about this, but for me, my mom and everyone in my family cooks. I trust being around someone who knows how to roast a chicken. If I have a boyfriend, he needs to know how to build a shelf. These are skills I am drawn to and what you need to have to live your life. A lot of people, girls, they entertain or don't like to cook but you can still make your apartment look nice and surround yourself with stuff which has your personality. If you don't entertain, you can learn how to be a good guest, which I think a lot of people need to learn.
Oh really! Tell me more.
If you get invited to someone's house, you need to learn how to be a good guest. You were invited for a reason and you should know what your role is to make the party a success. I'm old school with that.
Maybe the show is an informal etiquette guide.
Yes! Stay on the runner!
What about the sarcasm? You failed to bake a potato three times in the first episode.
There is a little bit, for sure. But in the craft segments, I'm honestly doing the best I can. That's what makes the segment so funny. Honestly, who can craft like Martha Stewart? I can't. I can't imagine many people have the skills to do that. With my two books I've written behind me, I'm able to do it the right way, but I can fuck around a bit.
You make it clear making mistakes is okay, too.
Yeah. Oh come on, just go get a pinecone and put eyes on it, it's that easy!
What do you want people to take away from At Home with Amy?
Be entertained and have a beautiful setting, I hope people think they can make their apartment fabulous, too. Just paint a wall or put some trim up, just to be surrounded by things you love, make a great space for yourself and make it as nice as possible. And have fun!