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Amy Poehler's World Of Local Government

Up until last year Amy Poehler was a member of the cast on Saturday Night Live, famous for her impersonation of Hillary Clinton. She now stars in the NBC sitcom, Parks and Recreation.

43:53

Other segments from the episode on May 7, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 7, 2009: Interview with Amy Poehler; Review of Colm Toibin's new novel "Brooklyn."

Transcript

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Amy Poehler's Fascinating World Of Local Government

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of TV show, “Parks and Recreation”)

Ms. AMY POEHLER (Actor): (As Leslie Knope) Government isn’t just a boys’ club
anymore. Women are everywhere. It’s a great time to be a woman in politics:
Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, me, Nancy Pelosi. We did it. You know, I like to
tell people, you know, get on board and buckle up because my ride’s going to be
a big one, and if you get motion sickness, put your head between your knees
because Leslie Knope’s stopping for no one.

GROSS: That’s my guest, Amy Poehler, in a scene from the pilot of the NBC
series, “Parks and Recreation.” It premiered last month. Poehler plays Leslie
Knope, the deputy parks director of the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana.

Her job may be small-time and her political judgments questionable, but she
sees herself as a maverick. The series is a cousin to the American version of
“The Office.” They were co-created by Greg Daniels and are both shot in
mockumentary style, but instead of office politics, “Parks and Recreation” is
about small-town politics.

Amy Poehler was a cast member of “Saturday Night Live” from 2001 to 2008. In
her final year at SNL, she received a lot of attention for co-anchoring Weekend
Update, her portrayal of Hillary Clinton, her Sarah Palin rap and her
increasingly evident pregnancy. She performed until about a week before the
baby was born and not long after started her new series.

In last week’s episode of “Parks and Recreation,” Poehler, as Leslie Knope,
broke a rule by drinking wine from a gift basket while at work. In this scene,
she’s confessed to her boss, played by Nick Offerman. He’s not impressed by her
transgression.

(Soundbite of TV show, “Parks and Recreation”)

Mr. NICK OFFERMAN (Actor): (As Ron Swanson) Let’s not blow this out of
proportion.

Ms. POEHLER: (As Leslie Knope) I will blow this in proportion. The minimum
punishment for this is an official reprimand from the city manager.

Mr. OFFERMAN: (As Swanson) It’s not that big a deal.

Ms. POEHLER: (As Knope) Maybe in your world it isn’t a big deal. You’re a
white, Protestant man with a full, rich moustache, but I am a woman, and I need
to hold myself up to a higher standard.

Mr. OFFERMAN: (As Swanson) This is ridiculous. You’re punishing yourself more
than anybody else is going to punish you.

Ms. POEHLER: (As Knope) No. What do you suggest we do? Do you think we should
cover this up?

Mr. OFFERMAN: (As Swanson) No, I’m not saying that. No one said cover-up.

Ms. POEHLER: (As Knope) Good because the cover-up is worse than the crime. When
you spill something, and you try to wipe it up with something that’s dirty,
then you get double-dirty.

GROSS: Amy Poehler, welcome to FRESH AIR. It’s great to have you here. Let me
ask you to describe your character on “Parks and Recreation.”

Ms. POEHLER: Well, Leslie Knope is a misguided optimist. She is kind of a
person in local government who believes that things can happen really fast, and
big changes should happen. So she’s kind of – I refer to her often as an open-
faced sandwich. She’s very easy to read and a little sloppy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: She’s a – I really like playing her because she over-promises, but
she’s also very kind of well-intentioned and doesn’t – there’s nothing cool
about her.

GROSS: One of the things I like about the character is that her ambitions are
so small. Like when she gets her own sub-committee, it’s like she’s been
elected president of the United States.

Ms. POEHLER: Right. Well, Leslie has a life plan, and you know, when she
explains it, it’s over very small little increments, you know. And she talks
about how her next step is getting on the city council and then, you know,
becoming perhaps, you know, the right-hand man of the lieutenant governor of
Indiana, and then that governor dies, and then she takes over, and then, you
know, after a scandal, she runs for senator. It’s just a very slow process for
Leslie, and so these small little victories are low stakes but high excitement
for her.

GROSS: “Parks and Recreation” was created by Greg Daniels, who also created the
American version of “The Office,” and there are similarities between the two
shows. They’re kind of companions, one set in a paper office and the other in a
small-town government office, but they’re both in that mockumentary style. Have
you watched “The Office” a lot, and on a whole, is it better to have seen or
not seen much of “The Office”?

Ms. POEHLER: Ever since I knew that I was doing this show, I stopped watching
“The Office,” which was hard to do because I love that show and the performers
on it. But I had to stop because, well, it’s hard to enjoy comedy in general,
right now, when you’re on – it’s very hard to watch comedy, for me, when I’m
doing a comedy show, because I either watch a show, and I love it, and I’m
jealous, or I watch a show, and I see all the problems with it, and I’m angry
that I watched it. But that’s for my shrink and not for you, Terry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: But yeah, I was a huge fan, and then I had to stop just because
it’s kind of too weird to kind of watch it at the same time.

