When comedian Amy Poehler was in her 20s, she read her boyfriend’s journal and found out that he didn’t think she was pretty.
“It was almost like an itch being scratched, which was, ‘Aha! I knew that you didn’t think I was pretty!’ … And then it was followed by a real crash because … my ego was bruised,” Poehler tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross.
Poehler says it taught her that the earlier you figure out your “currency,” the happier you’ll be. For Poehler, that meant not leaning on her looks to be successful.
“Once I decided that, then it was freeing — not only for my work, because vanity is a tough thing to have in comedy — but I didn’t care as much if people thought I was pretty or not pretty,” she says.
Poehler tells this story and others in her new memoir Yes Please.
Although she’s known for the many characters she has played — including on Saturday Night Live and the NBC comedy Parks and Recreation — she takes off the wigs and the costumes and steps out of character for her new book.
She admits it was difficult for her.
“I’m used to writing in characters and not really writing about myself,” she says. “And it was easier to share the early parts of my life rather than my own current events.”
Poehler talks about fighting the body image “demons,” going back to work when her son was an infant and saying goodbye to Parks and Recreation.
On body image and the “demon voice in her head”
In the book, I write about growing up. The demon voice was around, but it didn’t really live in my room. And then when I started liking boys, it moved into the top bunk and stayed there for a while. I think … you fight against that voice and you have to find a way to live with it, because it will not go away.
You can kind of relegate it to the back shelf near your field hockey equipment and hope that it just stays quiet. But every once in a while it does come out, and it comes out at strange times. It doesn’t matter really about success or being in a magazine — it kind of pokes its head out every once in a while to remind me, “You’re ugly,” or, “You’re not as pretty as this person,” or whatever mean thing it likes to say.
I feel like you have to kind of learn to treat it — or I’ve worked on, for many years, treating it like it’s an annoying relative. And that doesn’t quite make a lot of sense, but that you have to maybe see [it] every Christmas. That’s the best we can hope for — right? — is that we treat ourselves as well as maybe we treat other people; we speak as well in our head about ourselves as we do out loud about other people.
On having a “great face for wigs”
I was told once that I have a great face for wigs, which was almost the title of this book. And I take as a huge compliment because I like that I look different with different hair, and I loved being a sketch performer and trying on these looks and everyone being like, “Ooh, you could be a brunette!” … “You could cut your hair short!” …
I felt emboldened by the fact that playing other people, and being in charge of how I looked and the characters I got to play, helped me [to] escape what was sometimes a disappointing face in my mind’s eye.
On being a “world-class snooper”
It’s not appropriate to look through people’s stuff! … It’s terrible behavior, but I’m also going to say that I can’t help myself most of the time. I always liked to know where I stood. I’m a person that would much rather know what you think about me than live in some blissful state of denial. That being said, it’s not good to read people’s journals. That being said, I will read your journal if you leave it near me. What can I tell you?
On the day before she gave birth to her first son
I was crying because my OB-GYN had just passed away, and he was a lovely man and I was in a real panic and I was so pregnant. And a really, really pregnant woman crying is terrifying. I was sobbing and [Jon Hamm, the SNL host that week] … just kind of came to me and he was like, “I need you to pull it together — this is a big deal for me.” And it made me laugh so hard.
I think going from laughing to crying to laughing to crying — making those quick turns adds years to your life. And it’s what’s really fun about doing comedy — you can be in the saddest place, and somebody can say something and it switches you and makes you laugh. I loved it. He read the room, he read me right, and it was exactly what I needed to hear. It was kind of like a punch line, that your OB-GYN dies the day before you give birth.
On starting Parks and Recreation with an infant at home
I had to go to L.A. and start this show, and my baby was only a few months old and it was a very difficult time. It was harder than I think I wanted to admit at the time. I think I tortured myself a bit in that first year about what kind of mother I was and could I do this thing well and also give birth to this new show. …
There’s not enough … working mothers who kind of talk about who they leaned on and how they got through that difficult time. There’s this thing where nobody likes to talk about how difficult things are. Everybody likes to talk about [how] easy it is or can be if you only do X, Y and Z.
But it’s difficult to be away from your baby and to be working hard and also want to be working — and it’s difficult to be staying at home after you’ve been a person who maybe wasn’t.
On hosting the Golden Globes with Tina Fey
Tina and I are so used to working together; we kind of know who will deliver something better. But sometimes we both want the same joke because we know it’s a good one. So it just kind of figures itself out. We just have to be kind of democratic about it.
On not asking for permission
I’ve learned that it’s not always smart to ask before you do something, just kind of do it. … [At SNL] you got used to figuring out what you should go approach people about.
