I think people’s first impression of Wigfield is that it is just a chain of porno shops, strip clubs, and used auto parts yards. Well, it’s a lot more than that. It’s Pornographers and Strippers and People Who Sell Used Auto parts.
Cinnamon (Stripper and Resident of Wigfield), Wigfield: The Can-Do Town That Just May Not
If Amy Sedaris is better known as the sister of public radio superstar David, it’s her own fault. For someone so fabulously talented, she is also remarkably anonymous. It’s likely you’ve seen her—not so likely you knew who she was. She’s done theatre (off-broadway, limited run, forget about a ticket) and a critically acclaimed TV stint (Strangers With Candy). She flits in and out of the big screen (Maid in Manhattan) and small (Finch’s lookalike girlfriend in “Just Shoot Me”) and if you live in New York, you might have eaten one of her muffins. Yes, muffins. It’s a constant in her bios and not just an attention-getting celebrity trick. She bakes and sells muffins—for $1 a piece. A friend of mine used her for a bridal shower she was hosting—two dozen muffins, $24 bucks—and in a story twist that can only happen in Manhattan, Sedaris apologetically warned she’d had to borrow Sarah Jessica Parker’s oven last-minute when hers blinked out.
But one of the most intriguing things about Amy Sedaris is her absolute lack of vanity. A gym-toned, beauty pageant blonde, she routinely adds pimples, hairs and warts to her pretty parts, wears fatty suits around town, and gleefully contorts herself in all sorts of grody ways. She’s an enigma wrapped in a satire, wrapped in mock-irony, wrapped in a spoof. Which reminds me of her recently published book Wigfield: The Can-do Town That Almost Didn’t.
Wigfield is a collaboration with her fellow Second City alumni Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello, who seem to get unjustly footnoted in her shadow, but such is the way of name recognition. It’s a storybook for grownups complete with pictures—20 breathtaking photos of Colbert, Dinello and Sedaris as townies, taken by Todd Oldham, the fashion designer/lensman. It’s a quirky, chock-full-of-nuts tale written by a made-up former highway-line painter named Russell Hokes.
I balked at Wigfield intially. At first glance it’s gimmicky, and gimmicky—books with funny notes where the copyright goes, for instance—is so last year. But once you get past the eye roll it’s really very fun—perhaps to literature what Pringles are to potato chips—a strange little knockoff, but tasty!
Wigfield opens with a long intro by Hokes - a fictitious writer, pitching a fictitious book to Hyperion, about nothing. The laughs are on hyperspeed from the get-to. For instance this bit from his newly-minted writer’s resume:
Qualifications: I am a strong candidate for the position I am applying for because my words explode off the page like electric action to maximize the impact. That is how I describe my background and strengths. This section is concise, and contains action words, and should sell my most marketable skills and abilities.
The Introduction is Russell’s back-story—where he explains how he went from painting highway lines to snagging big book advances overnight.
But following a heated dispute with my foreman . . . I quit my job shortly after he fired me. For the first time in my life, i was truly free. But freedom has its price, which I soon found out was money. So, much like a butcher naturally becomes a surgeon, or a boxer becomes a cop, I decided to apply my knowledge of drawing long, white lines on asphalt to drawling much shorter ones with loops and curls on paper. In short, words. I became a writer!
Hokes secures an advance for a story about small town America, and therein lies the rub. Wigfield has great fun at everyone’s expense. He finds his town when his car breaks down alongside a rural stretch of strip clubs and porn shops called Wigfield. A plot develops when he learns Wigfield is overshadowed by a giant dam that the state is threatening to knock down, guaranteeing imminent wetness for its residents.
Working against the clock (and his dwindling advance) Hokes skitters through town collecting thoughts on dams and life from an unusual group of residents, including Cinnamon, the ecstasy-popping stripper, and town artist Julian Childs—a sultry Siegfried look-alike whose productions feature all-bunny casts. Oldham captures them beautifully in all of their creepy glory.
Wigfield, arguably more souped-up Playbill than book, is a brilliant idea. Word is Hyperion wouldn’t fund a book tour, so the Second City authors took on promotion themselves and brought their story to life in what they call “more than a reading, less than a play”. These characters are dying for a stage and I suspect, though the book came first, it was inevitable given the hyperactive nature of its creators. It’s a marketing stroke of genius to marry these two formats. Buzz from the impossible-to-get-tickets-to play will fuel book sales and buzz from the book might launch the movie. In any event, if there’s one thing you should take away, it’s Hokes’ three Universal Truths:
1. Paint A Straight Line
2. Go Slow
3. Keep Plenty of Paint on the Brush