GROSS: So what has it been like for you to start a brand-new show right after
giving birth?

Ms. POEHLER: It’s surreal, you know. It’s been – well certainly, most people
have to go back to work, you know, six weeks after they give birth to their
kid, and they don’t get craft service to make them sandwiches, so it’s weird,
you know.

I feel very lucky to be working, and certainly I realize once you have a kid,
work just kind of shifts and becomes something different, and that can be a
really good thing. And you know, really the first six episodes that we shot are
just kind of very – like a slow-motion version of me trying to lose my baby
weight.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: And just every episode, I’m trying to just shed a few more pounds.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: There’s a lot of Spanx going on. There’s a lot of undergarments
and various – there’s a lot of shots of me sitting at a desk.

GROSS: But it’s interesting. I mean, as an actor, your body is your tool, and
when you’re pregnant and after you give birth, it’s kind of like a different
body. So, like, your tool is like a different size and shape. So has that
affected you either on “Saturday Night Live” when you were very, very, very
pregnant toward the end and performing until the very last minute, or your new
role on “Parks and Recreation,” dealing with, you know, your post-labor body?

Ms. POEHLER: You know, it actually has been really interesting to change – for
my body to be changing, because when I was really pregnant on the show, on
“Saturday Night Live,” you know, it was difficult to write sketches because it
was – when you’re that big, it’s kind of like wearing a sombrero in every
scene.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: You know, you have to play the Mexican waiter in every scene
because it’s like what, are you not going to talk about your giant sombrero? So
there was – they were limited, and I was limited, in a way that could be
frustrating but was also, frankly, liberating when I got to just kind of – you
know, I kind of accepted okay, I’m going to do scenes at this point where I’m
hitting on guys, and I’m incredibly pregnant, or you know, when I’m rapping,
I’m just going to have to kind of enjoy how big I am, how much space I take up.
And it was really fun for a small person like myself to take up a lot of space.

GROSS: That’s interesting. You are small. You are like 5’2”. You’re really
skinny when you’re not pregnant. Yeah, so right, taking up space, different.

Ms. POEHLER: Yeah, different and fun and kind of, you know, it felt very, you
know, it was nice for people to kind of have to get out of my way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: And then it was interesting because playing Leslie, Leslie Knope
on the show, she’s kind of – you know, she’s in transition. She’s trying to
figure out who she is, and she doesn’t pay a lot of attention to kind of how
she looks, because she just really doesn’t quite know how that game is played.

And so there was a lot of discussion, actually, about making sure that she
dressed appropriately for her town and for her budget, and having a little bit
of softness, I think, helped me feel, you know, that feeling of just kind of
not quite having it all tight and packaged, and that was good, but enough of
that. I need to get skinny again, Terry.

GROSS: My guest is Amy Poehler. She’s now starring in the new NBC series,
“Parks and Recreation.” We’ll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Amy Poehler, and she stars in the new NBC series, “Parks and
Recreation,” which is on Thursday nights.

So do you miss “Saturday Night Live”?

Ms. POEHLER: I do, I do. I mean, I think it’s kind of the most exciting job I
will ever have in many ways, and I certainly miss that exhilarating pace of it,
but the opportunity to kind of stay in one place and play, you know, a
character that grows and changes is really exciting as an actor.

In SNL, there’s this very – you know, it’s a machine. And when you jump off the
train, and it speeds away, and you kind of get the dust in your face, and you
cough, and you wave goodbye to your friends, and you think oh no, you know,
there it goes. What a ride while I was on it, but I might need to walk by the
side of the tracks for a while. But I do, I do. I miss it a lot, and the people
that work there are tremendous at their jobs, and so yes I do.

GROSS: Now how did you get the part of doing Hillary during the primary?

Ms. POEHLER: Well, I think I started doing her in, like, 2004 or 2005 I tried
to do her a couple times. And certainly it probably was just I was – it was a
process of, you know, sometimes when you’re doing an impression on that show,
it’s just kind of because you maybe have a take on that person, or you sound or
look like that person. I think that I probably got the job because everyone
else just wasn’t paying attention that week, because I certainly don’t sound
like her.

We’re similar in the way we look, but – and I didn’t really have a take on her.
So it took a while to figure out how to play her.

GROSS: One of the sketches you did as Hillary Clinton was a debate sketch, in
which Obama was depicted as someone who the media really pampered and catered
to, and as Hillary, you pointed that out. And then Hillary Clinton, the real
Hillary Clinton, took that and ran with it, basically quoted it in her stump
speeches and said look, you know, this is what “Saturday Night Live” is saying.
And then she shortly after that appeared on “Saturday Night Live” in what was
called like an editorial response. She basically said I was told not to be
flattered by this and that this is not an endorsement of me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And let me play the sketch that ensued after that, when you and she were
together on stage.

