In her new book, ‘Yes Please,’ the comedian dishes about the improv biz, ‘Saturday Night Live,’ motherhood, and, oh yeah, what she’s going to do when ‘Parks and Recreation’ ends its run next year
What’s the thought behind the title Yes Please? Saying ”yes” has gotten me a lot of places in my life. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve added the ”please.” It feels vulnerable and strong, a polite way of asking for what you want. Also, my kids can say it really easily. And it translates well into the hundreds of other languages the book will come out in! I’m kind of too old to be cute and too young to be able to look back on my 40 years in show business. [Laughs] That’s why it’s not a typical memoir, it’s essays and real and fake advice. I wanted it to feel like a scrapbook or a journal of my life so far.
What’s the thought behind the title Yes Please?
Saying ”yes” has gotten me a lot of places in my life. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve added the ”please.” It feels vulnerable and strong, a polite way of asking for what you want. Also, my kids can say it really easily. And it translates well into the hundreds of other languages the book will come out in!
I’m kind of too old to be cute and too young to be able to look back on my 40 years in show business. [Laughs] That’s why it’s not a typical memoir, it’s essays and real and fake advice. I wanted it to feel like a scrapbook or a journal of my life so far.
So you weren’t always writing upright at a desk with three freshly sharpened pencils?
I always had the fantasy that I would rent a cabin in Big Sur and that I would dress for writing and I would talk to magazines about how I’d like to turn off the phone and wear comfortable sneakers! The reality is, when you have little kids, and when you’re shooting a TV show, you hack away. I wrote it when I could. I had to let go of the idea that creativity comes out of stillness. I find that creativity usually comes out of chaos.
Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, and Rachel Dratch all sang your praises in their books. Did you return the favor?
My dream would be to write a book about my talented and famous friends and just spend a chapter on each. It would be a dream not only because it’d be so easy to write about how much I love their hearts and their work, but also I wouldn’t have to write about myself. I was constantly struggling with ”Can I just tell another great story about why Maya Rudolph’s the best cast member ever on SNL?” [My editors] were like, ”Yes, but you might also want to share a little bit about you.” When you’re a ”woman in comedy,” you’re all kind of lumped together in this weird soup, whereas if you go back and read the books of any of these women, you’re reminded of how different and unique and special and interesting and specifically skilled everybody is.
What was the most fun part to write?
I had a lot of fun writing the Upright Citizens Brigade history because it reminded me not only of a time when I was young and skinny and got a lot more sleep, it also reminded me of a time I’m really proud of—the big risks that we took because we were young and didn’t know any better. It felt nice to go back there and talk about my years in Chicago at Second City and ImprovOlympic and starting the theater at UCB. I felt like I was talking about something that was bigger than myself. Something that had taken on an energy that I couldn’t fully claim or be responsible for. That was really cool.
That’s a great chapter for any young person who’s struggling to make it. You write about things like finding rats in your stove.
[Laughs] Everyone likes to romanticize those times, and there’s a reason why. You really just didn’t have any idea that you’d make it. My career was a very slow and steady climb. I was slogging along every day like all of us are. Then all of a sudden, days make a year, then five years, and you can look back and see how things have changed.
Lately you’ve been focusing on ushering in other talent: Broad City for Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, Difficult People for Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner, an NBC pilot for Natasha Lyonne. Does producing feel as good as starring in your own stuff?
Oh my God, it feels better! I love writing and directing and producing—it’s really where your power positions lie on set. I like creating things with people.
You write about your love of Law & Order: SVU—
I should make it clear! I do love Mariska so much. But my favorite Law & Order is the original Law & Order. SVU can get a little rapey and child abuse-y for me, and sometimes I’m not in the mood. I mean, I’ll watch Mariska read from a phone book because she’s such a badass, but my heart lies in the mid-’90s, the Jerry Orbach/Benjy Bratt era. I could watch a full weekend of those eps.
With the website Smart Girls, you’ve done a lot to empower young women. Is it exciting to see so many more of them calling themselves feminists?
I love when women use that word because it’s a beautiful word. I also think everyone’s trying to figure out their place in all of it. At the end of the day, I think we are all much more alike than we are different.
What’s the hardest you’ve ever laughed on Parks?
Oh, man! There are so many. We did an episode written by the genius Mike Scully about Leslie campaigning and she has to do a speech in a hockey rink and the red carpet ends too early, and so the entire cast has to walk on the slippery ice to get to the podium and Gloria Estefan’s ”Get on Your Feet” plays over and over again on a loop while they try to make their way. To me, it just felt like old-fashioned sitcommy stuff. All of us trying not to slip and walking together as a group. It was also just so fun because we were all genuinely trying not to slip and Nick Offerman had to hoist me up and everyone was falling. Old-fashioned fall-down comedy! [Laughs] Anything I got to do with the whole cast together was just a joy, always.
You’re filming the final season of Parks. Have there been tears yet?
No, everybody’s in their various stages of grief. I still have too much to memorize to cry yet. I’m driving to work right now to read our third-to-last episode. Mike Schur [the co-creator of the show] and I have never taken one minute of this process for granted because Parks and Rec was always the little show that could. To have done 125 episodes over six and a half years with these guys, I never would have predicted it. Getting to play Leslie Knope every day truly changed and in some cases kind of saved my life.
What’s coming up for you?
I want to just try different stuff, having played a character for six or seven years. I found that every time a chapter ends for me, whether it’s UCB or SNL or Parks, the excitement of not knowing really what’s coming next is really… The empty room is terrifying in a delicious way. I’m just trying to enjoy it, not fill up that room too fast.
What’s an interview question you’d prefer never to answer again?
Ooh!!!!!! That’s a great question. OOOOOOOOHHH. The question I hate being asked all the time is ”What young actress are you having sex with these days?” I’m like, ”Enough’s enough, guys! This is my private life—leave me alone!”