Parks and Recreation star Amy Poehler tells Glamour columnist Katie Couric why women rock at comedy–and pretty much everything else.
ON HOW SHE JUGGLES WORK AND FAMILY: “Robots. They sing lullabies and drive the kids to soccer. It’s just amazing what robots can do.”
When I interviewed Amy Poehler for this column, the first thing I asked was “Can I say, I think you’re the nicest person in show business?” And because she’s also one of the funniest, her response was a deadpan “What a terrible thing to say to someone.” But talk to anyone who’s worked with her, and they’ll tell you: Amy is hilarious, brilliant and genuinely kind. Her work on Saturday Night Live was warm and accessible, as if everyone was in on the joke. And that includes the person she was sending up, whether Hillary Clinton or Sharon Osbourne or me! She’s now cracking us up as hapless civil servant Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation. As the show, which Amy also produces, thrives in its primo Thursday-night slot, I talked to her about how it feels to have a hit on her hands.
KATIE COURIC: So, are you a diva on the set, Amy?
AMY POEHLER: I have, like, 15 different assistants, and I don’t know any of their names. I make them print out a sheet that I hand to all my coworkers that says the following: Do not look me in the eye. Do not call me by my first name. Do not call me by my last name. Do not call me. Do not speak unless you’re spoken to. You’re fired.
KATIE COURIC: You must be so excited because Parks and Recreation is doing well.
AMY POEHLER: I’m really excited. I’m proud of it, and I think that there’s this nice moment right now where the show, and people’s attention to the show, is kind of dovetailing in this nice way. We shot a lot of episodes without knowing exactly when we were going to be back on. You really have to just focus on the work. You try to make it funny, try to make it good and then the rest is, unfortunately, out of your control a lot of the time.
KATIE COURIC: It must be difficult to kind of say, “OK, well, I’m going to do as much as I can do, but my fate is really in somebody else’s hands.”
AMY POEHLER: I get a little itchy if I don’t have some control.
KATIE COURIC: It actually makes me think that to be a successful woman, in particular, it takes an interesting combination of confidence and assertiveness, and yet the humility to know that you have to use your power carefully.
AMY POEHLER: I’m on a long hiatus right now, and on my past two hiatuses I’ve delivered a baby, delivered a child out of my person. But I was talking to someone the other day about how it’s really interesting how you tend to lean on things that you didn’t lean on before. You know, like, you just kind of use different muscles. I’m going to be 40 next year, and the kind of attention I get is much different at 40 than it was at 25.
KATIE COURIC: How so?
AMY POEHLER: Well, number one, you don’t rely on your coquettishness or whether or not somebody kind of…
KATIE COURIC: Thinks you’re cute?
AMY POEHLER: Yeah, thinks you’re cute. You just kind of can’t rely on it anymore.
KATIE COURIC: I still think you’re cute, Amy.
AMY POEHLER: Oh, I think you’re cute, Katie.
KATIE COURIC: [Laughs.] We should just work for each other then. They used to always say that SNL was a very inhospitable place for women. Was that true and how did you deal with that?
AMY POEHLER: Mine was the opposite experience. I started at a time when women dominated the show—Tina, Maya, Rachel Dratch. It was an awesome time to be a woman on that show. I think that’s an old, dusty headline that really doesn’t make sense anymore. If it was funny, it got on. And I like that; I like healthy competition. It makes you better. And when you do get what you get, you feel like you’ve really earned it.
KATIE COURIC: You wouldn’t have done this if you didn’t think it was going to be successful, but are you in a way surprised that a sitcom based in Pawnee, Indiana, in this office situation, is doing well and resonating with viewers? What do you think…boy, this is a long Charlie Rose question, isn’t it?
AMY POEHLER: [Laughs.]
KATIE COURIC: I’m looking for a question mark here, Amy. Just bear with me.
AMY POEHLER: [Laughs.] What if I just quietly hung up, like, minutes ago.
KATIE COURIC: “I’m sorry. I was just rearranging my sock drawer. Are you still on the line..?” But, what is it about this sitcom that you think has made it popular, and about your character?
