The comedy icon and Parks and Recreation star talks about the show’s new season and what she misses most about New York City.
Mention that you’re interviewing Amy Poehler to just about anyone, and the response will be something along these lines: “OMG, I love her! I want her to be my BFF!” And it’s easy to see why: In all of the work she’s done—whether it’s inhabiting quirky characters on Saturday Night Live or at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, playing the überoptimistic, staunchly feminist Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation, hosting the Golden Globes with best bud Tina Fey, or doling out advice to young (and, let’s be honest, adult) women in her Ask Amy Web series—Poehler is hilarious, genuine and all about having fun in the moment, whatever that moment may be. Read on for our chat with the comedian, in which she discusses feminism, her thoughts on NYC’s comedy scene, and the upcoming season of Parks and Rec. (And yes, we kind of want to be her BFF now, too.)
Time Out New York: So first things first: Can you tell us anything about the next season of Parks and Recreation?
Amy Poehler: I don’t know anything! The writers are back now; [show runner and cocreator] Mike Schur and I have been talking about ideas for next year. If things fall into place, there are some big changes happening, but nothing is cemented yet.
Time Out New York: The end of last season was crazy—Nick Offerman’s character, Ron Swanson, is having a baby?!?
Amy Poehler: Ron’s going to have a baby, that’s for sure, and Leslie had her first real villain, played by the wonderful Jon Glaser. She was kinda disillusioned by her first year in [City Council] office. And April might leave the government. There’s a lot of stuff happening, which is exciting.
Time Out New York: That’s one of the best things about the show. The characters aren’t stagnant, but their growth feels natural.
Amy Poehler: Totally. We always talk about how if the show continued, Andy would be mayor of the town. His growth, and April’s growth, is so awesome. They’ve come a long way. I like that the writers are always leading the charge to push things.
Time Out New York: Last season, Leslie brought up the idea of starting a family with her husband, Ben. Since she is so driven and so career-oriented, how do you think she would handle the work-life balance of being a mom?
Amy Poehler: She would probably have a hard time. Balance—I wouldn’t say that’s a word that necessarily describes her well. I think she would go in guns a-blazing and kind of… She’d be a little all over the place, I have to say.
Time Out New York: Thinking about the type of mom Leslie Knope would be is kind of hard because she’s so, well, Leslie Knope.
Amy Poehler: She would be alternately incredibly nurturing and at the same time single-minded and pushy. [Laughs]
Time Out New York: Parks has such a great cast. What other shows do you guys look to for inspiration?
Amy Poehler: We always joke that Parks is like the comedy Wire. [Laughs] If The Wire was a comedy and it was a small town. I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it again: I think our cast is the best on TV in comedy or drama. If you put our cast in any other show—Game of Thrones, Mad Men—we’d all be able to deliver. Singing, dancing, drama, sex, documentary—all of it.
Time Out New York: You guys can do it all.
Amy Poehler: Without a doubt, with our eyes closed.
Time Out New York: So if the cast of Parks and Rec were dropped into Game of Thrones, who would be whom?
Amy Poehler: Well, come on, I would be Khaleesi [Daenerys Targaryen], of course. Ben would probably be Jon Snow, because he’s so tormented. Ron would be Stannis Baratheon.
Time Out New York: And Tammy 2 would be his Melisandre.
Amy Poehler: Yes! And Tom would be… Uh oh, I hate to break it to Aziz [Ansari], but Tom would be, like, Theon Greyjoy, which is not good right now. Ann would be Sansa, April would be Arya, and Andy would be one of the dragons. [Laughs]
Time Out New York: You and the other founders of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre are now based in L.A. What legacy do you think the group left in NYC?
Amy Poehler: I still consider New York my home, and I’m here about five months out of the year. When I’m back, I’m always at [long-running improv show] ASSSSCAT and the theater. The community has grown so much that our theaters in New York and L.A. have lives of their own. But New York continues to be, in my opinion, the place where the really raw and fresh talent comes from. It’s hard to live here, so the people that come [to New York] really have a certain pluck. What’s cool is that I keep getting older, but the audiences stay the same age.
Time Out New York: You’ve been part of the scenes in Chicago, New York and L.A. How are they different?
Amy Poehler: I don’t love to compare. I just think they’re different and the same, you know? Hopefully there’s a continuity in the overall vibe of the people who perform at UCB and take classes. I’d like to think that everyone feels confident that if they go to see a show in New York or L.A., they’re going to enjoy themselves. But the shows are so different, and the performers are so different, so it’s hard to make blanket statements about them.
Time Out New York: What do you miss most about New York?
Amy Poehler: I miss everything about it when I’m not here. I miss just walking around—the feeling of being able to create your day on the move. The flexibility of New York—the ability to get ten things done in one block. And I miss the frankness and the directness of how people communicate here. “Let me get this, move over, I can’t talk right now, get out of my way.” [Laughs]
Time Out New York: And what do you miss about performing here?
Amy Poehler: It’s where I started performing, so it always feels like my home to come back here. But it’s more about what happens before and after the theater experience in New York; it’s kind of about the exterior.
