I was watching something on Hulu the other day when –Bam!- there was Amy Sedaris, in a commercial for Downy detergent, and my heart shrunk three sizes. I’m a big fan of Amy Sedaris—I think she’s a great entertainer and she appears to have an extremely interesting and quirky way of looking at life. I love her books (I Like You, about cooking and entertaining, and Simple Times, the crafting book) I also love her brother David and all of his books. Before this commercial, the Sedarises (Sedarii?) could do no wrong in my eyes. But suddenly and irrevocably, that changed in the 30 seconds it took Amy to describe how great some new Downy detergent product was.
Granted, I understand that money is money. It feels a little unfair for me to judge Amy Sedaris for being in commercials when I don’t really know anything about why she decided to do them. Possibly her second book isn’t doing so well. Maybe other offers have dried up. Perhaps she’s just doing what she’s gotta do to keep her rabbits in alfalfa?
But googling this commercial led me to a couple of shocking discoveries. Not only had Amy Sedaris done this commercial (which everyone else writing about it called ‘kooky’ and ‘hilarious’ rather than ‘demoralizing’ and ‘a depressing reminder that everyone has a price’) but she had also done commercials for Target and another company.
Not only that, so had comedian Maria Bamford! This felt like the last straw. I’m not saying that if Tide offered me a million bucks, I wouldn’t roll over and sell out with the best of them. Hell yeah, I use Tide. I love Tide! Now pay me! But the thing is, me personally—I happen to be hard up for cash. Amy Sedaris and Maria Bamford are both relatively successful comedians. Maybe they’re not millionaires, but it’s also unlikely that these commercials are the big breaks they’ve been dreaming of. After all, if an enormous, nationally recognized brand wants you for their commercial, aren’t you automatically going to be a big enough star that you probably aren’t desperate for the money?
So, is it really selling out to do commercials like these? All things considered, is it really as disreputable as I’m painting it out to be? I suppose ultimately that’s up to the viewers. The people watching these commercials will likely end up drawing their own conclusions. In my opinion, it’s a hugely disappointing travesty. But many others may say, ‘Hell yes! Go for it! Go where the money is, and godspeed you adorable quirky women! Now, off to the store to buy whatever you’re shilling.’
This also bothers me—the fact that it is apparently no longer considered embarrassing to do commercials like these. Celebrities appear to have a free pass today. They can shill for whatever brands and corporations they please, as long as the commercials they do appear in cast them in a humorous, self-effacing light. It used to be that actors and actresses were somewhat ashamed to be in commercials for products, so they’d go overseas where there would be less press for appearing in ads. But now, nobody cares. Michael Ian Black is hawking eBay. Mike Rowe plugs Toyota. There’s no longer any shame in advertising such things. I’m just apparently feeling shame for them, and that’s just sad.
What am I going to do? Refuse to buy Downy Unstopables (sic) because they put Amy Sedaris in a commercial? I LIKE that they wanted to use her for advertising because they realized how awesome she was. I like that the money is going to her rather than some talking head. And yet—I hate it! I hate that Sedaris named her price and Downy paid it. It’s a strange paradox.
It comes down to this: Amy Sedaris has spent years crafting and promoting her public image through skits, standup comedy, books, and television shows. Her unique persona is arguably the most important thing she has. It’s what makes her stand out from the masses of people in the world and in advertising who are not Amy Sedaris. And Downy saw this, and cleverly co-opted it. During a 30-second commercial, Amy Sedaris associated this public image she has built with a huge corporate detergent brand. No matter what, I along with many other fans, will likely always make this connection from now on—this may help Downy, but it doesn’t help Amy. I guess what I’m saying is, whatever they paid her, it was not enough.