(Soundbite of TV show, “Saturday Night Live”)

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): I still enjoyed that sketch a
great deal because I simply adore Amy’s impression of me.

Ms. POEHLER: Oh well, my ears are ringing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. CLINTON: How are you?

Ms. POEHLER: Good, thank you.

Sen. CLINTON: Well, I’m glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

Ms. POEHLER: Oh, yeah, well thank you for coming. I love your outfit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. CLINTON: Well, I love your outfit.

Ms. POEHLER: Why thank you.

Sen. CLINTON: But I do want the earrings back.

Ms. POEHLER: Oh, okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. CLINTON: Do I really laugh like that? Yeah well…

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. CLINTON: Oh, the campaign, it’s going very well - very, very well. Why,
what have you heard?

Ms. POEHLER: Nothing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That’s Hillary Clinton with my guest, Amy Poehler, on a sketch on
“Saturday Night Live.” So whose idea was it to actually invite Hillary on to
respond to the debate sketch that you had done?

Ms. POEHLER: I’m not sure. It probably was Lorne’s, Lorne Michaels’, decision.
You know, it was an exciting time because the show became a place that
everybody wanted to stop by and do, and that was really exciting and
interesting.

You know, I had started on the show - September 20-something, 2001, was my
first show, and it was a very difficult time to be living in New York. And also
it was, you know, people were talking about how can we ever laugh again, and
how are we going to do comedy, and I was just – I had just turned 30, and I was
starting this kind of dream job on this sketch-comedy show, and…

GROSS: It was the first “Saturday Night Live” episode after September 11.

Ms. POEHLER: My first “Saturday Night Live,” yeah, was the episode where Paul
Simon was there, and all the rescue workers were there, and it was a very
important show at the time, certainly, because New Yorkers were looking for
something – you know, they were looking to laugh.

And I remember those first couple years on the show, we really couldn’t do a
lot of political stuff. We just – you know, it was just – America didn’t want
to hear it. They didn’t want us to make fun of Bush. The first year on that
show, they really didn’t. I guess I mean…

GROSS: How did you know?

Ms. POEHLER: The audience, just the audience kind of tells you. You really can
just sense the air being sucked out of the room. You know, you just can tell
when an audience isn’t ready for it. And for the first year or two, they wanted
really big, silly characters, and they wanted really – they wanted to escape
from the sadness that certainly we were feeling in New York and people were
feeling all over the world.

It was a lot of pop-culture stuff, those first couple years, because the
audience just – they just didn’t want it. You could feel – anything that was
the least bit sensitive really chilled the audience, and you really couldn’t
even make jokes about – you couldn’t even make jokes about airplanes.

GROSS: So did you find it a relief when you felt like you could start doing
political humor again?

Ms. POEHLER: It was a huge relief because, you know, I had grown up watching
the show and loving all the times that the show dipped into what was really
happening in the political scene. And it was a great, you know, moment to be
able to circle back now, seven, eight years later, and for, you know, every
person that was running for president, all these characters that kept coming up
and us being able to play them and the audience being able to know who they
were. That’s a huge thing. Everyone was kind of paying attention to these
people.

And then so a combination of that and also just being able to talk about really
kind of big issues, and it was a relief. I remember very distinctly being
excited about cold opens on that show being about politics again, and it took a
while.

GROSS: So what was it like to be on stage with Hillary, and I should mention
you were, you know, dressed identically in brown, tweed jackets with black
piping.

Ms. POEHLER: Yes, much kudos to our wardrobe department, who makes those
jackets in about 45 minutes. These people are geniuses at what they do, and you
know, you’ll get a call, you know, so-and-so, you know, someone’s going to play
Donald Trump, and he has to be a vampire, and this has to happen in 20 minutes,
and like any live show, the people are so great because there’s no – it’s like
an emergency room.

No one stands in the middle of the room and starts screaming we’re never going
to do this. This is never going to work. It’ll never happen. We don’t have
enough time. It’s just okay. Everyone says okay, and it gets done over and over
again in the best way. But – sorry, I forgot your question.

GROSS: Oh, what was it like to be on stage with Hillary Clinton?

Ms. POEHLER: Well, it’s always strange to be dressed like someone and stand
next to them. That’s always strange, unless you’re, you know, a twin and your
parents – your mother dressed you for the day. But so it was exhilarating. It
was fun.

GROSS: Can I point out, not everything that you did about her was flattering.
So was that awkward? Even making fun of her laugh, which you did onstage with
her. Did you feel, like, okay, I’ve said some things and done something that
are probably a little offensive to her, and here we are together?

