Amy Sedaris is a New York City treasure. She moved here in 1992 and lives in the West Village with her rabbit Tina. As an actress, she is a master of the comic character, having been in over 40 movies and some 100 television shows, specializing in fierce but somehow clueless characters. She’s written plays and is a best-selling author of I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, which displays her razor wit and quirky domestic obsessions, with a deep tap root into the craft and cooking-show culture of America. She has also sold cupcakes and cheeseballs out of her kitchen.
Her crowning glory is her Emmy-nominated show “At Home with Amy Sedaris,” which she created and writes with her longtime collaborator Paul Dinello, a cooking, craft and holiday-celebrating show which is packed so tightly with dark wit and biting social commentary that one can barely take it in all in one viewing. It is by turns menacingly demented, psychologically hilarious and so subtly subversive you barely notice you’ve been sliced into, wrapped as it is in literal confections of over-frosted cakes and film-genre take-offs, and always edged in ric rac.
Sedaris says, about living in New York, “I’m a small town girl in a big city and when I’m home I look for community and am not so adventurous.” But she’s been to every state in the U.S. except for North and South Dakota, and travels often with her brother, the writer David Sedaris, and his partner Hugh Hamrick. As a friend and neighbor I am lucky to live two floors below her and don’t think she recognizes how brilliant she is.
When the pandemic hit, Sedaris stayed in the city where she continues to walk miles every day, one of the pleasures of New York not thwarted by COVID-19.
You stayed in New York during the pandemic while many in your neighborhood left. What was that like? I felt like the little resident girl who’s being left behind while everyone loads their moving vans, or someone who has polio and they sit at their window and watch people come and go because they can’t go outside and play. Now, noticing when homeless people get their haircut, I realize how long I’ve been here.
What did you do with yourself during the last six months? I would walk up to the Upper East Side to see my brother David and his partner Hugh. I’m not afraid to take the train, but you can just walk everywhere.
Do you always take the same route? No, I zig-zag. I go to Fifth, I might head over to Madison. My acupuncturist told me to do that: “change up your route,” so I keep that in mind when I walk up there because it can get pretty boring. I usually choose a place to walk to every day. A juice place called Bomberi Mart on 11th past Bleeker with all natural stuff. Or Murray Hill to Kalustyan’s to buy tahini. I’ll walk to Eataly which was nice and empty for a while, but not anymore, and buy nuts to feed the squirrels, or get my fish. Or I pick a plant store I’ve never been to, like Green Fingers on the Lower East Side. It gets me out of the house, and walking four or five miles a day.
Why do you choose to live in New York? I like living in the city because I need the outside stimulation. I like seeing and being surrounded by the fortunate and the unfortunate, because it keeps me on the right track. I see homeless people and I feel for them, and also know I don’t want ever to be homeless so it reminds me to reach for the highest star. I also like diversity. I like the East coast and am glad I was raised here. I love nature and appreciate the mountains and the beach, but I need a city. I love huge buildings full of people.
What’s a funny moment you’ve observed in NYC during Covid? When the stores opened up, the first thing I bought was a man’s wig at Helena’s. David had seen it in the window and wanted it, so I went back on a rainy day. It was a hassle. They can be difficult there. I was like, “Who else is going to walk in your store and buy a man’s wig without wanting to try it on?” Then I thought, “OH probably David.” She asked me if I was on unemployment and I said no, and then she said, “Oh I guess you are comfortable.” It was really weird. I gave the wig to David and he looks hilarious in it.
Where will your first trip be post-Covid? Tokyo, I’m hoping. I wish I was there now. They embrace old people and they always wear a mask anyway. I really miss it. But they’re not even taking people there now.
I see that Kenya just opened. Would you like to come on a camel safari? Let me think about it: no.
What are some favorite souvenirs of your travels? Whenever I travel anywhere I really like going to the hardware stores. And see what I can find—the cleaning products I have no idea what it says. But of course in Japan they have a whole section there of fake foods. Really good stuff. I don’t like when people give me fake food they’ve found in a joke shop; I’m pretty picky about my fake food. I’ve gotten some great pieces in Tokyo. One of my favorite pieces is right here, a frosted beer can. I have a lot of fake food in my refrigerator. A lot of my art lives in my refrigerator.
I know you are close to your godchildren (sons of your longtime writing partner Paul Dinello)—where in New York do you like to take them? The Parks. Madison Square, Central Park. But they also like hanging out in my tiny I-Dream-of-Jeannie bottle apartment, eating grilled cheese and apple drinks with the rabbit hopping around and no grown-ups. The Museum of Natural History they love, with the butterflies.
You do a lot of shopping with David when you travel—what are some favorites places? Capital. Commes des Garcons. Dover Street. I like shopping with David because you talk to people and you get to see what people are buying. There are so many times I’ve tried on something and I’m like, What do you think? And it belongs to someone else. I’m trying on a person’s coat that they just had on the hook. In Tokyo that happens to me all the time. In London I had a lady’s pocketbook on and I was, Oh my god they’ve stuffed this purse with keys, a wallet, even an ID. And David says, Amy, that belongs to the woman up at the counter. Or I’ll be in line holding something and I’ll be told, That’s display. Those bananas are not for sale.
