15 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Strangers with Candy’
First airing in 1999, Comedy Central's first live-action non-sketch show, Strangers with Candy, spun comedy gold, cementing most of its cast as legends. The brainchild of Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello, it followed “boozer, user and loser” Jerri Blank (Sedaris), a 46-year-old “junkie whore” who returns to school and tries to make friends while constantly either doing or thinking about doing drugs.
Satirizing ABC's Afterschool Specials, Jerri’s forty-something high school adventure was an absolute trip, so we’ve gathered our favorite tidbits about the show (and movie) that featured Colbert as one creepy teacher…
Sedaris Got a Lot of Ideas Watching Lifetime Movies
While Strangers with Candy was based on those afterschool specials of yore, Sedaris said that watching Lifetime also brought on some ideas. “Lifetime movies to me are afterschool specials,” she told the Austin Chronicle. “It’s more focused on the adults than the kids, but I was inspired by a lot of Lifetime for episodes for Strangers With Candy. I would come home and watch it; then I’d call Paul and Stephen and go (in Jerri’s voice), ‘Got a great idea for an episode!’”
Colbert Came Up with the Catatonic Dad Gag
One of the show’s running gags was to periodically show us Jerri Blank’s father, Guy Blank (Roberto Gari), in a motionless state that doubled as a real photobombing pose. Colbert said that he came up with the idea but also admitted, “What was I thinking? What is wrong with him?”
The Show Tackled Whitewashing Long Before It Became a Mainstream Topic
In the Season One episode, “Dreams on the Rocks,” Flatpoint High puts on a production of A Raisin in the Sun, a play by Lorraine Hansberry about a Black family’s struggles while living on the South Side of Chicago. The episode satirizes whitewashing as Mr. Jellinek, who is the director, chooses an all-white cast and relegates the Black students to mere background trees. The show mocks the reasoning behind whitewashing by having Jellinek tell Jerri, who plays the character Mama, to gain 40 pounds because he “likes to go as realistic as possible.”
The Reason Behind Jerri’s Turtlenecks
Jerri became iconic for her bizarre fashion choices and was often seen sporting pleats but almost always wearing a turtleneck. Sedaris said that it was a Comedy Central stipulation, explaining that they “didn't want to show track marks or tattoos” even though Jerri totally had those.
Geg Holliman’s Time-Capsule Joke Was the Product of a Mistake
During the show’s very first episode, Principal Onyx Blackman (Holliman) takes a photo of himself to put inside a time capsule but instead drops the camera in and puts the photo in his pocket. Hollman, who had a blast working on the series, said that it was supposed to be the other way around, but they kept it in because the joke worked.
It Cost Chris Pratt $3,000 to Be in the ‘Strangers with Candy’ Movie
The 2005 movie was only casting local actors in New York and New Jersey for the character of Brason, so Pratt flew in from L.A., pretended to live in New York, stayed in a hotel and had to fly back to L.A. for a weekend during filming. All in all, he ended up spending $3,000 just to do the film with the gang.
The Show Was Never Officially Canceled
Sedaris revealed during an interview that Comedy Central never officially canceled the show but that she, Colbert and Dinello simply assumed it would come to an end after three seasons. “They have never officially told us that the show has been canceled. We kind of knew it. We wanted to go out; we wanted a final episode because usually Comedy Central does things in three seasons, so we kind of figured we had three seasons. The last episode we wrote assuming that the show was going to get canceled, so that's why we went out with that.”
There Were (Surprisingly) Not a Lot of Censoring Issues
Colbert said that they had one rule between the three of them, and that was never to censor themselves. If they thought something was funny, it went into the script. They were constantly pushing boundaries, yet hardly ever met resistance from Comedy Central. “We would look at the notes from the network, going, ‘Oh, please, cut something. Please say we can’t do something,’” Colbert told Andy Cohen. “And they would never.”
The Alternate Pitch by the Second City Trio
While Sedaris came up with the idea of spoofing afterschool specials, Colbert and Dinello were working on another pitch for Comedy Central that Colbert called Mysteries of the Insane Unknown. Dinello explained that “it was about guys who would ask, ‘Are the pyramids actually bomb shelters built by aliens 2,000 years ago?’” Comedy Central apparently liked it and was ready to cut them a check, but when the network heard Sedaris’ pitch, they went with Strangers with Candy instead.
Sedaris Came Up with Some Wild Ideas for Jerri’s Look
She told GQ that she decided to make Jerri a “junkie whore” and told the hair and makeup people to make her look like a “professional golfer.” She told the wardrobe department that she wanted to look like a woman who owns a snake, and they came up with the rest.
The Second City Trio’s Book Inspired the Movie
During an interview with Blackfilm.com, Sedaris said that while she, Colbert and Dinello were working on their book, Wigfield, they’d come up with funny lines that sounded like something Jerri Blank would say. They ended up creating a file titled “Jerri Blank,” and by the time the book was done, there was so much material that Dinello suggested they just go ahead and write a movie.
Sir Ian Holm’s Son Told Him to Do the Movie
Sedaris said that Holm took the Dr. Putney role because one of his sons convinced him to. “I thought I would be scared to work with Sir Ian Holm,” the comedian said. “But on the first day I met him, he had a cobalt blue T-shirt on with three basset hounds on it, and I thought, ‘Phew.’”
The Movie Had Less Improvisation Than the Show
The cast has said how often they’d come up with jokes and lines on the spot while filming the series — Sedaris once read a monologue off the back wall while shooting a scene — but the movie was different. “We didn’t get to improvise as much as we did on the TV show, so that was a little harder,” Sedaris told MovieWeb. “We had a script, but on the TV show, I found we got to play around a little bit more.” The movie budget was also pretty tight, so they didn’t want to mess around as much.
Sedaris Used to Watch the Show with the Volume Turned Down
The actress said that when the show aired on television, she would turn off the sound and see if people who speak different languages, as well as the deaf community, would still be able to follow the story. Sedaris said it was her way of testing the show.
What Happened to Jerri Blank?
The final episode of the show saw Jerri and the school’s administration taking to the streets after burning down Flatpoint High. Asked if he thinks Jerri is still on the run, Dinello shared his theory: “They probably lived on the street for a while, where they put her in a leadership position ‘cause probably nobody survived on the street better than her. But then I bet she folded back into society at some point. I don’t know; maybe she's working at a sporting goods store.”