Exclusive Interview with actress Amy Poehler on her new digital TV series aimed at empowering young girls, "Smart Girls at the Party"
Actress Amy Poehler made us all laugh earlier this year with her comedic impersonations of Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Saturday Night Live, but off screen she is actually quite serious about her crusade to inspire the next generation of women leaders. Poehler is the co-creator and host of a new online show titled, Smart Girls at the Party, which "celebrates extraordinary girls who are changing the world by being themselves." She created the series (featured on digital media network ON Networks) with good friends producer Meredith Walker and musical director Amy Miles. In each weekly episode, Poehler interviews a pre-teen girl with "a unique talent, community interest or point of view" in a lighthearted spirit of humor and fun. Poehler says, "We looked for girls that had passions, girls who felt passionate about stuff, no matter what that was." Past shows have featured 10 year-old writer Cameron with a penchant for the paranormal, sisters Lea and Sarafina talking about the joys of sisterhood, and the latest episode features 7-year-old Ruby, who Amy describes as a "feminist, activist, deep thinker and artist", who gives her own perspective on feminism, stating matter-of-factly: "I think that boys and girls are of equal value" and sings a feminist anthem she wrote. During the course of the season, The Smart Girls crew get taught by the girls they interview everything from gardening, to dancing, to meditation and yoga . "We wanted the show to be us having fun along with the girls," says Poehler. Each episode always ends with a group dance party. Smart Girls at the Party is a dynamic mix of many things: silly and serious, inspiring and entertaining, hip and educational, simple yet profound.
Most of us women can commiserate with how difficult it is to be a preteen girl and remember how important those formative years are to a girl's sense of self. And as the mother of two young daughters (and co-founder of the women's web site Feminist.com), I am encouraged to see more alternative media like Smart Girls emerging, instilling empowering messages and presenting positive, realistic role models to that age group.
You may remember how enormously pregnant Poehler was when she infamously rapped and danced with Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live in mid-October. Poehler gave birth to 8lb 1oz baby Archibald William Emerson Arnett aka "Archie" (with husband actor Will Arnett) on October 25th, and although she has left SNL, she will soon be starring in her own NBC sitcom coming out in spring 2009, from the producers of "The Office," co-starring Aziz Ansari and Rashida Jones. In the following interview, she answers a few questions about why she decided to create Smart Girls, the challenges young girls face in today's society, and whose interview style she would most compare herself to (here's a hint: she couldn't pick just one).
Marianne Schnall: "Smart Girls at the Party" was created by you with two of your friends, Meredith Walker and Amy Miles. How did the idea for the show come about?
Amy Poehler: The idea came out of us wishing we had a time machine so we could go back to the younger versions of ourselves and let them know it was gonna be ok. We wanted to do a show that we would have wanted to watch at that age. And we knew we wanted to have a dance party at the end. We basically started with the dance party and worked backwards.
MS: What is it like working on a project like this with your friends? It looks like you are having fun in the clips.
AP: It IS as fun as it looks! I'm so lucky to have such awesome and talented friends as Meredith and Amy. We wanted to be able to show young girls how girlfriends can have fun at any age.
MS: Why did you choose the title "Smart Girls at the Party"?
AP: Titles are hard, but we wanted to convey something that was fun, age appropriate, and reminded everyone that it was cool to be smart and smart people can still party.
MS: How would you describe the overall message of the show?
AP: Be yourself! And then tell us about it! And then let's dance!
MS: What are your goals for the series?
AP: I want to win an Acomedy Award!
MS: What do you hope girls and their parents take away from it?
AP: Ultimately, that they think it's funny and it makes them feel happy to watch it.
MS: Your show features empowered, motivated young girls - are there any common qualities that are emerging?
AP: We interviewed all types of girls, and they were so different. But I think all the girls had this common thread of being passionate about something. I remember at that age being excited when people asked me questions about what I was interested in, or what I was good at, or what I liked doing that week.
MS: What are some of the most harmful stereotypes young girls face these days?
AP: Girls have to fight against a lot of the same stuff we did growing up...peer pressure, exploitation, etc. But what worries me the most is this trend that caring about something isn't cool. That it's better to comment on something than to commit to it. That it's so much cooler to be unmotivated and indifferent. Our culture can get so snarky and ironic sometimes and we kind of wanted Smart Girls to celebrate the opposite of that.
MS: I read your mother was a teacher. How did that affect you? Do you see yourself as a mentor or teacher to these young girls on the show?
AP: My mother and a lot of other teachers always encouraged original thinking and spirited debate. Its really important for girls at that age to be reminded that the sky is the limit, and anything they want to do is possible. I like to think of myself as the cool teacher that doesn't give any homework and moves class outside.
MS: Because this isn't broadcast television, are there things you can accomplish through this medium that you wouldn't be able to otherwise?
AP: We were able to shoot this show fast and on the cheap, and ONNetworks have been great in terms of giving us total creative freedom. The computer is the new fireplace, everyone in the family gathers around the digital hearth for warmth. It's great to be able to throw our own log on the fire, so to speak. Shall I continue this metaphor? Because you can really "rake this show over the coals" and still find its "embers burn brightly." Too much? I agree. :)
MS: What is your interviewing style? Who would you most compare yourself to - Barbara Walters, Charlie Rose, Larry King, Katie Couric?
AP: I would say my interview style is Morley Safer meets Kermit the Frog, with a dash of Christiane Amanpour. And a pinch of Dinah Shore wrapped in the shell of Lois Lane. My goal is to be the Edward R. Murrow of girls.
Watch "Smart Girls at the Party" at www.smartgirlsattheparty.tv
Follow Marianne Schnall on Twitter: www.twitter.com/marianneschnall