Ms. POEHLER: Yeah, that certainly happens. You know, there would be times when
I heard that, you know, her camp were excited about something they saw, and I
would say uh-oh, be careful because you might not be excited this week, you
know. Oh boy. You certainly have that moment where you’re like oh boy, sorry
about that or not sorry about that, you know, depending on what you do.

But it’s interesting that you point out the laugh just because that, I think,
is an example of – she doesn’t really laugh like that, but the perception of
her laugh was interesting, that people believed that she laughed like that. She
didn’t. She actually has a kind of like a very inclusive and open laugh, and
it’s kind of warm, but that laugh came from her trying to keep things down and
kind of not being able to believe all the stuff that she had to deal with. And
so that’s how that laugh came to be, but it really isn’t anything like how the
way she laughs. So it’s kind of interesting, too, because I don’t really do a
very good impression of her. So it was kind of an impression of the impression
of her that seemed to working or seemed to be getting laughs.

GROSS: I want to play another bit from “Saturday Night Live,” and I think this
is one of the most famous things that you have ever done on the show, and this
is from the night that Sarah Palin was there in person, and the premise of the
sketch was that she was at the Weekend Update desk with – why don’t you
describe the sketch. Let me let you do it.

Ms. POEHLER: Well, the premise was that, you know, Seth and I were sitting
together and trying to think of a way to have Governor Palin on Update in an
interesting way because she was already going to be doing something in that
cold open with Tina, and she would probably be – I forget if she was in the
monologue or something, but we knew that she’d be doing something, so – and it
was, you know, to put things into context, it was just a few weeks before the
actual elections, and things were still very close, and so it was a really
charged time.

We had had so many political people come through the show, and the stakes were
kind of high, at least we felt they were, but at the end of the day, we work on
a comedy show, and so we wanted it to just be funny, just kind of straight-up
funny.

And I said well, it would be really fun if we just got like in a big rap
battle, and then it turned into why don’t you do this, you know, really kind of
hard-core rap. That would be really funny. Look at you, you’re so pregnant and
huge, and we started laughing about that.

And so the premise became we invited her to come do something. At the last
minute, she changed her mind and decided, you know, it probably would be better
for her in the campaign not to do it, and Seth kind of turns to me and says
Amy, I think you know the bit. Would you mind doing it? And I kind of pretend
oh, sure, I guess. I mean, I saw it in rehearsal. I mean, I don’t know if I
quite know it.

And then I just break out into this really intense, hard-core rap that she was
supposed to do, and it was just all these kind of, you know, jokey statistics
about her campaign and all this stuff, and it was interesting because her
people really – we showed them the rap before we did it, and they kind of had a
few little tweaks here and there, but nothing major. They kind of were onboard.

GROSS: Amy Poehler will be back in the second half of the show, and we’ll hear
her Sarah Palin rap. A new episode of her new series, “Parks and Recreation,”
airs tonight on NBC. I’m Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross, back with Amy Poehler. She stars in
the NBC series “Parks and Recreation.” A new episode will be broadcast tonight.
She has made several comedies, movies, including “Blades of Glory” and “Baby
Mama.” From 2001 to 2008 Poehler was a cast member of “Saturday Night Live.”
When we left off, we were talking about her Sarah Palin rap, which she
performed while Palin was seated just a few feet away at the Weekend Update
desk. Before the broadcast, “SNL” showed the sketch to Sarah Palin’s camp.
Palin’s people suggested a few little tweaks and then gave their approval.

When you showed them, did you show them that it would also be all these like
background singers and dancers and that one of them would be dressed like Todd
Palin in his ski – ski board - what is it called? What is it (unintelligible)
snowboard.

Ms. POEHLER: Oh yeah.

GROSS: Snowboard outfit. And then there’d be like a moose who got shot in
drive-by.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: Well, here’s the thing is, you know, people forget, you know, you
have to rehearse these things. So you rehearse them before you do them live and
rehearsals are always kind of awkward because people are kind of half in their
costume and nobody’s really committing and everyone’s kind of looking at the
cues and we’re kind of going, okay, and then they Eskimos will come up, blah
blah blah, and then the snow’s going to fall and then you’re gonna – we’ll cut
to you and you’ll be having fun and - sometimes you’re just hoping that they
won’t tell you no.

GROSS: Right.

Ms. POEHLER: But somehow we – we got away with it, I guess, I don’t know. But
it was, frankly I – I kind of appreciated, you know, we had had Senator McCain
on as well as a host and he too had a really good sense of humor about being
the butt of jokes. You know, he really kind of allowed us to take on all the
stuff that he was – and I think most times when people came on that show, it
showed that they were game, whether - however you felt about their politics,
they were kind of, at least they were kind of showing up.

And that was something, you know, you had to, you know, we – we very – we very
- we wanted to walk a fine line between doing something funny and something
that said something while still not abusing the host that was nice enough to
kind of come on and join the show. Because then you - you lose that way too if
you come across as too intense or mean or I don’t know.