For example, when [Tina Fey and I] were [hosting] the Golden Globes, there was a bit where I wanted to sit on George Clooney’s lap when my name was being announced in the hopes that if I won, I would kiss him like he was my husband. I knew from my years of working both sides, of being on camera and behind the camera, that it was better to ask George Clooney’s people, “Would you mind if Amy sat next to George when her name was announced?” … and they would ask him or not ask him and they would say “no.” And it’s just too much to be like, “Can she sit on his lap?”
And then I just got to the table and I was like, “Can I sit on your lap?” and he was like, “Sure.” So it’s a little bit easier to just ask in person. … It’s a little harder to say “no” in person. That’s what any door-to-door knife salesman will tell you.
On the final season of Parks and Recreation
It’s bittersweet because I love the people I work with — and to have a job where you get to go in every day and be a character who is like, “Let’s go get ’em! And you’re wonderful and we’re all great and anything can happen!” Just to get to play a person like that is really … a gift.
But I will say that it’s a privilege in television to be able to have a proper goodbye — it doesn’t happen all the time. I’m really pleased we get to write a finale and give an end to these characters. I’m looking forward to doing something else, because I’ve played [public servant Leslie Knope] now for six years and it feels time.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. We know my guest Amy Poehler for the many characters she played on “Saturday Night Live,” including co-anchor of Weekend Update, her starring role on the NBC comedy series “Parks And Recreation” as a dedicated public servant in the Pawnee Parks and Recreation department and co-anchoring the Golden Globes with Tina Fey. Poehler takes off the wigs and the costumes and steps out of character in her new memoir “Yes Please,” although there are several great photos of her in wigs and costumes in the book, and the first page has a photo of her 1977 report card from Meadowbrook School in Burlington, Massachusetts. Poehler is about to start a new era of her life because the seventh and final season of “Parks And Recreation” will be airing next year.
Amy Poehler, welcome back to FRESH AIR, and congratulations on the book. And I’d like you to start with a reading from the book. How about from the very beginning?
AMY POEHLER: OK, thanks, Terry. This is the preface, and it’s called “Writing Is Hard.” (Reading) I like hard work, and I don’t like pretending things are perfect. I’ve learned that about myself. And I don’t have any fear of writing. I’ve been writing my whole life – stories and plays and sketches and scripts and poems and jokes. Most feel alive and fluid, breathing organisms made better by the people who come into contact with them. But this book has nearly killed me because, you see, a book – a book has a cover. They call it a jacket, and that jacket keeps the inside warm so that the words stay permanent and everyone can read your genius thoughts over and over again for years to come. Once a book is published, it can’t be changed, which is a stressful proposition for this improviser who relies on her charm. I’ve been told that I am better in the room and prettier in person. Both of these things are not helpful when writing a book. I’m looking forward to a lively book-on-tape session with the hope that Kathleen Turner agrees to play me when I talk about some of my darker periods. One can dream. It’s clear to me now that I had no business agreeing to write this book. I have a job that keeps me shooting 12 hours a day, plus two children under 6. I’m going through a divorce and producing many projects and falling in love and trying to make appointments for cranial massage. All of these things are equally wonderful and horrible and keep me just off-balance and busy enough to make spending hours alone writing seems like a terrible idea. Plus, I’m 42, which is smack dab in the middle. I haven’t lived a full enough life to look back on, but I’m too old to get by on being pithy and cute. I know enough now to know I know nothing. I’m slugging away every day, just like you. But nonetheless, here we are. I’ve written a book; you have it
GROSS: Thanks for reading that. That’s Amy Poehler, reading from her new memoir, “Yes Please.” So who convinced you to write a book, and are you still talking to them?
POEHLER: (Laughter) I know I used to send emails to my editors with headlines like, why are you doing this to me? This will never work; I will never finish; I hate you guys. I agreed to it because like most things – in many ways, why I wrote – why I titled the book “Yes Please,” I try to say yes to opportunities, so I said yes to one even though I didn’t quite feel ready or prepared. And then I just said yes first and then did the work after.
GROSS: In the book, you have reproductions of an old report card, old photos of you from the ’80s with Melanie Griffith “Working Girl” hair and big shoulder pads. So when you went back to look at your old journals and your old report card and stuff, what did you think of your younger self, rediscovering her?
POEHLER: Well, I could – I saw a daughter of public school teachers. I was a very good student, and I liked school, which was – is something I hope very much for my kids that they like school. I mean, school isn’t perfect, but I liked – I liked the feeling of learning. And I came from a curious family, so I saw a lot of curiosity, a lot of restlessness, but also a sense of just being a good suburban girl in a kind of a sleepy town.
GROSS: Good suburban girl. Well, you also write about how so many of your teenage friends got rip-roaring drunk and you did, too, sometimes and even drove a couple times that way, which you deeply regret. But, you know, you say too many kids in the town were killed in drunk driving accidents.
