No doubt about it, Parks and Recreation star Amy Poehler is one of the funniest peeps on the planet. So who inspired her? As part of our ongoing series of interviews called “Icons & Innovators,” we gave the former Saturday Night Live sensation a chance to chat with the comedy star she admires most: the legendary Carol Burnett. The winner of six Emmys — three of them for her beloved 1967-78 laughfest The Carol Burnett Show — Burnett came close to working with Poehler when they both did voice work in the hit animated film Horton Hears a Who! But these two comedy greats have never performed face-to-face. What’s Hollywood waiting for?
TV Guide Magazine: Amy, of all the funny people in the biz, why is Carol your greatest inspiration?
Poehler: Here’s the deal. Saturday Night Live is the seminal sketch show for most comedy performers of my generation, the one that made them want to get into the business. Not for me. Mine was The Carol Burnett Show. Carol, I just loved the tone and the feeling of love you all shared and the incredible collaboration. You could tell the cast was having so much fun and because of that, so did we at home. I have very lovely memories of watching the show together with my mom.
Burnett: God bless you, dear! The best compliment anyone can give me is to say you watched our show as a family and that it’s a great childhood memory. That does my heart good.
Poehler: I also loved that it was dangerous TV! At any moment it felt like your sketches with Harvey Korman and Tim Conway could go off the rails — that anything could happen — and that was so electric and exciting to me.
TV Guide Magazine: Much of the comedy these days tends to be raw, rude, dripping with irony. How do you feel about the way it has evolved?
Burnett: I don’t like that they want everything to be edgy now. I mean, there’s room for everything, isn’t there? What’s wrong with some wholesome, good old-fashioned belly laughs? By the way, Amy, I loved you on the Emmys, getting up on stage before the winner was announced, and then all your fellow nominees followed. It was the highlight of the show!
Poehler: That was inspired by Harvey and Tim!
Burnett: [Laughs] I had a feeling! They once did that when they were nominated in the same category. Harvey won, but Tim, who was so much shorter, went up on stage and stood behind Harvey peeking around him and looking at the Emmy like, “You should be mine!” Johnny Carson was the host and he was doubled over.
Poehler: Those two always pulled crazy stunts like that at the Emmys. I feel that way, too. If I get a chance to do a bit, I will take it. It feels so much better than just sitting there waiting to lose.
Burnett: I also admired the show of solidarity. There were six amazing women from all different kinds of comedy up there supporting each other, hugging each other. I was on the floor.
TV Guide Magazine: Things sure have changed for funny women since 1967 when The Carol Burnett Show premiered, right, Carol?
Burnett: [Laughs] Are you kidding? I was told by CBS that comedy variety shows were a man’s game, that it was the domain of Sid Caesar and Milton Berle and Jackie Gleason. Instead, they wanted me to do some sitcom called Here’s Agnes.
TV Guide Magazine: How do you think you’d fare if you were starting your career now?
Burnett: Well, for one thing, we could never do The Carol Burnett Show today. No network would want it. No one could afford it. We did a mini Broadway revue every week with a 28-piece orchestra! When you get to a certain age, as I have, you can’t help but think how nice it would be to knock 20 or 40 years off and start over. But then I realize, no, I was there at the right time and the right place with the right people. It just wouldn’t happen for me today.
Poehler: And what a loss that would be! I hear what you’re saying, Carol. That’s why I always try to find that good ensemble. I love succeeding or failing together. It’s so much better than any personal success. You would die if you met the people at Parks and Recreation. They are the most hilarious, but also the kindest. And you can’t always say that about the people you work with.
TV Guide Magazine: You both made your first big splash in sketch comedy — Carol on The Gary Moore Show, Amy on SNL. Now networks look for stand-up comics. What’s your take on that?
Burnett: It’s another reason I couldn’t make it today! I could not stand up and tell a joke to save my soul. It would be pitiful.
Poehler: Me, too! When I did “Weekend Update” on SNL, for the entire first year I could not land a punch line. I told [exec producer] Lorne Michaels, “You have made a terrible mistake.”
Burnett: I need to lock eyeballs with another human being. Then I am fearless.
Poehler: And that connection is what we love most about you. I will never forget the question-and-answer sessions you did with the audience at the beginning of your show, or when you’d be talking to us at the end as you took off your costume and makeup. That was such a generous act! It’s what makes your comedy so great and timeless. It always felt like you were one of us.
Burnett: [Laughs] Oh, Amy, you are my new best friend!