GROSS: So - so let’s play that sketch and – and it starts with Sarah Palin
explaining that she had been asked to do a sketch and she decided it was
inappropriate and she can’t go through with it. She is at the Weekend Update
desk and then goes to my guest, Amy Poehler. Here it is.

(Soundbite of TV show, “Saturday Night Live”)

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): After a lot of thought I think it
might just cross the line.

Mr. LORNE MICHAELS (Producer): Okay. Well, in that case, Amy, do you want to do
Governor Palin’s part instead?

Ms. POEHLER: I guess I could give it try. I mean…

Mr. MICHAELS: Do you remember it?

Ms. POEHLER: I kind of remember it, yeah.

Mr. MICHAELS: Okay, why don’t you try it.

Ms. POEHLER: One, two, three!

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. POEHLER: (Rapping) My name is Sarah Palin. You all know me, vice prezzy
nominee of the GOP, gonna need your vote in the next election. Can I get a
whoop-whoop from the senior section. McCain got experience. McCain got style,
but don't let him freak you out when he tries to smile. Because that smile be
creepy, but when I be VP all the leaders in the world gonna finally meet me.

How’s it going, Eskimos (unintelligible) tell me what you know Eskimos,
Eskimos. How you feel Eskimo, ice cold. Tell me, tell me what you feel Eskimo,
super cold. I’m Jeremiah Wright because tonight I’m the preacha I got a bookish
look and you're all hot for teacha. Todd lookin’ fine on his snow machine. So
hot boy gonna need a go between in Wasilla. We just chill, baby, chilla. But
when I see oil lets drill baby drill.

My country tis a thee from my porch I can see Russia and such. All the
mavericks in the house put your hands up, all the mavericks in the house put
your hands up, all the plumbers in the house pull your pants up, all the
plumbers in the house pull your pants up. When I say Obama you say Ayers,
Obama, Ayers, Obama, Ayers. I built me a bridge - it ain't goin' nowhere. Ohhh.
McCain, Palin, gonna put the nail in the coffin of the media elites. She likes
red meat. Shoot a mother-humpin' moose, eight days of the week.

(Soundbite of gunshot)

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. POEHLER: (Rapping) Now ya dead, now ya dead ‘cause I’m an animal, and I’m
bigger than you. Holdin’ a shotgun walk in the pub. Everybody party, we’re
goin' on a hunt, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la…

(Soundbite of gunshots)

Ms. POEHLER: (Rapping) (Unintelligible) I’m out!

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. POEHLER: That was very primal.

GROSS: Oh, every time I hear that, it is so funny. That’s my guest, Amy
Poehler, on “Saturday Night Live” doing the Sarah Palin rap. Did you write
that?

Ms. POEHLER: I did, yeah. It was a…

GROSS: Tell me what the process was like, because you got like all the hip hop,
like standard lines in there, but they become all the Sarah Palin standard
lines. Like I love, When I say Obama, you say Ayers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: Yeah, and then I did a little – a little Cyprus Hill style on that
- Ayers. But it was fun because right after we decided that would be a fun bit
to do on Update, I just kind of started writing some lyrics and working on it.
And then when I actually started work on the song, I got some help with the
kind of, you know, Eskimo, from the Eskimos from Andy Samberg and Fred Armisen
and we kind of worked on some of that stuff together. And it was a – it was,
you know, it was just kind of goofy, but it was fun to be really pregnant and
to be leaning over a desk and shooting a moose and…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: …and screaming you’re dead because you’re an animal and I’m bigger
then you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: It was really weird, it was like…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: I probably could have given birth (unintelligible) primal like,
Aahhhhh!

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: Everyone just screamed. It was very, it was felt like, it was
really like cathartic to be able to scream, I’m - you’re an animal and I’m
bigger than you and that’s why you’re dead and to shoot a moose. But it was
probably – it’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to hunting…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: That moment.

GROSS: And how do you feel to be doing well of this Sarah Palin just a few feet
away dancing in her chair as you…

Ms. POEHLER: Yeah, it was…

GROSS: You did some really funny stuff kind of mocking her.