POEHLER: Yeah, you know, drinking was really big in my town. I, you know – I was in kind of a lower-middle-class town in Burlington, Massachusetts. And we just did a lot of drinking in the woods by, you know – behind the, you know – behind the buildings and in the parks. And it was, like, drugs were around certainly, but no one really had the money for the big, bad ones. And there was just a lot of drinking. And I look back now, and there was always, you know, a teenager or two that would die in an accident. And we would put their names – spell their names out in paper cups on the chain-link fence near our high school, and then everybody kind of went back to business as usual. And I think back now about how devastating that must’ve been for the people in my town and the people who lost brothers and sisters and how it was kind part of the fabric of growing up where I did.
GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Amy Poehler, and she has new memoir called “Yes Please.” You devoted a chapter of your book to the demon voice in your head and a lot of people’s heads that says, I hate how I look. Do you still have that voice?
POEHLER: Yeah, every day. In the book, I write about growing up, the demon voice was around, but it didn’t really live in my room. And then when I started liking boys, it moved into the top bunk and stayed there for a while. And I think as a woman and a man, you fight against that voice and you have to find a way to live with it because it will not go away. It just – you can kind of relegate it to the back shelf, you know, near your field hockey equipment and hope it just stays quiet. But every once in a while, it does come out, and it comes out at strange times.
You know, it doesn’t matter really about success or being in a magazine or, you know – it just kind of pokes its head out every once in a while to remind me that, you know, and, you know, you’re ugly or you don’t, you know – you’re not as pretty as this person or you’re – whatever mean thing it likes to say. And I feel like you have to kind of learn to treat it – or I’ve worked on for many years treating it like it’s just like an annoying relative. And that doesn’t quite make a lot of sense, but that you have to maybe see every Christmas.
POEHLER: Because, I mean, that’s the best we can hope for – right? – is that we, you know – that we treat ourselves as well as maybe we treat other people. We speak as well in our head about ourselves as we do out loud about other people. And that’s, you know, I say in my book I think I’m about 15 percent there, which I feel is pretty good – is pretty good progress.
GROSS: But you also write you consider your face the perfect canvas to be other people.
POEHLER: Yes, I was told once that I had a great face for wigs – which was almost the title of this book – and I take as a huge compliment because I like that I look different with different hair. And I loved being a sketch performer and trying on all these looks and everyone being like, oh, you could be a brunette; oh, no, you could do that; oh, you could cut your hair short, oh, wow. You should definitely do – and that was a fun thing to be told. But it certainly allowed me – or I felt emboldened by the fact that playing other people and being in charge of how I looked and the characters I got to play helped me escape what was sometimes a disappointing face in my mind’s eye.
GROSS: When you – you tell a great story when you were working in improv in Chicago very early in your career. You briefly dated a male model who was in your improv class. And you write this was the first time you dated someone that handsome. But the truth was, he was in your improv class and wasn’t that funny, so you felt weirdly superior. And then you made the mistake of snooping and reading his journal, and you found an entry that said he was proud of himself for dating someone like you in that you were funny but not that pretty, which was kind of cool. And he wasn’t that into you, but he was totally down for the journey. So what effect did it have on you to read his journal, evaluating your looks and not scoring you that high?
POEHLER: (Laughter) Well, it just goes to show that you should never read anyone’s journal. You’re never going to find anything good in there. But I was a world-class snooper – and still am, unfortunately, which is why I need to stay away from the Internet because it’s no good for me.
GROSS: I’m rescinding the dinner invitation to my house.
POEHLER: (Laughter) Yeah, I will rifle through your things, Terry, and I will find out about you. But it was two-fold – it was like a strange relief because it was almost like an itch being scratched, which was, aha, I knew that you didn’t think I was pretty. You know, just some weird kind of thing. And then it was followed by a real, like, crash because just – you know, just my ego was bruised. And – but what it taught me or what I took out of it, or hoped that I took out of it, was this idea that figuring out your currency is important and the earlier you do, the happier you are. And I learned, or decided early on, that my looks were not going to be what I leaned on. And once I decided that, then it was like – it was a little freeing, not only for my work because vanity is a tough thing to have in comedy, but also just I didn’t care as much about if people thought I was pretty or not pretty. And it freed me up a little bit. But, you know, it’s that was a lesson in be careful what you – you know, what you’re looking for because you may find it.
GROSS: So, Amy Poehler, why do you think it’s OK to read other people’s journals and snoop through their stuff?
POEHLER: I don’t. I don’t think it’s…
GROSS: That’s appalling behavior.
POEHLER: I know, it’s terrible. It’s not – it’s not appropriate to look through people’s stuff. Terry, I will not – I will agree with you that it’s terrible behavior. But I’m also going to say that I can’t help myself most of the time. I always liked to know where I stood. I’m a person that would much rather know what you think about me than live in some blissful state of denial. That being said, it’s not good to read people’s journals; that being said, I will read your journal if you leave it near me.