AMY POEHLER: I really like playing Leslie, because it’s like the Sisyphean task of trying to get a park built is very emblematic of what’s happening anywhere someone’s just trying to make change happen while everybody tells them it’s not going to happen. She’s one of those people who believe that one person can make a difference; that no matter how small your job is, you still matter. And that it’s important to take care of the place where you come from. The show’s not afraid of a little bit of heart. I’m kind of a sucker for pathos, and I was looking forward to turning down the volume a little bit and trying to play someone who—even though she’s kind of grade-A bananas—could maybe exist in the world.
KATIE COURIC: I just have to mention a headline [on the TV in my office] because I feel like you would appreciate it. I just saw on MSNBC: “Mysterious Illness Plagues Playboy Mansion Visitors.”
AMY POEHLER: Oh my god. When I see headlines like that, all I think about are Weekend Update jokes. I text Seth [Myers] and I’m like, “What do you have for the sperm disease that everyone caught in the disgusting…”
KATIE COURIC: In the Playboy Mansion hot tub.
AMY POEHLER: [Laughs.] All I think about is the jokes about the people who may have been hospitalized after that party.
KATIE COURIC: Do you miss SNL sometimes? I mean, some of my favorite shows involved you and Tina [Fey] obviously, and I particularly liked the Hillary-Sarah Palin stuff. But you guys were…
AMY POEHLER: Can I quickly apologize to you for having to play you when I was 12 and a half months pregnant?
KATIE COURIC: I saw you and I gasped, and my daughter immediately said, “Mom, don’t worry, Amy’s nine months pregnant.” Because I thought you had put on a fat suit to play me.
AMY POEHLER: I just want to point out that I was so pregnant that you gasped.
KATIE COURIC: I did! But you were great. Except I hope you don’t think I blink that much, and that my eyeshadow wasn’t quite that icy.
AMY POEHLER: I will concede that I don’t think we got the eyeshadow right. But you blink a lot. And the scene was really about Tina’s great portrayal of Palin, so I was…
KATIE COURIC: You were just a vessel.
AMY POEHLER: But I promise you I’ll never put on a fat suit if I play you again.
KATIE COURIC: Thank you, thank you. Do you miss doing those kinds of things with Tina? Because it was so great to watch you guys working together.
AMY POEHLER: Well, it was so exciting during the election, to do Weekend Update and all the Hillary stuff, because everyone was paying attention and the race was changing every week. I was given good lines to say, and I loved playing Hillary. I loved meeting her, and I love her. She’s so funny and game in person, and smart, and just everything you kind of would expect from her. And it’s so great that there are just so many interesting female voices in television right now.
KATIE COURIC: What do you like to watch on television?
AMY POEHLER: I don’t watch a lot of comedy. For relaxation and escape, I watch shows about how people survive bear attacks. Or old episodes of Law and Order, the Benjamin Bratt/Jerry Orbach era. If I had a time machine, I’d go back and play a 20-year-old punk who set fire to a bakery, and have Jerry Orbach interrogate me. Yeah, I would be a smart-talking street youth, and Jerry Orbach would really dress me down and give me the business…. If it sounds dirty, I’m not meaning it to be.
KATIE COURIC: Um, have you discussed this with your therapist?
AMY POEHLER: [Laughs.]
KATIE COURIC: Everyone on staff at Glamour describes your husband [Will Arnett] as dreamy. Does that make you vomit or does it make you proud?
AMY POEHLER: I love it. Are you kidding? When people think your husband is hot—right on!
KATIE COURIC: Is it hard to have two funny people in a marriage?
AMY POEHLER: No, it’s great. I was always attracted to funny people, and Will is so talented and funny. We are genuinely each other’s fans and we love what the other does. I don’t know a lot of other couples where you’re with your partner and you’re like, “I love what you do at work!”
KATIE COURIC: And women seem to be coming into their own in comedy as well. Do you think it’s just sort of the timing, and funny is funny whether it comes from someone with a vagina or not?
