By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Sedaris and Colbert will not deny theirs is a frighteningly intense fan base--a gaggle of Blanks waiting for their heroes to fill them in. Earlier this year, the Strangersthreesome had published their book Wigfield, about a small town in danger of being flooded into oblivion with the destruction of the local dam. They "portrayed" several characters in hysterical, surreal chapters accompanied by disturbing photographs of the townsfolk, among them several that reveal Colbert as a rather stunning woman with beautiful, strippery breasts. After its publication, the three toured in conjunction with Wigfieldand discovered for the first time just who their fans were. They were delighted. And frightened.
"When we toured I got to meet a lot of those people, and they're all misfits," says Sedaris, seen of late in fleeting glimpses in such films as Maid in Manhattanand School of Rock. "As my brother says, 'Amy, your fans are ugly,' and I'm like, 'I know.' Jerri Blank's fans are unattractive because she just attracts misfits, so I'm like, great. They can be pretty freaky, but I just love how obsessed they are, in a way, but I'm totally nothing like her. I mean, I've had people come over to interview me, and they're so disappointed in me because I'm nothing like her."
"They're very nice people," Colbert adds. "But I have to say, sometimes when we were on the road with Wigfield, we'd be kind of scared by our fans. The freakyfans. Let me put it this way: I could tell by looking out at the line at the book signings who was a Strangersfan. For me, I could go, 'Strangers, Daily Show, Strangers, Daily Show.' Or, 'Strangers, Daily Show, anything else Amy has done.' They tend to be the ones with the shaved eyebrows. I think I understand what people mean by the phrase 'cult show' because there is that kind of cult look in some of the people's eyes, which is greatfor us. Maybe not a resounding endorsement of the people who raised these people, that they would respond so positively to something so anti-authoritarian as Strangers With Candy."
Writing the film, for which someone gave the trio money, much to their surprise and delight and fear, hasn't been terribly easy. They've been away from the characters for a long time--Sedaris' having detoured into film and television work (she was a recurring guest for a while on Sex and the City), Colbert's working three days a week on The Daily Show, Dinello's writing and performing in his own works. Giving voice to characters silenced three years ago is rough going. For now, all that exists are jokes without much of a story, which is fine with these old friends--"The intention was to make each other laugh while we were writing the show," Colbert says, "and that never changed"--but unlikely to satisfy producers looking for a...whatchacallit...actual story.
Still, for Sedaris, it will be a pleasure to become Blank again. She has spent the past few years playing bit roles in movies and television shows written by people who cast her because she's Amy Sedaris, then hand her roles that could be played by any bar code with breasts. They will tell her to improvise, then cut out those scenes; they will dress her in funny clothes, then forget to give her funny lines. Only her scenes in Elf, in which she plays a secretary who de-claws kitties in her trailer for fun, were satisfying, because director Jon Favreau allowed her to improve her dialogue--11 times--and kept the best take. And she got to work with Andy Richter and Will Ferrell, who appeared on Strangers.
"I've never done heroin or anything, but it's easy to do it for Jerri somehow," Sedaris says. "I don't know what it is. It's fun to do Jerri because she is so naïve, and she just really wants to learn, but she is just incapable of it. It can be fun, but if I ever had to meet her or hang around her as one of my friends, I don't think I would. She can be really annoying, and she's constantly taking and not giving. I would be amazed by her if I was in school, but I wouldn't want to hang out with her."
Of late, Sedaris has become a sort of fixture of late-night network television--David Letterman's latest replacement for Richard Lewis or Regis Philbin or Tony Randall, last-second fill-ins guaranteed to entertain at least the host, who is always in need of a quick fix. Every few weeks she strolls onto the Sullivan stage and brightens up Letterman, who's enamored with a woman who bakes cupcakes and cheese balls when not tending to her pet rabbit or papering her apartment with candy wrappers--or taking roles in movies and TV series, more of which are offered to her with each Letterman appearance. And with each role comes a call from Colbert or Dinello to remind their old friend and collaborator she is nothing without them.
"What I like about working with Paul and Steve is we all have other things going on, so it makes it fun to get together and create something," Sedaris says. "What I love about Paul and Steve is they'll call me. Like, one time I did an episode of Just Shoot Me, and they called me and were like, 'Amy, that's the worst thing we've ever seen you do.' I love those phone calls. They're so brutally honest with you, ya know what I mean? We're really mean to each other. We can say some really mean stuff. You have to. And when you try to be that way with somebody else and they don't get it, it's like, 'Uh-oh, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. I'm sorry. Why are you crying?' It's like, fuck."