POEHLER: So what can I tell you?
GROSS: This reminds me when I interviewed John le Carre. He was talking about – you know, he used to be a spy and then became a writer of spy fiction. And he said, you know, writers are spies, and they will go through your medicine cabinet and see what’s in there.
POEHLER: Yeah. I mean, I used to – when I would think of characters for “SNL,” I used to sit on the subway and just sit next to people and write down what they were saying and eavesdrop constantly and try to get some small little specifics that would, you know, help me change something from a caricature to an actual character. And I was always – always observing and listening and stealing.
GROSS: Can you think of an example in a sketch where a line that you came up with was something that you overheard and had written down and therefore remembered?
POEHLER: Well, I used to do this kind of hyperactive, energetic girl on “SNL” called Kaitlin, who was kind of a latchkey kid. And the scene was an homage to “Judy Miller Show” that Gilda used to do. And me and Emily, a writer at “SNL,” would write that. And I would go and listen to young girls tell stories, like, at parks and stuff. And they always do that thing where they’re, like – and one time, and one time – like, they always say, one time. And like, one time I did this and, like, one time – and I loved that – that, you know, they spoke as if they had a lifetime of experiences and they were like 9. And so that kind of stuff maybe I would glean from real people.
GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Amy Poehler. She has a new memoir called “Yes Please.” Let’s take a short break, then we’ll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you’re just joining us my guest is Amy Poehler the star of “Parks And Recreation,” alumni of “Saturday Night Live” and now the author of the new memoir “Yes Please.” You write that, you know, your parents were working-class and they never really had enough money, paying the mortgage was always a challenge. Did money bother you when you assumed as a young comic that it would take a long time, maybe never, for you to have real money?
POEHLER: Well, I have a pretty healthy relationship with money in that I don’t – I never worried about having it. What I mean is I didn’t obsess about making it, and I was used to not having it. So I was comfortable watching my peers get married, buy houses, buy cars. And me just keep working and not having health insurance and waiting tables and just kind of not feeling financially secure. I also had worked from a very young age so I was used to hard work. And I always felt like I could take care of myself and I kind of think my parents instilled both those things in me, but certainly money and the worry of where it was coming from for my parents was kind of the soundtrack that I grew up with. And everyone in my town – there was, you know, everybody knew how much money everybody made. You know, everybody knew everybody would talk about money very openly it was, like, very anti-WASP, you know. It was, like, how much did you pay for that? And, like, how much are you getting for that? How much did you get off? And, you know, how much was your raise? It was just always – money was like an open subject and then also, like, everybody’s biggest worry. And so I remember very distinctly when I paid off my student loans with the help of my parents when I was like 20 – I was probably, like, 25 – and just feeling like this huge relief that was gone. But it was, you know, I never had this giant influx of money. Everything just kind of happened at a slow pace thanks goodness or else, you know, who knows what would’ve happened?
GROSS: You know, I thought it was really interesting that early on in your days in New York when you were still working in improv, one of the ways you’d make ends meet was doing bit parts on the Conan O’Brien show on “Late Night.” And if you did – what? – was it more than six lines, you’d get $600?
POEHLER: Yeah, it was called over six and under six. So this was in the mid-’90s – I moved to New York in ’96 – so let’s say ’96, ’97 – you know, it was the SAG basic rate – union rate – that if you said more than six lines, you got something like 600 bucks. And if you said under six, you got 300 or something. And so we’d always be, like, fighting to make sure we said more than like – after that fifth line, we were really chomping at the bit to make sure we set a sixth one. And Conan, you know, at the time, Conan was doing all these bits and using all – myself and all these people who are a part of the Upright Citizens Brigade, the theater group that we started in Chicago and moved to New York. We were all kind of paying our rent because of Conan’s show. And we’d do, you know, I’d do, like, a staring contest bit and then I’d play Andy’s little sister and I’d, you know, make 800 bucks after, you know, taxes and be set for the month.
GROSS: Tina Fey got on “Saturday Night Live” before you did. And you say that she helped you get on. You were there at what seemed like it was a really good time for you and for women in general. During part of the time you were there, Tina Fey was the head writer. When she left, Seth Meyers became the head writer, and I don’t think he’s going to win any contest for the most misogynist man in the world(laughter).
POEHLER: No, oh, God, he’s a mush. He’s a…
GROSS: Right, no, he seems like such a – such a swell person.
POEHLER: He’s the best.
GROSS: And there were other really strong women in the cast, so did you think of it as, like, a really good time to be a woman on “Saturday Night Live”?
