Divine Comedy with Amy Sedaris and Marcel Dzama

Amy Sedaris and Marcel Dzama in Dzama's New York studio.
Amy Sedaris and Marcel Dzama in Dzama's New York studio.

On a gloomy August morning, Amy Sedaris and Marcel Dzama sit across from me. Both of them are headed towards vacation if I could only step out of the way. I am smiling anyway. Two of my New York heroes are not only good friends but co-conspirators. Our conversation quickly transitions from how-did-you-meet into morbid rabbit anecdotes.

Amy Sedaris: How did we meet?

Marcel Dzama: It was through Heather Lawless I believe.

AS: Right! I commissioned that piece when I saw your work in her house, or did we trade?

MD: We traded. I remember because I tried to include a rabbit because you have one. I used to have a rabbit.

AS: But it died in a fire...

MD: Yes, a house fire.

AS: Everyone has a horrible story about a rabbit. I don’t want to hear them, but people can’t wait to tell me. Anyway, after we traded, you used to invite me over to your house for dinner.

MD: Willem, my son who is five, has a huge crush on you, Amy. When he lists his friends, you are one of them.

AS: And, I’m calling you like ‘Hey, can Willem sign a piece of paper so I can use his art on my TV show?’

MD: He drew Amy a bat girl.

AS: It reminded me of Egon Schiele. We had a lot of artists give us work for the show and Willem was one of them, as is Marcel.

MD: The bear costume.

AS: Yes, we have a nature episode.

MD: I had originally made the costume for a Bob Dylan video, which is kind of funny.

AS: You can’t see out of it.

MD: There are eye holes, but...

AS: But, they might as well be in the back. Vanessa Walters, who I met through Marcel, was the choreographer and she danced in it and Paul [Dinello] danced in it. And no one could see. They’d spin around like crazy and take off the head and be out of breath. It was fun. Hot.

MD: I like my actors to suffer.

AS: Yeah suffer! And then I played Marcel in a little film…

MD: That I am working on still. I actually need you for a couple more scenes.

AS: No problem, no problem.

MD: It’s going to be called “The Flower of Evil,” and Amy plays me directing a ballet and a few other projects. There was a trailer for it in my joint exhibition with Raymond Pettibon. Raymond actually plays the gallerist David Zwirner in the film.

Amy Sedaris and Marcel Dzama
A mask in Dzama's studio.

AS: So for the film, Marcel and I went wig shopping one day, which was a blast. We went to Wig Plus on 14th Street. This is my place. They know me there. I get free wig caps there sometimes. Anyway, I had a little mustache, and I got to play Marcel. I played him a lot more aggressive than he is. I guess I put pants on and immediately start yelling at people, because that is what guys do.

MD: But we wanted an over the top character.

AS: Usually I just reinvent the same characters I’ve been playing my whole life and then they kind of snowball into other characters. I guess—unless I am on somebody else’s show, like “Kimmy Schmidt” where I play Mimi Kanasis. In that case, the character was in the writing and then it developed from there. I knew I wanted a country club hairstyle and once I saw my little tiny face in that big hairstyle, I was like ‘Oh, okay, I know who she is now.’ Marcel had me in a cape and a mustache, it was like come on! It was too much fun to play around with.

MD: I had you dressed up in a silver leather jacket too, with sunglasses on and a headset. It was very direct. It’s how I am usually dressed on set. I love barking orders and bossing around my non-existent assistants.

AS: Barking orders is great.

MD: I guess in the same way you recycle characters, I’m often recycling costumes in my films.

AS: I know right? I save everything. It’s hard to let go of costume pieces.

MD: I can’t throw away a mask for some reason.

AS: I am the same way with wigs. I can’t throw them out. I still have my first one from third grade. Maggots or something laid eggs in it, and it didn’t even stop me. It’s all matted and I still love it, even if it has egg sacks in it.

MD: I have a basement filled with more stuff. I can’t wait to move to a bigger studio so I can fit more up here.

AS: But then it gets to be too much, and you can’t find anything.

MD: That’s true. You don’t just buy wigs and props, you also have art.

AS: I learned about buying art from my brother, David.

MD: I don’t actually know much about that process because normally I just go up to the artist and ask if they want to trade.

AS: I think it's good to buy art. Of course, when I traded with you, I gave you two pot holders. I felt like it wasn’t a very good deal.

MD: I got good stuff. I got a penny bookmark.

AS: Yeah those are hard to make.

Dzama wears costume he created.

MD: And I got a tissue ghost.

AS: I’m really good at ghosts.

MD: And the can with the...

AS: Oh, you’re right, you got plenty of good stuff. I’m wondering how did you come up with me playing you in the “Flower of Evil?”

MD: I had to make this short film to be projected in the promenade of the New York City Ballet. So I thought I would make a little ballet, but thought it may be boring—unless there was a director there bossing everyone around. I knew it would be you because that would really make it good no matter what, but then having you play me was a nice way to mix it up.

AS: It was a lot of fun.

MD: There was a short video. I don’t know if I titled it. That was the beginning of the “Flower of Evil” because I had to film that for the New York City Ballet. Working with Amy was just so much fun, I am shooting more scenes. It will probably 20 minutes at the longest. I am going to save it for my show with David Zwirner next fall.

AS: Is it hard to think that far in advance for projects? It is for me. Even with my books, I forget someone is going to buy it. With the show, I forget that people will watch it. I always think I am going to be dead when someone asks what I’ll be doing in two years.

MD: Of course, I’d been sitting on this for a while. I wanted to release it for the show I had with Raymond, but it wasn’t quite ready and with the way shows are paced at the gallery I had to wait a couple of years. I could show it somewhere else but I wanted a New York premiere because everyone involved is based here and I’d want them there to celebrate with me.

AS: I’m into teams, I’m into finding someone who does what they do really well or you just have an understanding. It takes a long time to find people who you work well with and who are really going to work hard and care, so I’ll never forget those people.

MD: Same with me. Art gets kind of lonely sometimes, so I like to collaborate with other artists or take on film projects and that way it's sort of a crew. All the people I’ve ever worked with have been friends or friends of friends and we become friends. When ending a filming I always get really sad, it's like this little family.

AS: It’s like a little circus that keeps traveling.