Ms. POEHLER: Yeah, well, it was kind of a, honestly, I was so pregnant that I
was just trying to not give birth…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: …so I was really just trying - I was really trying do not give
birth. That was my goal. So whoever was – whoever was seated next to me was -
was a – it was kind of not in my - I wasn’t really paying attention to that at
the time. Maybe, you know, maybe if I – if I – I would have been more kind of
aware or self-conscious about it, but…

GROSS: Were you thinking of how to rhyme, I think my water just broke in case
you needed to?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: We had a lot of really funny options at the time, like we would
always joke about what I would do if…

GROSS: Tell me…

Ms. POEHLER: …if I was giving birth. Trying to think like – you know, Seth –
Seth and I would always make jokes that he wanted me to like - he wanted me to
do a bit where I would pretend to deliver my last joke and I would just get on
the desk I would just deliver and he would pull a piece of paper out and read
the last (unintelligible)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: But it was like, oh, just disgusting. No. And we – we had a lot of
- it was really fun, actually, during that time because, you know, there’s
really nothing more exciting than doing a live show, except for maybe getting
ready to have a baby, right? So the combination of checking in every day and
realizing, no, I’m going to be able to be on tonight and also during that time
we did all these political specials. So during the weeks we also did these
primetime political specials that were kind of long updates with various
sketches.

And just to be able to every day wake up and – and say, oh, am I going to be on
TV or not tonight, was exciting. And then just, you know, weeks after the
election came, so it was all really a, you know, thrilling, thrilling time to
get to be doing that kind of show.

GROSS: My guest is Amy Poehler. She is now starring in the new NBC series
“Parks and Recreation.” We’ll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

GROSS: My guest is Amy Poehler and from 2001 to 2008 she was on “Saturday Night
Live.” Now she is the star of the new NBC series “Parks and Recreation.” Now,
your husband, Will Arnett, is also a comic actor and he was one of the stars of
“Arrested Development.” He starred with you in “Blades of Glory.” Let me play a
clip from “Blades of Glory”. And this is a scene about champion ice-skating.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And you and Will Arnett, your husband, play a brother-sister ice-skating
duo. And your younger sister is – is – is played by Jenna Fischer. And in this
scene - I should mentioned that you – you’ve been champions ever since your
parents died in a car accident, and in this scene you’ve just found out that
your new opponents are a new male duo. And you really wanted to defeat them.
You’re really out to get them by any means necessary. So you’re talking about
that with your brother and your younger sister, played by Jenna Fischer.

(Soundbite of movie, “Blades of Glory”)

Ms. AMY POEHLER (Actor): (As Fairchild Van Waldenberg) Two men skating
together? And in our division, no less. Why, Stranz? Why is God singling us out
for the greatest suffering the world has ever known?

Mr. WILL ARNETT (Actor): (As Stranz Van Waldenberg) I don’t know, sis. Those
two are just a couple of freaks.

Ms. POEHLER: (As Fairchild Van Waldenberg) Yeah, and the media loves freaks.

Mr. ARNETT: (As Stranz Van Waldenberg) It makes my blood boil. And all they’re
doing is just leaching the dignity of our beloved sport.

Ms. POEHLER: (As Fairchild Van Waldenberg) You know, I’m not a violent person.
But I would like to hold them down and skate over their throats.

Ms. JENNA FISCHER (Actor): (As Katie Van Waldenberg) Guys, maybe – maybe if you
concentrate on the skating, people will forget all the hype and they’ll focus
on the purity of the sport and the spirit of honest competition. You guys just
want to cheat again, don’t you?

Ms. POEHLER: (As Fairchild Van Waldenberg) (Unintelligible)

Mr. ARNETT: (As Stranz Van Waldenberg) Much better.

Ms. FISCHER: (As Katie Van Waldenberg) Katie, please, will you just take this
camcorder okay. I don’t know how to turn it on.

Ms. POEHLER: (As Fairchild Van Waldenberg) Thank you.

Ms. FISCHER: (As Katie Van Waldenberg) No, I’m not spying for you again.

Mr. ARNETT: (As Stranz Van Waldenberg) We’re just asking you to discreetly tape
their practice routines.

Ms. POEHLER: (As Fairchild Van Waldenberg) Find someone else.

Ms. FISCHER: (As Katie Van Waldenberg) What’s that, mother?

Ms. POEHLER: (As Fairchild Van Waldenberg) You and father are sad that you were
killed driving Katie to her ice-skating lesson all those years ago?

Ms. FISCHER: (As Katie Van Waldenberg) Yeah, me too.

Mr. ARNETT: (As Stranz Van Waldenberg) Remember how they used to be alive?

Ms. FISCHER: (As Katie Van Waldenberg) Papa, I can’t hear you, Papa. You’re
crying, still? In heaven? You’re still dead? Fine, I’ll do it.

Mr. ARNETT: (As Stranz Van Waldenberg) Yes. Now you’re playing for team Van
Waldenberg.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: This is a scene from “Blades of Glory,” with my guest Amy Poehler. Her
husband Will Arnett and Jenna Fischer, who is one of the stars of “The Office.”
Great, great scene.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: It’s okay. How did you and Will Arnett in the starring together in this
film?

Ms. POEHLER: Well, it was really fun because we got to, you know, we – it’s
never really that exciting to watch people that are together in real life on
screen being a couple. It’s just there’s something - I don’t know. Sometimes it
works but often it doesn’t and so we were interested in playing a part together
where we played creepy brother and sister who are a little too close.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Exactly.

