The fingerprints of Amy Sedaris’ Raleigh upbringing are all over her new TV show, “At Home with Amy Sedaris.”
For one thing, Sedaris, who grew up here along with her famous brother David and her semi-famous (thanks to David’s writing) parents and siblings, references Research Triangle Park twice in the premiere episode, although she insists the show isn’t really set here.
“It’s not set in Raleigh,” Sedaris said in a phone interview this week. “We didn’t want to pinpoint where the show took place, but I always liked the idea that it was in a region. ‘Research Triangle’ just gave it something. But people who are from there will think that’s what it is, and that was OK with me.”
Signaling her local ties even more is the inspiration Sedaris cites for her series, a spoofy, old-fashioned homemaking show set to debut Oct. 24 on truTV.
“Growing up we had the ‘At Home with Peggy Mann’ and the Bette Elliott show,” Sedaris said, referencing two locally produced homemaking shows that ran here in the 1950s through the ’70s. Mann’s show aired on WTVD from 1954 to 1980 and Elliott was on WRAL’s “Femme Fare” from 1962 to 1975.
“They were women who had hospitality shows, and that’s what inspired the whole thing,” Sedaris continued. “I contacted Peggy Mann’s son – she had passed away – and he had one tape left of his mom’s show, because in those days they just taped over all the VHSes and stuff. And so now it’s on YouTube, so I was able to watch one episode – and it was everything that I remembered.”
Mann’s show started out covering “food, fashion, fads and flowers,” but evolved into more of a talk show, in which Mann interviewed authors, doctors and business people. And yes, she referenced the “Research Triangle area” frequently, something Sedaris says happens in every episode of her show as well.
“She had local people on,” Sedaris said. “That’s when women were starting to get their own businesses. And she would also have a sewing segment. I just liked the idea of this woman being in her house and inviting you into her house, and she would just teach you domestic things – and sometimes she’d get a little political. She had a good look.”
Intentionally absurd, always hilarious
“At Home with Amy Sedaris” is set in her character’s home (which isn’t too different from her own home: “It’s just like my apartment, just bigger and cleaner”) with guests dropping in for cooking segments, crafting sessions and more.
In fact, an elaborate fried fish meal – complete with coleslaw and hush puppies – prepared in the first episode is for a dinner party at which she’ll feed three Research Triangle Park businessmen, played by actors Paul Giamatti, Dave Barry and Josh Hamilton. In addition to A-Lister Giamatti, future episodes will have Stephen Colbert, Michael Shannon and Chris Elliott.
The show is intentionally absurd (and often, grotesque) but always very funny. The cooking segments and crafts are played for ultimate comedic effect (a sequence in which she uses glue to make paper flags for “potato ships” will have neatniks squirming), and the aesthetic style of the show is late 1970s.
One recurring character is “The Lady Who Lives in the Woods,” a hippie type named Ruth who lives off the land and delivers passive-aggressive complaints to the camera about her partner Esther. More entertaining is Patty Hogg (played by Sedaris), a take-charge character who offers grilling tips from a golf course in the first episode.
“Patty Hogg is my character-culimination of every Southern woman I’ve ever met,” Sedaris said. “We all know Patty Hogg. Even if you weren’t from the South, everyone knows a Patty Hogg. Just a bulldozer, you know, just kind of comes in and takes over and knows the right thing.”
Stay safe while crafting
The homemaking aspect of Sedaris’ show isn’t just a TV gimmick. It’s a passion.
Cooking, crafting and entertaining are the subjects of her two books – “I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence” and “Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People” – but her interest started long before.
“We had a crafty family and I was in Girl Scouts up to my senior year of high school,” Sedaris said. “And my mom was a big cook. So everyone in my family knows how to cook, and we all are good with doing something with our hands. Plus, it was the ’70s. I was born in ’61, so it was kind of that time.”
Ever the responsible hostess, Sedaris lectures on crafting safety in an upcoming episode of the show. The segment, presented in the style of a 1950s educational film, warns of crafting dangers such as decapitation and cobra attacks.
Fortunately, Sedaris has avoided such serious injuries, but insists she’s been the victim of mishaps.
“Oh, lots of times – with glue guns burning your hand, wood burning kits burning your hands,” she said. “I mean, yeah, staples. Lots of things like that. I’ve been injured for sure – I bet most people have. Paper cuts. ... No run-ins with snakes.”
Missing Mr. Peanut
Sedaris lives in New York but still has family in Raleigh and says she gets home about three times a year. She’ll head South next month, when her family spends Thanksgiving at the beach.
There are lots of things she still misses about living here, she said.
“Oh yeah, there’s a million things,” she said. “I miss Mr. Peanut walking up and down the highway up there (at the old Planters store on South Wilmington Street) – the Planters Peanut guy in the costume. I miss the beach and I miss the mountains and I miss the accents. It was a great place to grow up. ... I was actually born in upstate New York, and when IBM moved to the South in the ’60s, that’s when my dad went down there. So we were all raised in North Carolina. My little brother (Paul) is the only one who was born in North Carolina. ... It was just a different time. And we weren’t exactly welcomed, really, by a lot of Southern people.
“Is the Fair going on there right now?” she asks, and is told yes.
“Oh wow. See, I miss that. Yeah, I miss that. I like going to see the largest pumpkin and the biggest piece of Indian corn. That’s a fun fair.”
Watch ‘At Home with Amy Sedaris’
“At Home with Amy Sedaris” premieres at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 24, on truTV.
You can find truTV locally on channels 44 on Spectrum/Time Warner Cable; channel 164 on AT&T U-verse; channel 297 on Google Fiber TV; channel 242 on DISH Network; and channel 246 on DirecTV.
See David Sedaris
Author David Sedaris appears Oct. 23 at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium. A few tickets remain as of press time for $45-$60. Go to dukeenergycenterraleigh.com.