POEHLER: Yes, I was aware that I had dropped in at a really special time. I mean, the women were so powerful and talented and in control of the show in many ways. And, you know, Molly Shannon and Anna Gasteyer and Cheri Oteri were kind of on their way out and Maya Rudolph and Rachael Dratch and Kristen Wiig, Tina and everybody was – the talent was really intense. And I knew – you know, I think Lorne Michaels has done more for women in comedy than anyone I know. So I knew that Lorne was a supporter and lover of women in comedy, but I also knew that that show had gone through different captains with different experiences, and everybody had very subjective experiences when they were there. So I did not take for granted that I was there during a good time. But I happened to start “SNL” at a time when, you know, people were saying that comedy was dead. And that wasn’t so fun. It was – my first show was two weeks after September 11, and, you know, it was that time when people were saying, like, will we ever laugh again? And I remember thinking well, could we try to – can we try to laugh for like a year and see how we feel?
GROSS: Amy Poehler’s new memoir is called “Yes Please.” She’ll be back in the second half of the show, when we’ll talk about “Parks And Recreation,” which concludes next year. Here’s a “Parks And Rec” scene that we love because it name-checks two FRESH AIR contributors. Amy Poehler’s character Leslie Knope is a guest on a local public radio show. The host is played by Dan Castellaneta. I’m Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “PARKS AND RECREATION”)
DAN CASTELLANETA: (As Derry Murbles) My guest today is city Councilwoman Leslie Knope.
POEHLER: (As Leslie Knope) It is a pleasure to be back, Derry. Your show last week on dolphin lactation was just riveting radio. Derry, my team and I are trying to build a park…
CASTELLANETA: (As Derry Murbles) Oh.
POEHLER: (As Leslie Knope) …And we need input on the design from you, the citizens of Pawnee, so I guess I’m here to send out the bat signal.
CASTELLANETA: (As Derry Murbles)A bat signal for listeners who might not know, refers to the children’s character the Batman, a strong gentleman who fights crime nocturnally.
POEHLER: (As Leslie Knope) That’s correct, well put. This park is going to be a celebration of Pawnee, by Pawnee and for Pawnee. So, you know, send in your plan or your resume and quick. Please hurry. This is all going to fall apart if you don’t hurry.
CASTELLANETA: (As Derry Murbles) Coming up after the break, movie reviews with Ken Tucker, who is filling in for David Bianculli, who is in New York filling in for Ken Tucker. Leslie, would you like to introduce the next segment?
POEHLER: OK, now it’s time for jazz plus jazz equals jazz. Today, we have a recording of Benny Goodman, played over a separate recording of Miles Davis.
(SOUNDBITE OF JAZZ MUSIC)
CASTELLANETA: (As Derry Murbles) Research shows that our listeners love jazz.
(SOUNDBITE OF JAZZ MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross, back with Amy Poehler. She has a new memoir called “Yes Please.” Poehler stars on the NBC comedy series “Parks And Recreation,” which will have its seventh and final season next year. She was a cast member of “Saturday Night Live,” where she co-anchored Weekend Update, first with Tina Fey, then with Seth Meyers. For the past two years, she co-hosted the Golden Globes with Tina Fey. Here they are at the opening of the 2013 ceremony. Poehler speaks first.
(SOUNDBITE OF GOLDEN GLOBES)
POEHLER: It was a great year for film – women in film – Kathryn Bigelow nominated tonight.
POEHLER: I haven’t really been following the controversy over “Zero Dark Thirty,” but when it comes to torture, I trust the lady who spent three years married to James Cameron.
TINA FEY: Of course, we want to thank our hosts tonight, the HFPA for having us. Amy, tell the people a little bit about the HFPA.
POEHLER: Yeah, Tina, well, when left untreated, HFPA can lead to cervical cancer, however there is a vaccination…
FEY: Oh, no, Amy, that’s HPV.
POEHLER: Oh, I’m sorry, of course. The HFPA is the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. And when left untreated, it can…
FEY: No, she’s kidding. There is no known cure for the Hollywood Foreign Press.
GROSS: My guest Amy Poehler and Tina Fey at the 2013 Golden Globes when they were hosting. That’s hysterical, and you got such big laughs, my gosh. So how do you and Tina Fey work out who gets which lines in a setting like that?
POEHLER: Well, that joke, for example, was written by Alex Baze, a writer of “SNL” and now of Seth Meyers’s show – head writer. And we all write jokes together. We treat it like Update, and then we kind of divide – and it’s funny, you know, Tina and I are so used to working together, we kind of know who will deliver something better. But sometimes we both want the same joke ’cause we know it’s a good one. And so it just kind of figures itself out. We just have to kind of be democratic about it.
GROSS: When you left “Saturday Night Live” you were – well, you were going into labor. And that was your last edition because after that, you were going to start the new show “Parks And Recreation.” And you write about, in your memoir, that the day before you went into labor, your obstetrician died of a heart attack, and you just kind of panicked, like who was going to deliver your baby? This doctor who’d gotten to know you wasn’t going to be there. You were rehearsing the next edition of “Saturday Night Live” with Jon Hamm hosting and you say he grabbed you by the shoulders ’cause you were just kind of panicking. And he said, this is a very important show for me, and I need you to pull yourself together. Was he being funny or serious?
