Amy Poehler’s attendance at this month’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner was no coincidence. The “Saturday Night Live” alumna who attracted attention last year for playing a defeated Hillary Rodham Clinton now has her own NBC sitcom. In “Parks and Recreation,” Poehler plays Leslie Knope, a deputy director in the Pawnee, Ind., local government who is determined to turn a neighborhood construction pit into a park. Knope lives in the shadow of her mother — whom she describes as a “mucky-muck” in the county school system — has a lustful relationship with the city planner, and keeps her eyes on higher political office.
In an interview conducted via e-mail, Poehler talks about showering with John McCain, her one stint in elected office, and a desire to play “the sassy ghost of Eleanor Roosevelt.”
Leslie Knope, the character you play in “Parks and Recreation,” seems to draw inspiration from several different political figures. There’s a photo of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in her office, and she also credited Karl Rove for a workplace strategy she once employed. Who are you looking at when figuring out how to play her?
Leslie is inspired by lots of people. Old presidents, young entrepreneurs, middle-aged soccer moms and the occasional Starbucks cup.
Do you think Knope has what it takes to rise to the level of Pelosi?
I don’t know. Right now Leslie would like to rise to a level where she doesn’t have to pay for her own business cards.
Knope apologized to Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Tammy Baldwin(D-Wis.) and Melissa Bean (D-Ill.) in a recent episode for accepting a $25 gift basket. Have you met Bachmann, Baldwin or Bean?
I have not. But every summer I order a new canvas tote bag from the Bachmann, Baldwin and Bean catalog.
Is Knope a Republican or a Democrat? She works for a man who favors small government and full gun rights.
She’s a “Republicparkacrat.”
Before Knope, you played a spurned Hillary Rodham Clinton in the wake of her loss to Barack Obama in last year’s Democratic primary. What did you learn from that role?
Our audience was closely following the race in a way I had never seen before. Everyone was paying attention.
What kind of feedback did you get from your Hillary impersonations? She has some rabid fans.
Hmm … interesting use of the word “rabid.” Not to act like your shrink, Kristofer, but methinks you might have been bitten by a dog as a child.
What other female politicians would you like to play or impersonate?
The sassy ghost of Eleanor Roosevelt.
Do you think there’s anything off-limits or any sensitivities in playing female politicians?
Funny is funny. The audience will let you know when you’ve gone too far.
What are the challenges in making government funny? I’ve heard life inside a government agency can be pretty mundane and bureaucratic.
Sometimes it’s funny to watch an ant try to move a rubber tree plant.
What’s the extent of your own interest in politics?
It’s a constant balance of paying attention, asking questions and putting my money where my mouth is.
Do you have any funny real-life stories about any of your own experiences with government or politics?
I took a shower with John McCain on TV. [McCain played the “creepy husband” of a Poehler character in a 2002 “SNL” skit.
Have you ever run for elected office? Fifth-grade class president?
I was the class secretary of our high school. I think the most official thing I did was decide where to order pizza. There was a deep-dish/thin crust debate that got pretty heavy.
Would you ever run for office now or in the future? Look at Al Franken, a fellow alumnus of “Saturday Night Live.” He’s a hair away from becoming the newest senator from Minnesota.
I would not. The lighting is too bad.
What would your top issues be as a political figure?
Free healthcare for gay married couples who grow their own medical marijuana.
Some people are saying Washington is the new Hollywood. To wit, Rosie O’Donnell was in the Capitol, Jennifer Garner was there, Jessica Alba was there, and an onslaught of stars hit the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. But we haven’t seen you. Any plans to give Bono a run for his money as the top celebrity-cum-Washington lobbyist?
I prefer to worship Bono rather than compete with him.
You used to anchor “SNL’s” Weekend Update with Tina Fey and then with Seth Meyers. How would you guys choose the stories you’d parody? Are you a news junkie?
Stories are chosen from reading a lot of newspapers and television and Internet sites and deciding if we have a good joke or different take on them. I wouldn’t call myself a news “junkie,” but I can certainly party down with the best of them.
Is it my eyes, or has your hair gotten blonder over the years?
I’m sorry, Kristofer, I can’t answer because I’m too distracted by the missing “Ch” in your name. Someone stole it! Call the police!
Thoughts on President Obama or first lady Michelle Obama?
Superman and Wonder Woman.
Recommendations to the GOP as it digs out from an identity crisis and intra-party fighting?
A sassy new hairstyle makes anyone feel like a million bucks.
Finally, if Leslie Knope were president, what would be the outlook for the future of the U.S.?
Cloudy with a chance of genius.