Ms. POEHLER: Because it’s creepy and, you know, funny and also it’s fun to play
the villain, you know. I’m lucky enough to get to play a bunch of different
parts and – but in film I’m not always allowed to play kind of a nasty villain.
So it was really fun to play someone who is a jerk. And it’s funny because, you
know, they have those, they’ll have testing come back, you know, they’ll test
these movies or they’ll test shows. And a number of people saying like, you
guys are coming back and audience, they just don’t like these characters. And I
was like, I know, because they’re the villains.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: I know, that’s the thing, is you’re not supposed to like the
villains. So – but that was really fun to play. And my husband is an excellent
- he would like me to point out to you to, Terry, that he is a naturally, an
excellent ice-skater, and I…

GROSS: Oh really, oh, wow.

Ms. POEHLER: Yeah. He’s from Canada and, you know, I think that you’re kind of
required to ice-skate before you…

GROSS: Come out of the womb, yeah…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: Yeah. But I – a lot of my stuff was – was a stunt double because I
was really bad.

GROSS: So how did you first meet? How did you meet your husband?

Ms. POEHLER: We met here in New York City. We were - just kind of through
mutual friends, and yeah – and I was – I had just – I have lived here in New
York since ‘96 and he used to come see me perform with the Upright Citizens
Brigade, a group that I performed with here in New York City.

GROSS: So you were together before “Saturday Night Live.”

Ms. POEHLER: Yes.

GROSS: And before either of you became famous.

Ms. POEHLER: Uh-huh. We met before I was on the show. And then when we got
married, the week after that Will went and started “Arrested Development.” So
we kind of…

GROSS: Oh…

Ms. POEHLER: …were all – we were all both, you know - new things were starting
when we – when we met, and we’ve kind of been on that journey together, which
has been really nice.

GROSS: So did that happen to - at similar times so that one person wasn’t
getting far ahead of the other career-wise?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: Well, you know, it’s, you know, we talk about it all the time,
about how this – this business is very, the business of – the business of show
is very tricky. So you have to kind of keep making sure that you feel good
about the stuff you work on. And you have to feel like you keep growing and
doing different things. And we both feel very blessed that we got the working
experiences we’ve already had, you know, between “SNL,” and certainly now I
feel that way about “Parks and Recreation,” and Will has such incredibly fond
memories of working on “Arrested Development, so it’s all groovy.

GROSS: You’ve been doing improv comedy ever since you were in college.

Ms. POEHLER: Yeah. It - that was actually, you know, and it’s something I could
probably talk - go on too much about and - but that - improv comedy was where
I, kind of, learned all the stuff that I still do now. It was really the, you
know, my comedy college and it was where I met all of my friends in Chicago who
I still work with and it was where I’d learned the language of how to perform.

Because when I was younger, I didn’t want to do stand-up. I didn’t think I’d be
very good at it. And I loved watching stand-up comedy and I grew up listening
to, you know, all the famous stand-up comedians and loving their acts but not
quite knowing if I could do it. And I also wanted to be an actor and so I
couldn’t – I couldn’t quite in the beginning figure out which way I wanted to
go and I was lucky enough to be able to stumble into Chicago and meet, you
know, a group of people that, kind of, gave me – you know, took me off the
streets.

GROSS: This is Second City?

Ms. POEHLER: Yes. Second City and also Improv Olympic which was a theatre
started by Del Close, a very amazing and interesting mentor who is, kind of,
one of the more famous guys in comedy that people don’t know. He was the – he
taught, you know, John Belushi and Bill Murray and Gilda, he was their teacher.
And he helped start “SCTV” and he started – helped start Second City and he
was, kind of, this guru, you know, crazy, insane mentor.

GROSS: Did you always have the confidence and assertiveness to be on stage in
an improv situation where there was nothing to fall back on and you had to rely
on your own wits and you had to have enough confidence that you weren’t going
to make a fool of yourself?

Ms. POEHLER: Well. I don’t know if I always had that confidence but I know that
it always felt really exhilarating in a good way to do that kind of work. It
felt like you were in control, even though you had no control over what was
happening at the same time. I love – I still improvise. I still get up on stage
with “Upright Citizens Brigade” which is the theatre that I along with Matt
Besser and Matt Walsh and Ian Roberts, we started in New York City and now we
have theatre in Los Angeles.

And I still perform because that feeling of, you know, it being a little
dangerous is exciting still for me. And I think it is good as a performer just
to, kind of, keep making sure that you’re not getting too comfortable.

But also it’s like a social thing, you know, it becomes - its kind of the
closest thing I have to a communal religious experience where you just meet up
with people that you love and you do something together and there is someone
there witnessing it and hopefully, you know, you kind of feel different after.
And, I think that my experiences doing improv is certainly, you know, provided
like a, kind of a, spirituality I guess in a way that maybe, you know, I
wouldn’t have otherwise.