POEHLER: Oh, he was being funny. I was crying because my OB-GYN had just passed away, and he was a lovely man. And I was in a real panic, and I was so pregnant – and a really, really pregnant woman crying is terrifying. So I was, like, sobbing and he – I just was getting to know Jon. And we’re now very good friends, but at the time I didn’t known him that well. And he just kind of came to me, and he was like, I need you to pull it together. This is a big deal for me. And it made me laugh so hard that I – I think going from laughing to crying, to laughing to crying – making those quick, you know, turns adds years to your life. And it’s what’s really fun about doing comedy, is you can just be in the saddest place, and somebody can say something and just – it switches you and makes you laugh. And so I loved it. I mean I, you know – he read the room. He read me right, and it was exactly what I needed to hear. And, you know, and it was kind of like a punch line that your OB-GYN dies the day before you give birth.
And I remember going to shooting this whole “Mad Men” parody and then rehearsing all day, and then going in the afternoon to the new doctor, a wonderful man who took over this doctor’s patients. And, you know, he was grieving ’cause he had lost his partner and he kind of checked me and he was like, well, nothing’s dilated. You’re looking good. And I was like, OK, well, I have a show tomorrow, and then I’m hoping to deliver the baby on Sunday and, you know, then I’ll have the week. You know, just like that ridiculous thing where you think you’re in control of birth and death. And then I sat on the main stage at “SNL” and watched my cast mates doing all these really funny bits where they were pretending they were at their own funerals. And I was just laughing and just completely, blissfully in the moment. And then I went home and turned on “Law And Order” and was lying next to my then husband, Will, and the sound of the bump, bump came on TV and my water broke. And I was like, oh, no, but I have a show tonight. And so that’s – that’s when my oldest, Archie, was born on Saturday.
GROSS: So you were in the hospital watching sketches that you’d rehearsed but you couldn’t be in because you were in labor.
GROSS: So what was that feeling like?
POEHLER: It was wild. It was like being in the past and the present and the future, all at the same time. I mean, it was such an out-of-body experience – giving birth and then holding my son and then watching on TV, you know, people saying, we love you, Amy. Like, you know, get that baby out, and I was just – it was amazing. It was beautiful, and I was so lucky to be able to do all of that stuff while I was pregnant. It was so fun.
GROSS: Your mother had warned you that postpartum depression runs in the family. And you did have some problems with that. That is what I deduced from the book, but you were also starting a new series at the same time. Was that hard to do at the same time, to have to deal with a bit of postpartum depression and be pumped up for a new show?
POEHLER: It was. I mean, I look back now and realize that I was unprepared for what my emotions and body and energy level would, you know, consist of. And I had to go to LA and start this show, and, you know, my baby was only a few months old. And it was a very difficult time. It was harder than I think I wanted to admit at the time. And, yeah, I think I tortured myself a bit in that first year about what kind of mother I was. And could I do this thing well and also kind of like give birth to this new show? It was difficult.
And I try to write about a little bit in my book, that there’s not enough, in my opinion, not enough working mothers who kind of talk about who they leaned on and how they got through that difficult time. There’s this thing where, you know, nobody likes to talk about how difficult things are. Everybody likes to talk about how easy it is, or can be, if you only do X, Y and Z. But it’s difficult to be away from your baby and to be working hard and also want to be working. And it’s difficult to be staying at home after you’ve been a person who maybe wasn’t. And so I write about it a little bit in the book when I talk about working mothers and the pressures that come with it.
GROSS: Who did you lean on during that period?
POEHLER: Professionally, I leaned on the creator of “Parks And Rec,” Mike Schur, and the writers, in, like, hopes that they would create a part in a show that would be sustainable. So I kind of, like – I trusted the creative people I was working with. And I also surrounded myself, on “Parks And Rec,” with the best cast.
You know, there’s this kind of adage when you improvise, which is you always want to play with the best people because they make you look better. And that certainly is the case of all the people on “Parks And Rec.” So I surrounded myself with talented people, and I kind of counted on them to keep the ship afloat. And then in my personal life, you know, I had wonderful women – nannies, who helped me take care of my children when I wasn’t there, who, you know, stood in my kitchen and helped me raise my children. And, you know, it was just, like, kind of a constant feeling of never doing anything right and just trying your best and hardest every day. And I realize that I am a person of privilege who had opportunities that most people don’t. So it was kind of a combination of just not beating up on myself so badly, but, you know, it was hard.
GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Amy Poehler. She has a new memoir called “Yes Please.” Amy, let’s take a short break, then we’ll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If you’re just joining us my guest is Amy Poehler. And she’s the star of “Parks And Recreation,” which will soon be starting its seventh and final season, and of course she’s an alumna of “Saturday Night Live.” Now she has new memoir, which is called “Yes Please.”
