Someone has said Amy Sedaris is like an inside joke: if you get it, you're cool. If you don't, you're not.
There were representatives of both of those groups at Amy Sedaris's performance at Farthing Auditorium on the campus of Appalachian State University on Friday night.
The performance was part of "An Appalachian Summer Festival," which continues through July 30.
Those who know and love Sedaris's quirky costumes and humor on Late Night with David Letterman, her tawdry character Jerri Blank on Comedy Central's Strangers with Candy, or even her take on etiquette in the book, I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, would feel the love just being in the same room with her and even more in the spectacular Farthing Auditorium, certainly one of the premiere venues in the state.
Those who didn't catch Letterman, hadn't seen Comedy Central, or don't know that she was the voice of Cinderella in Shrek the Third and Shrek Forever After were left to revel merely in sitting in the spectacular Farthing Auditorium.
The show begged the questions: Where's the quirky? Where's the irreverent? Where's the irrepressible? Where, oh, where, is Amy Sedaris?
Right from the onset, it was a little uncertain just what format this performance would take. If one knew that Sedaris was once a member of Chicago's Second City, working alongside Steve Carell and Chris Farley, one could presume that this might be a stand-up gig, a Kathy Griffin kind of offering, which would have certainly showcased Sedaris's comedic side.
Instead, she plopped down in a leather chair and attempted to make small talk with local businessman and broadcast journalist Tim Baxter, who was chosen to be her foil. Clearly, Baxter is no David Letterman, and this tete-a-tete fell flat after a few minutes, after which Baxter romped down the aisles into the audience to take questions for Sedaris. It was kind of a weird, "Actor's Studio"-type dialogue, and it's too bad Sedaris didn't allude to the awkwardness of it all. It might have made everyone feel a bit more comfortable.
But apparently Sedaris was on a mission: promoting her new book, Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People, which will come out in November. It's based on an Amy Sedaris-ism that "ugly people make crafts and beautiful people have sex."
The Q&A is where a snippet of the real Amy peeked through, at least for a quip or two. When a man in a flannel, happy-Appy-type shirt stood up to ask a question, she deadpanned, "Oh, a drifter!"
There was a craft-making demonstration (from the new book) with a couple of audience members, where a pair of panty hose and a bag of pinto beans were turned into "eye burritos." You had to be there.
She poked fun at librarians at a recent library convention (where she was also, no doubt, promoting her books). Then, donning a pair of black-rimmed glasses, she started to look something like a librarian herself. And, with a nod to her love affair with clothes (à la the crinoline queen on Letterman), she brought a change of costume and pulled it off, figuratively and literally, onstage.
Who knew that a big ugly smock made of bandannas and ricrac acquired from a flea market would become haute couture for Sedaris? When one audience member suggested that she take off the long gingham sundress she chose to wear for the performance and have a picnic with him, she demurred, but acknowledged later the picnic could have taken place once the smock, which hit her mid-thigh, had replaced the sundress.
Sedaris, 49, has never been one for modesty and she certainly wasn't this night, showing off her cougar-ish, well-defined gams and garnering some wolf whistles. Sedaris fans were in the house: the veterinarian who was, along with Sedaris, a member of the House Rabbit Society, a college student who offered to become her assistant, and the late-night TV watcher who asked for a taste of Piglet, another foul-mouthed Sedaris character.
Oddly, Sedaris wouldn't acquiesce to do Piglet (where she tapes up her nose, pig-fashion), saying it was too raunchy for the senior citizens in the audience. Since when has Sedaris cared what people think? It's like Lily Tomlin refusing to do Edith Ann.
A former neighbor from Raleigh, where Sedaris and her brother and author David Sedaris grew up, wanted to talk about the old neighborhood, but Sedaris didn't seem all that interested.
Many, many references, however, were made to Chik-fil-A, Tweetsie Railroad, and the Westglow Resort & Spa, where Sedaris was staying. There was even a question from Westglow's owner about what Sedaris wanted for breakfast.
In other words, more promotion. This is art? It all started to feel like watching Joan Rivers on QVC. Promotional consideration provided by Amy Sedaris.
After about an hour and twenty minutes and a last question about legalizing marijuana, Sedaris put in a plug for marijuana vaporizers, and the show was over.
Certainly, Sedaris is a star in her own right. After several movies, her own TV show, and plays, including The Book of Liz, written with her brother David, she deserves her own recognition. She's worked for it, and done it her own way. Whatever she feels like doing, she does. She makes cupcakes in her kitchen and sells them in a local Greenwich Village coffee shop, for goodness sakes.
She once she told an interviewer, "I like doing Letterman when I don't have anything to promote. I don't like to do things because I have to. I like to do them because I want to." This performance, unfortunately, felt more like a "have-to."