AMY POEHLER: There’s more women writing and producing and that always leads to different voices, which is a good thing. Everybody’s experience is different, I guess. But I do hear what you’re saying, which is it feels like it’s a really good time right now for…I don’t know, I’m reiterating maybe what I said before.
KATIE COURIC: That’s OK. That’s why God created editors.
AMY POEHLER: [Laughs.] Talk, talk, talk, blah blah blah.
KATIE COURIC: You have a little bit of a girl crush, I understand, on Dr. Jane Aronson of Worldwide Orphans Foundation. Tell me how you guys hooked up.
AMY POEHLER: Well, we hooked up at the Glamour Women of the Year Awards. [Both were honorees in 2009.]
KATIE COURIC: Oh, there you go!
AMY POEHLER: I had read about Jane, and I’d read about her work [offering medical care and education at orphanages around the world], and I’d known she was an amazing person, but I didn’t know her personally. And then I was at the awards and I got to talk to her. She’s so self-effacing and funny and amazing, and compassionate—but a real New Yorker, you know? She’s a tough broad. But I just love bossy women. I could be around them all day. To me, bossy is not a pejorative term at all. It means somebody’s passionate and engaged and ambitious and doesn’t mind leading, like, “All right, everybody, now we go over here. All right, now this happens.” And Jane is continuously bossy and I love it. Plus, at the end of the day—it’s like that thing that you hope kind of happens in your life: You do your job well, something comes up in your work that inspires you and makes you question things, then you go try to figure out the answer to that, and then you go try to help, to give a new answer to the question. Jane saw a need and she’s filling it. So she’s a pretty easy person to love.
KATIE COURIC: Glamour reader Sarah Clever Lang asks, “How do you balance your comic career and the wild life at home?”
AMY POEHLER: Well, you know, it’s funny. Tina [Fey] and I always joke about it—that, like, whenever I hear someone say, and, by the way, this kind reader is asking a very nice question, but when people say, like, “How do you do it?” sometimes it sounds like, “How could you do it?” Like, “How could you do it?” And so here’s the deal that women have to do for each other: When you’re a stay-at-home mother you have to pretend it’s really boring, but it’s not. It’s enriching and fulfilling, and an amazing experience. And then when you’re a working mother you have to pretend that you feel guilty all day long.
KATIE COURIC: Right. [Laughs.]
AMY POEHLER: And yet you feel really excited, and that your experiences make you a good mother. So, that’s the deal. And as long as women agree to that deal, everyone will be fine. But if you screw me on the deal… [Laughs.] So, anyway, the way I juggle it is: robots. I have, like, 15 robots. They do everything from singing lullabies to driving the kids to soccer. It’s just amazing what robots can do.
KATIE COURIC: Glamour reader Jessica Jaye wants to know “…if your lady garden is as big as a slice of New York pizza.” I guess that’s an SNL reference?
AMY POEHLER: Oh my god. Jessica Jaye is so rude. Any lady will tell you that that is none of your f—king business.
KATIE COURIC: Another Glamour reader, Melanie Hogin, wants to know: “Would you ever think of running for political office? You do a great job playing the role.”
AMY POEHLER: Not in a million years. I have such respect for people who do that, because I’ve been to public buildings and the lighting is so terrible I could not handle it. The lighting is—it’s just rude.
KATIE COURIC: I still think you’re one of the nicest people whom I’ve met in your line of work.
AMY POEHLER: Oh, I haven’t changed your mind?
KATIE COURIC: No. You’ve reinforced my earlier assessment.
AMY POEHLER: Ah, well.
KATIE COURIC: Now I have to go do a newscast.
AMY POEHLER: Cool. What are you leading with?
KATIE COURIC: President Obama’s budget, I think. Everybody’s very excited about it. I mean, I don’t know how exciting that can get….
AMY POEHLER: Could you make it so that Lady Gaga bursts out of her egg and talks about the budget?
KATIE COURIC: [Laughs.] Hey, I’m good, but I’m not that good.