Time Out New York: Does being here inspire your work?
Amy Poehler: Totally. The things you overhear are amazing. It’s like a constant line of different people that walk by you—the city is full of characters. It takes a little longer to separate the characters in L.A.
Time Out New York: What do you think would be Leslie’s favorite New York park?
Amy Poehler: Central Park. I think she would marvel at the foresight that New Yorkers had to carve out that prime real estate. She would just talk incessantly about how the park is in the middle of the priciest part of the world, almost, and it still remains a park.
Time Out New York: What about you? Any favorite parks?
Amy Poehler: Because I have little boys, I tend to like the local parks that are near my house—a lot of the West Village parks, because they’re kid-friendly. It’s a great place to bring them. The little hideaway places that you stumble onto as you live in the city are more my style, because I’m more of a downtown gal. They’re not perfect, and that’s why they’re great.
Time Out New York: You’re raising two little boys here; do you think NYC is a good place for people with kids?
Amy Poehler: Oh, for sure. I think it’s the best city to live in with kids. My kids learn more on the walk from our house to the deli than they do driving around all day. They see so many different people, they ask so many questions, they interact with so many different types of people. They’re so stimulated and energized.
Time Out New York: So I watched, like, seven or eight episodes of Smart Girls at the Partyyesterday, and I loved it.
Amy Poehler: [Laughs] Great!
Time Out New York: What have you learned from interviewing young girls for the series?
Amy Poehler: I usually come away from those interviews feeling really inspired. Any time you talk to anyone about something that they love, they’re, like, their most beautiful. It’s a cool gift to get to talk to people about what they love. And I’ve also learned that there’s a big difference between 12 and 13. [Laughs] Twelve-year-olds don’t mind when their moms dance with them at the dance party, and 13-year-olds do.
Time Out New York: Your Ask Amy video series, where you answer questions about life and young girls’ problems, has become really popular, even with people who aren’t necessarily the target audience. Why do you think that is?
Amy Poehler: It’s kind of like a fantasy, to be able to go back to our younger selves and tell them simple things, like: Be yourself, or: Don’t waste so much time on him. All those things you can’t learn until you learn them on your own. That fight to not be self-conscious is a lifelong fight; to do what you want and not worry about other people, or just to feel good…that doesn’t go away, certainly not at 20 or 30 or 40. Maybe 50? [Laughs] I’ll tell you at 50.
Time Out New York: You answer really intimate questions in the series—how do you keep it from getting too personal for yourself?
Amy Poehler: I just think it’s because I’m older. I don’t think I would have known how to do it when I was younger. Age helps you a little with that; you learn how to share without oversharing, or you get better at connecting without walking away and not feeling like you’ve been too vulnerable. But all the questions are questions we can all relate to, like “I’m scared,” “I wanna be loved,” “I’m afraid,” “Can I do it?”—all of those things that do not go away no matter how old you get. [Laughs]
Time Out New York: Both Smart Girls and Ask Amy are about empowering young women, and feminism informs so much of what you do. Has that always been your intention?
Amy Poehler: It’s always just been in my nature—it’s just kind of my everyday. Sometimes I access it in a conscious way, but it wasn’t always the headline of stuff that I was doing. We just had Gloria Steinem do ASSSSCAT, which was so great. [Musician and activist] Kathleen Hanna came, and I’m just a huge Kathleen Hanna fan. She, for me, was closer in age and a practicing and working feminist, at the time, that I related to. When I was in my late twenties and thirties, there were these amazing female musicians, like PJ Harvey and Björk and Kim Gordon.… These musicians are all still around, but, I mean, they were the most popular musicians! Just constant, really interesting women; sex wasn’t their currency, but they were really sexy and sexual. I gave you a long-winded answer. [Laughs] So the answer is: Yes, I consider myself a feminist, and it informs my work only in that it’s just who I am, in the same way that I’m a woman, or I’m 5’2″ or whatever. I was lucky that I came through a system that had many people who did much more hard work and road-clearing before I got there.
Time Out New York: You have your hands in so many projects—acting, producing, memoir-writing, etc. Is there anything you haven’t tried yet that you would love to do?
Amy Poehler: So much! I’d love to direct something that I wrote. I’d like to produce a film. There are so many things in the show-business world I’d like to do, for sure. Own a jet, fly over to my network that I created and live off the sustainable farm that I planted myself. I’d like to ease into being a leader of some kind of cult as I get older. I want to secede from reality and go live on a farm. [Laughs]
Time Out New York: I interviewed Nick Offerman a few months ago and he mentioned how after his one-man show, he feels like he’s helping start a very polite cult.
Amy Poehler: Well, Offerman and I would be great “mama” and “daddy” of a cult. He would do all of the hard work and I would be good at keeping up morale. I’m sure there’d be some sexual favors expected out of both of us, and like the good middle-class workers that we are, we’d put our heads down and get the job done. [Laughs] When all the shit goes down and the world’s about to end, Offerman would be a guy I’d want by my side.