Damn that Tina Fey—why does she get to be Amy Poehler’s best friend?! Rachael Combe talks Parks, improv, and an all-important F-word with the star we all wish we could hang out with.
It’s well documented that Amy Poehler is among the nicest people in Hollywood—not in a banal, have-a-nice-day way, but in a fairy-princess-who-brings-joy-to-all-who-encounter-her way. She is simultaneously the adorable little sister who makes you laugh and the wise older sister who supports you through your darkest hour. As Mindy Kaling once wrote, “Everyone has a moment when they discover they love Amy Poehler.” Parks and Recreation costar Aubrey Plaza recently admitted to being “kind of in love” with her. She is so universally adored, in fact, that when she and her husband, Will Arnett, split in 2012, the blogosphere displayed a rare moment of empathy, with nary a catty tabloid story dissecting the breakup. A year later, however, Poehler, 42, reportedly is happily dating fellow comedian Nick Kroll and turning her energies toward producing and directing, starting with Comedy Central’s new show Broad City. Poehler tells ELLE why change is good—and why this is the most exciting and creative period of her life.
‘Parks and Rec’ is in its sixth season—the last for both Rashida Jones (who plays Ann Perkins) and Rob Lowe (Chris Traeger). It’s hard to imagine Leslie without Ann!
I’m really proud of that friendship. It’s rare on television to see true female friends who don’t always snipe at each other or who you can’t understand why they would be friends. Ann and Leslie are the true love story of the show.
Now that you’re a media mogul, is there a conflict between being a comedian and being a grown-up?
Now that I have little kids [Archie, five, and Abel, three], I’m up at 5:30 a.m. no matter what. Sleep at this point is just a concept, something I’m looking forward to investigating in the future. But I’d like to say that I maintain that same sense of play and creativity and spontaneity—of being able to get into a room with people and say, “Let’s waste some time.” When you’re a creative person, even when you’re in a position of power, you still have to be able to straddle those two worlds. Power sometimes comes down to knowing the vocabulary, figuring out how the system works and how to work within it. You need to believe that you deserve to be in the room once you get there. Directing, producing, and writing is the direction I’m headed into these days.
I like to do things that challenge me and make me nervous. You learn early as an actor that creating your own material is the only way to have any control. Hollywood is like a bad boyfriend. You can’t stand around and wait to be asked to dance. I used to say that I wanted to make great art with people I love. Now I have an addendum to that goal: to get things on the air.
You also have a website, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, devoted to empowering teen girls. But you’re not on Twitter.
I have a very wary relationship with social media. I’m not so into this level of self-disclosure and self-promotion that’s happening right now. Like, “Here’s a hot picture of me and here’s a new project I’m working on.” It’s not really me.
What were you like as a kid?
I was bossy, and I don’t mean that as a pejorative. I wasn’t shy. I was always encouraged to speak up.
Improv is so pervasive in comedy now. How did you get involved back when nobody had heard of it?
I’d done some theater in high school, and I knew I was funny, but I’d never considered being a comedian. But when I went to Boston College, I saw My Mother’s Fleabag, one of the oldest [college] improv groups in the country. I thought, That’s what I want to do. I loved that improv was about collaboration and coming from a place of yes. If nothing had come of it, I’d be happy to still be at Upright Citizens Brigade, teaching. I’d grow rosemary and go to my boys’ soccer games. I met a lot of the people I collaborate with now doing improv, and I’ve had the experience of being in functional creative environments. I don’t think creativity has to come from a place of dysfunction. It can come from nice people with good parents. Of course, I like to keep my creative options open. Maybe in my sixties I’ll be setting everything on fire and coming from a place of no.
You’ve always made it clear that you’re a feminist. It’s a term that a lot of people back away from these days.
But then they go on to explain what they support and live by—it’s feminism exactly. I think some big actors and musicians feel like they have to speak to their audience and that word is confusing to their audience. But I don’t get it. That’s like someone being like, “I don’t really believe in cars, but I drive one every day and I love that it gets me places and makes life so much easier and faster and I don’t know what I would do without it.” But that’s everyone else’s trip, not mine. I had a mother who discovered herself in the ’70s and used to go to meetings and wear a sassy scarf.
On top of everything else, you’re writing a book, to be published later this year. How’s that going?
It’s kind of like a funny memoir-slash-self-help-slash-diary-slash-compendium of ideas and thoughts and feelings. It’s really, really exciting and hard.
You’ve got a lot on your plate!
By the way, I just want to thank you for not having your first question be “How do you balance it all?” Why not try to do as much as you can? More, more, more, more, more. That’s how I’m feeling right now—really lucky and blessed, and I just want to enjoy my appetite. To some people, not caring is supposed to be cool, commenting is more interesting than doing, and everything is judged and then disposed of in, like, five minutes. I’m not interested in those kinds of people. I like the person who commits and goes all in and takes big swings and then maybe fails or looks stupid; who jumps and falls down, rather than the person who points at the person who fell, and laughs. But I do sometimes laugh when people fall down.