Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Amy Sedaris and Incongruity in Human Behavior

            What I like most about I Like You is that—and other people have noted this—the book serves two purposes: first, it is a very traditional cookbook and party-planning guide. Amy Sedaris provides some really detailed recipes for dishes that seem somewhat traditional and straightforward. She warns against certain things that might ruin a party and cautions the would-be host to remain diligent (“like an owl”) against certain intrusions (e.g. turtles, TV). In this sense, the book reflects the idealism of certain party-planning guides: it claims to know how certain people behave and instructs party hosts in how to guide behavior in a certain way. People will enjoy this kind of food, these party games, etc. The tenets of I Like You in this respect are universal and readily applicable to every situation.
            What makes the book funny are those instances when it diverges from the standard party-planning model. Usually, these are instances when Amy’s private life and personal struggles manifest themselves in the book. After preparing a meal for a blind date, Amy describes a nightmarish conclusion: “Too drunk to hail a cab, he sent his friend home, fell asleep on my bed, and woke up in his own vomit. We dated for two years.” Obviously, this is not practical advice on demonstrating ideal hospitality; instead, it’s a rather embarrassing personal story of an instance when hospitality failed. By the time she describes recipes for rabbit food, the reader is convinced that this book is only really for Amy Sedaris. The odd eccentricities on every page speak more to her weaknesses as an adult woman than to her expertise in hospitality. For example, she gives a detailed account of how to make your rich uncle feel at home, but should any other (less wealthy) character show up at your door, Amy provides a set of evasive techniques to avoid contact. Even when she does execute perfect party-hosting, it’s usually a little manipulative and self-serving. When approached with the problem of mental illness, Amy reminds us that “this is your party not a sanatorium. Your healthy party guests come first.” She even advocates making a profit off of the party by selling unwanted items at the door or making your pet perform.

            After watching several interviews with Amy (I actually remember when she was a guest on The Daily Show and was surprised to find out it was 8 years ago…) I’d have to say that there is some of herself in here. The enthusiasm for hospitality and party-hosting appear genuine, but I’m guessing that the more unseemly characteristics (her manipulative tactics, her troubled personal life, her self-centered personality) have been exaggerated for humor. While mostly a caricature of herself (a form of self-deprecating humor), I Like You also highlights the incongruity between how we’d like people to behave and how people actually behave.

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