We chat to Amy Poehler, queen of Hollywood comedy, about what makes her funny
For the last few years Amy Poehler has been everywhere. Ever since Parks and Recreation took her overground in 2009, the actor, comedian, writer and director has been hot property. And while her rise has been meteoric since then, the previous 15 years were filled with improv slots on the comedy circuit in Chicago and New York, and time as one of the main cast members on Saturday Night Live. Poehler has had pretty much universal praise ever since, with no-one able to say anything bad about her.
Her biggest gig in the movie star breeding ground SNL was playing Hillary Clinton alongside pal Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin (Clinton was a fan, apparently). Roles alongside Fey in Mean Girls and Baby Mama, Will Ferrell in Blades of Glory, and Jason Bateman in The Ex followed before she took on the role of loveable-but-deluded local government worker Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation. The show, which ended in 2015, saw her pick up five Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe.
She’s now starring with Ferrell again in The House, where the two comedy heavyweights play a married couple who blow their daughter’s college fund and need to raise money to replace it.
With Ferrell known for his ability to improvise on set and Poehler’s background in the art, they make a perfect match.
“Working with Will Ferrell was a blast,” she tells Time OutDubai. “He is the king and I love working with him. We share a similar style on how we like to work and the producers did a really good job of stacking the deck.
“There was a lot of improv, there were a lot of attempts to push things in random directions, and it was super fun.”
Poehler’s performance in The House is another example of why she’s the current comedy queen of Hollywood. More subtle than Amy Schumer (another friend), more comfortable in front of the camera than Fey and on more of a golden streak than Kristen Wiig. But the multi-talented Poehler also revels in writing and directing.
She says: “We had enough left on the cutting floor [after shooting The House] to make two or three whole other movies and that’s why I enjoy being a director.
“A film is a director’s medium and the director rightfully gets to decide which way the film is going to be shaped, and that’s fun. I’ve been around the block long enough to know that the stuff that works on the day isn’t always the stuff that makes it.”
Writing, directing, acting… Is there nothing she can’t handle? Well, the 45-year-old’s also pretty adept at performing live, too, as her three-year stint hosting the Golden Globes (again alongside Fey) proved. The gig helped introduce Poehler to a worldwide audience and showed that there’s a cutting wit to her as well as the warm humour she exudes as Knope. In fact, the pair’s barbs over the three ceremonies almost “broke the internet”, as the youngsters say.
In 2014, her memoir Yes Please was published, which went to some lengths to try and balance the endlessly cheerful characters Poehler plays with her more balanced real-life personality. One of the recurring themes in the book is standing up for womankind and trying to get her (and her friends’) successes viewed in the same way as men’s. Her work mostly focuses on female friendships, too. In Parks and Recreation, the main love story is really the great friendship between Knope and Ann, played by Rashida Jones – another woman in Hollywood with a growing reputation – rather than her encounters with any male suitors.
In an interview with The Guardian Poehler praised her female co-stars. “I love working with women,” she says. “I know I’m generalising, but women are excellent multitaskers, and I’m optimistic about this new generation of young female artists who have such a strong point of view.”
She’s also not afraid of standing up for herself. In an on-stage interview with New Yorker writer Ariel Levy in 2011 she laughed out loud at video clips from her early career. “That was funny!” she said, grinning at the audience. “That was funny!”
“It’s a struggle sometimes, to not apologise for yourself,” Poehler says. “It’s not easy.
I have to really work at it, to not look in the mirror and think, ‘Oh no, I hate my face’. That beast is always there, but I tried not to pack him for this trip.”
Her brand of comedy has been described as “having no entrance fee of coolness or hipness” and her approach to her stardom, position in Hollywood and where women stand in the industry is refreshing, welcome and needed. Amy Poehler, we salute you. The House is in cinemas across Dubai from Thursday June 29.