Episode 5 of your latest season of “At Home” is all about travel: what are some of your travel tips? Travel tips? Oh boy, I must have a million travel tips. I mean, the usual, you’ve got to pack light—which I never do. I try to think I do and am proud of myself and David will say, You’re here three days, why’d you bring so much? Well, I don’t know what my mood is going to be. I bring my books, I bring big bottles of vitamins. You’ve got to think as a girl scout. If you have anxiety issues, make sure you have anxiety medicine. You want to make sure you have things that you just can’t run out and get.
What does the future hold for NYC? I think New York City is going to bounce back. And I can’t tell if I’m going to resent the people that left—and went to the Hamptons—or if I’m going to say, Thank you very much for giving us wiggle room. We don’t have the tourist people, we have less students, but everyone in our neighborhood from Bigelow to the Post Office feels very neighborhoody, very community. We have great conversations. Everybody is going through it. That’s the thing. That makes a big difference.
The thing you can’t travel without? Address book. I know people say you can have it on your phone, but I think that’s cheating. And I always bring a hardcover book.
When were you happiest while traveling? Tokyo, always. I’ve had good trips to Greece with my family, and love to go to London with David and Hugh, but Tokes is my favorite.
How does your rabbit like to travel? I put Tina in a cat carrier case, but rabbits don’t really like to travel—their feet aren’t on the ground. I’m going to take her upstate soon and get her outside on the grass which I haven’t really done before. I’ve had Tina for six years, today. It’s been nice having animals during this.
Who is your ideal travel companion? David. He always knows the route. Even when you go visit him, he’s a good host, he takes you around and we’re interested in the same things. It’s never, “What do you want to do?” Hugh usually grocery shops and cooks at home, so we’ll have lunch out but dinner at home. At the end of the day your feet which started out size five are at night size nine and swollen and cut because we’ve been walking everywhere. He’s always been a traveler.
If you could live at any hotel, which would it be? I always like the Gramercy Park in New York. The best was a Ritz Carlton in the mountains in Osaka where we got to on a fast train. It was really nice and classy; I took a bath and soaked my feet. It made me think of an Upton Sinclair book where the bum gets off the street, they feed him, shower him, let him spend the night then he’s back on the street.
The place/trip that challenged you most? Canada. When I go for work, just getting through customs is such a hassle, and the paperwork. And it’s an hour away. And it’s Canada.
What is your room service indulgence? French fries? I mean, I love room service. If I’m in LA I guess I’ll indulge in breakfast. And order everything—a waffle and pancakes. You’ll never eat it all, but you don’t know what you’ll want.
The strangest place you’ve spent a night? In Chicago once with David and he had cockroaches literally falling down from the ceiling. But travel…places in Greece, in Athens, you know with the shared bathroom down the hall and the policeman who comes on to you.
What is your favorite market in the world? Good markets in Paris, and you’re going to ask me where, and I don’t know. Kitchen districts. Maxwell Street Market on the southside of Chicago, where they sell wet clothes they must have gotten out of someone’s washing machine, because why are they wet, please? And when I travel, I don’t like going to museums; I like going to museum shops.
What are your showoff spots in your hometown? In Raleigh? Oh, in New York—it’s wherever the person is interested in. They like Central Park, Washington Square Park. Places they don’t have in their hometown. Fun shops. Santa Maria Novella on Lafayette.
If you could travel to any place in any epoch, which would it be? I’ve always wanted to go to Spain, ever since I was little when David brought me back some perfume with a little señorita on it. And back to Greece. As far as the epoch goes, anytime when Obama was president.
Which places would you happily spend a weekend, a week, a month, and a year and why?
A weekend: maybe Maine. A place I’ve never been. I’ve also always wanted to go to Palm Springs. Or to Connecticut to visit someone.
A week: Santorini. Or the beach in North Carolina, with my family, that’s always good for a week.
A month: West Sussex in a house with a thatched roof.
A year: Tokyo. It’s the best place.
Where are you embarrassed that you’ve never been? Court? No, I’ve been to court. Probably places in New York City. The Cloisters. But I’m not embarrassed that I don’t know anything about the Cloisters. And that big cemetery. I don’t even know the name [Woodlawn in the Bronx.] It’s huge and it’s not even far from here. Oh, I know. I’m embarrassed I’ve never been to Fire Island.
Susan Minot is an award-winning novelist, short-story writer, poet, and screenwriter. Her first novel, Monkeys, was published in a dozen countries and won the Prix Femine Étranger in France. Her novel Evening was a worldwide best seller and became a major motion picture. Her latest book is “Why I Don’t Write: And Other Stories.” She lives with her daughter in New York City and on an island off the coast of Maine.