After the end of Exit 57, Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris, and Paul Dinello started work on a new project for Comedy Central, Strangers With Candy. It was borne out of different ideas put forth by each of the three Second City alums. Amy Sedaris wanted to create a spoof on those bad after-school specials she had grown up with. Paul had been working on another project and had grown fascinated with government propaganda films from the 1960s, especially anti-drug campaigns. He met Florrie Fischer, who at the time was in her 50s. A recovering junkie and prostitute, she was a “motivational speaker” hired by schools to basically chain smoke and yell at students about her failures and prison time in an attempt to set them straight. Florrie reminded Paul of Amy, and the main character, Jerri Blank, was born. Stephen came up with the concept that every week, Jerri would learn the wrong lesson, solidifying the after school special parody idea.
When it first aired in 1999, Strangers With Candy was given the coveted time slot after South Park. It was the first live-action, scripted comedy series for Comedy Central. Despite being live-action, it was not filmed in front of a studio audience, something the trio had not done much of before. They felt shooting it in the single-camera style of typical after school specials would be a better format for the concept they were going for. The station often tried to get them to hire a head and staff writers, but the three ended up always rewriting everything. Instead, they wrote, acted, and edited each episode.
Paul’s character, Geoffrey Jellineck, is great to watch. He goes through a lot throughout the course of the three seasons of the series—following his dream of being a painter, getting run over and losing his face; being held in a women’s prison; a fake marriage; a homophobic bully; losing his advice column job; and most importantly, his poorly disguised affair with the married Chuck Noblet. However, throughout all of his trials and tribulations, Geoffrey never grows or evolve. He and the other characters on the showremain exactly as they were, unaffected by anything that happens to them over the course of the episode. Instead, just like every after-school special, the episode ends with a lesson (even if it is the wrong one) and is followed up with a cheerful dance party! Of course, the dance party never fails to crack me up and is Paul’s brainchild.
Here are some episodes where they really let Geoffrey Jellineck (and Paul) shine:
- Season 1—Episode 3 (Dreams on the Rocks)
- Season 2—Episode 13 (Yes, You Can’t), Episode 17 (To Love, Honor & Pretend)
- Season 3—Episode 22 (Is Freedom Free?), Episode 27 (Ask Jerri), Episode 29 (Bully)
What’s your favorite Strangers With Candy episode?