Let’s hear a clip from “Parks And Recreation.” And this is a kind of a famous episode because you meet Joe Biden in it – the real Joe Biden is in it. And you’ve always had this kind of had celebrity crush on him – your character has. And your character has often said that your ideal man has the brains of George Clooney and the body of Joe Biden. And so in this episode from season five your fiance, Ben Wyatt who’s played by Adam Scott, calls in a favor in Washington and surprises you with a special engagement present, which is a chance to meet the vice president. And in this scene we’re not going to be able to see this part, but in this scene you hold Biden’s hand, you touch his face and at one point you even try to move in for a kiss. And at the end of the scene you speak kind of sharply to his Secret Service agent. So, but let’s start where you and Ben walk into the large room and you are surprised to see Joe Biden there talking to his aides.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “PARKS AND RECREATION”)
POEHLER: (As Leslie Knope) How did you do this?
ADAM SCOTT: (As Ben Wyatt) I called in a few favors.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (As character) Excuse me.
SCOTT: (As Ben Wyatt) A few 100 favors. Mr. Vice President, Ben Wyatt from Congressman Murray’s office.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: (As himself) Hey, Ben, they told me you were going to be coming by. And you must be Leslie Knope, welcome.
POEHLER: (As Leslie Knope, laughing) Your – my name just came out of your mouth.
BIDEN: (As himself) Well, yeah it did.
POEHLER: (As Leslie Knope) Well, this isn’t happening. This isn’t real.
BIDEN: (As himself) No, it’s happening. I’m delighted to have you here. On behalf of the president, myself, I wanted to…
POEHLER: (As Leslie Knope) Oh, Mr. Vice President, I’m deeply flattered, but there’s no way that I could take over Madam Secretary Clinton’s position.
BIDEN: (As himself) I’m confident you could do that job or any other, but the reason…
POEHLER: (As Leslie Knope) OK, I will.
BIDEN: (As himself) Well, the reason you’re here is I’m told you’ve got done such a great job in your town and the state of Indiana. And I just want to say congratulations for your public service.
POEHLER: (As Leslie Knope) I just want to say thank you.
BIDEN: (As himself) Well, you’re very welcome, you’re very welcome, you’re very welcome.
POEHLER: (Leslie Knope) You’re very handsome.
SCOTT: (As Ben Wyatt) I think we’re all done.
BIDEN: (As himself) Well, you’re very nice, but thank you.
POEHLER: (As Leslie Knope) Thank you.
BIDEN: (As himself) Thank you very much.
POEHLER: (As Leslie Knope) Thank you very much. We’ll see you tomorrow.
BIDEN: (As himself) You will?
SCOTT: (As Ben Wyatt) Thank you, Mr. Vice President.
BIDEN: (As himself) You’re welcome.
POEHLER: (As Leslie Knope) You don’t let anything happen to him, you understand me? He is precious cargo.
GROSS: That’s you speaking to the Secret Service agent at the end. So did you rehearse with Biden before this? How did you get him to do it?
POEHLER: You know, just hearing that again Vice President Biden is so great. I mean, he’s really funny in that scene. I don’t know if you can tell, but he’s kind of, like, being nice, but also slowly pushing me away from him. That was an example of, you know, I think we probably had a half hour to shoot that. And we sent them the idea and then when we got there we just kind of improvised. I think I was improvising most of that stuff and sometimes when you have a short amount of time the energy can be helpful for a scene instead of thinking it over. So I think him and his people, you know, we met briefly and we talked. And then we kind of shot it and then he left to do more important things. But it was really fun and he was very game, you know? He was – he would be – that would be, like, a good improv partner because he was playing the reality of the scene and not breaking character and, you know, just letting me be crazy around him. It was a lot of fun.
GROSS: I’m surprised to hear that you improved some of that scene only because I would think that the White House would want such control over what happens.
POEHLER: Yes. We sent them the scene and then I just improvised. And I improvised, like, my name came out of your mouth and you’re very handsome, you know. And I leaned in for a kiss (laughter) because, you know, you got to go for it. But I think, you know, I’ve learned that it’s not always smart to ask before you do something, just kind of do it.
GROSS: Did you learn that on “Saturday Night Live”?
POEHLER: I did, yeah. You kind of got used to figuring out what you should go approach people about. You know, for example, when we were doing the Golden Globes, there was a bit where I wanted to sit on George Clooney’s lap when my name was being announced in the hopes that if I won I would kiss him like he was my husband. And I knew from my years of working both sides of being on camera and behind the camera that it was better to ask George Clooney’s people, would you mind if Amy sat next to George when her name was announced? And of course they would say no. And they would ask him or not ask him and they would say no. And it’s just too much to be like, can she sit on his lap? And then I just got to the table and I was like, can I sit on your lap? And he was like, sure. (Laugher) So it’s a little bit easier to just ask in person.