GROSS: It’s really been a pleasure talking with you and…

Ms. POEHLER: Thank you. I can’t believe I ended on the word spirituality. I can
hear that my…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: …the eyes rolling in cars across America.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: But I’m really thrilled by how deep that last part was, Terry. I
really want to…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: I really want to leave you with something that’s not so deep.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: It’s like, well, it’s too late. What am I going to do?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Amy Poehler, it’s been so great talking with you. Thank you so much.

Ms. POEHLER: Thank you. Oh, it’s been my pleasure, Terry. Thank you so much for
having me.

GROSS: Amy Poehler stars in the new NBC series “Parks and Recreation,” a new
episode airs tonight. Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews the new novel
“Brooklyn” by Colm Toibin. This is FRESH AIR.
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Rethinking The American Saga In “Brooklyn”

TERRY GROSS, host:

Irish novelist Colm Toibin has been shortlisted twice for the Booker Prize.
Book critic Maureen Corrigan says that Toibin’s new novel “Brooklyn” might well
earn him another nomination and that the third time could be the charm. Here’s
her review.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN: It’s a quandary that even the best novelists have a hard time
writing their way out of, that is: how do you tell a story about a main
character who’s ordinary, without making that character extraordinary, simply
because he or she is always in the novel’s spotlight? Think about it. If, as a
reader, you stick with Ishmael or Mrs. Dalloway or plain Jane Eyre long enough,
you come to see them as uncommon in some way, maybe especially perceptive or
plucky.

But in his latest novel, called “Brooklyn,” Colm Toibin places his mundane
heroine under some kind of magical force field that rebuffs all our desires to
mistakenly read more into her. The most remarkable thing about young Eilis
Lacey is that she’s nothing special. While this novel, in contrast, really is
something special, partly because hum-drum heroines like Eilis are so scarce
and certainly because of the period atmosphere and moral complexity of Eilis’s
story.

Toibin, who’s demonstrated in previous novels like “The Master” and “Mothers
and Sons” that he can render just about any subject and mood, is beautifully
restrained here, up until the ending, when he delivers a sucker punch worthy of
his own master, Henry James. The always suspect book jacket plot summary of
Brooklyn, declares that it’s set in Brooklyn and Ireland in the early 1950s,
when one young woman crosses the ocean to make a new life for herself. That
last statement is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Eilis doesn’t make a new life for herself. She acquiesces to other people’s
plans, she drifts and in doing so, she ultimately crashes and causes emotional
wreckage. Eilis and her older sister, Rose, live with their widowed mother in a
small village in Ireland. Because the post World War II Irish economy is so
flat, the three brothers in the family have already immigrated to England. When
Rose, glamorous, a go-getter, the obvious heroine of a more obvious novel,
makes the acquaintance of a visiting priest named Father Flood, she persuades
him to sponsor Eilis and find her a job in Brooklyn where his parish is
located.

Eilis passively goes along. Here’s how Toibin deftly captures her neither fish
nor fowl feelings about the new life opening up before her: Until now, Eilis
had always presumed that she would live in the town all her life, as her mother
had done. Now she felt that she was being singled out for something for which
she was not in any way prepared, and this, despite the fear it carried with it,
gave her a feeling, she might experience in the days, say, before her wedding.
Days in which she herself was fizzy with excitement but careful not to think
too precisely about what the next few weeks would be like in case she lost her
nerve.

Still in a daze, Eilis finds herself in a third class cabin on an ocean liner
bound for New York. On her first night, she vomits up her dinner of peas and
mutton all over that room and the hallway outside because more experienced
passengers have already locked themselves into the common bathroom. Arriving in
Brooklyn, Eilis is settled into a boarding house, night school classes in
bookkeeping and a job as a salesclerk at a local department store, all thanks
to Father Flood again. Eilis even meets a sweet young Italian American plumber
named Tony at a parish dance.

Tony wants to marry Eilis and have kids. Eilis thinks she might love him. But,
summoned back to Ireland because of a family tragedy, Eilis begins to feel Tony
and her life in America fading, like a dream. Twice throughout his novel
"Brooklyn" Toibin writes extended scenes in which Eilis is bobbing in the
ocean, an emblematic image for a girl who allows herself to be pushed and
pulled by the tides of happenstance and other people's decisions. Because he
creates and sustains such an everyday character throughout this small gem of a
novel, Toibin invites readers to rethink the familiar heroic version of the
coming to America saga in which immigrants actively seize their own destinies
along with large concepts like freedom and possibility.

Eilis's muted vacillation makes for a more profound story about ordinary
limited options that also feels a lot closer to the emotional truth of the
huddled masses.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed “Brooklyn” by Colm Toibin. You can download podcasts of our show on
our Web site, freshair.npr.org.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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