GROSS: And a little harder to say no in person?
POEHLER: Yeah. It’s a little harder to say no in person. That’s what any knife salesman will tell you – any door-to-door knife salesman will tell you that.
GROSS: So let’s hear one more scene from “Parks And Recreation.” And this is from season six episode nine. So this is from the most recent season. This is after a contentious time in the Pawnee City Council. You’ve been recalled. And it’s a difficult time for your character especially because she’s being replaced by an old, rich friend from her rival city of Eagleton, a more affluent town. And so here’s your character Leslie Knope showing this – showing the city Council chambers to her replacement, who’s played by Kristen Bell. And she starts – well, you start by talking to the camera about how hard this is for you.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “PARKS AND RECREATION”)
POEHLER: (As Leslie Knope) My old friend Ingrid de Forest won the recall vote and she’s taking my place on Monday morning. But, you know, luckily for me I’ve processed all my feelings and I’ve gone through the five stages of grief – denial, anger, Internet commenting, cat adoption, African dance, cat returning to the adoption place, watching all the episodes of “Murphy Brown” and not giving a flying fart. How many stages is that? I don’t know the point is I’m fine now.
You should know about the other councilmen. Councilman Howser is reasonable. Councilman Milton is a 106-year-old racist, but if you give him a sleeve of saltines, he’ll be putty in your hands. Councilman Jamm is a corrupt dentist with terrible hair and watch your back around Councilman Dexhart.
KRISTIN BELL: (As Ingrid de Forest) Why? Is he very sneaky?
POEHLER: (As Leslie Knope) No, I mean, literally he takes pictures of women’s lower backs and puts them on Twitter. He’s a perv.
BELL: (As Ingrid de Forest) This must be hard for you. It’s like what Sir Ian McKellen said to me the day I sold my boat to Karl Lagerfeld, parting is such sweet sorrow.
POEHLER: (As Leslie Knope) Oh, my God, what is your life?
BELL: (As Ingrid de Forest) It makes any difference your work here was a real inspiration to me. And I am going to do my best to continue your legacy.
POEHLER: (As Leslie Knope) Well, I appreciate the sentiment.
BELL: (As Ingrid de Forest) Leslie?
POEHLER: (As Leslie Knope) I’m sorry. Was I singing “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” out loud?
BELL: (As Ingrid de Forest) No, would you like to? I studied opera at the Sorbonne. I’d be happy to harmonize.
POEHLER AND BELL: (As Leslie Knope and Ingrid de Forest, singing) Goodbye, goodbye. No.
POEHLER: Great, Kristen Bell.
GROSS: That was a really fun scene. Did this remind you of when you went to college because you write in your book that when you went to Boston College everybody was wealthier than you were. At least that was your impression and you weren’t prepared for that?
POEHLER: Yeah. I remember going to my dorm room and being like what is this? Tapestries on the wall? Mini fridges? Neon signs in the window? Who bought these things? And, you know, I would be like where did you get those clothes? And what do you mean a summer house? I remember my college roommate I saw, you know, back then you’ve got a piece of paper in the mail that said this is your college roommate and she’s from this town. And it was Illinois – a small-town in Illinois, and I thought, oh, she lives on a farm. You know, we’ve got a girl from Illinois. And then I called her and I heard classical music in the background and I said are you listening to the radio? And she was like no that’s my doorbell. And I was like, oh, man.
POEHLER: And it was, yeah – it was an awakening for me because everybody in my town kind of made the same money. And then suddenly I was with a lot of prep school kids and kids who had lived away from home and it was – and I felt very provincial, very Boston. And I had to adjust.
GROSS: So how do you feel about this upcoming season being the final season for “Parks And Rec”?
POEHLER: You know, it’s bittersweet because I love the people I work with. And to have a job where you get to go in every day and be a character who’s like let’s go get them and you’re wonderful and we’re all great and anything can happen and change. Just to get to play a person like that is a gift, but I will say that it’s a privilege in television to be able to have a proper goodbye. It doesn’t happen all the time. So I’m really pleased that we get to write a finale and kind of give an end to these characters. And I’m looking forward to doing something else because I’ve played her now for six years and, you know, it feels time.
GROSS: Amy Poehler, thank you so much for talking with us.
POEHLER: Oh, my pleasure, Terry. I love you and your show. Thank you for having me.
GROSS: And good luck with the final season of “Parks And Recreation.”
POEHLER: Thank you so very much. Have a great day and thanks again.
GROSS: Amy Poehler’s new memoir is called “Yes Please.” Coming up, rock historian Ed Ward profiles Arthur Conley who was a protege of Otis Redding. This is FRESH AIR.