Blue eyes full of mischief and ambition and painted pink pout lifted in a knowing and pleased smile, both shrouded in a sunny halo of corn-colored hair: Everything about Amy Poehler is impishly angelic. This delightful juxtaposition runs deeply through her comedy, as well, starting with the stark contrast between her appearance and love of raunchy humor. A Massachusetts native, expletives come naturally to her. She follows each shocking and Boston-accented "f*ckin' asshole" (words she has uttered on many talk shows, to the audience's delight) with a full-bodied and gleeful laugh. "Poehler's laugh begins as a chuckle and crescendos to a side-splitting guffaw," describes Sean Evans of the Daily News. However, her adorableness is not cloyingly sweet nor that of a girlish people-pleaser, but rather a misleading outer appearance that makes her raunchiness and ridiculousness all the more comedic.
After working as a cast member of Second City, getting her start on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and founding an improvisation training center called the Upright Citizens Brigade, in 2001 she became a featured player on Saturday Night Live, infamous both for its sketch comedy and the tough work environment it once created for female cast members. However, if there was any semblance of a boy's club remaining when Amy arrived at SNL, and many would argue there was not, she and Tina Fey blew that door off its hinges in an instant. Amy, in fact, is one of the many who believes SNL was not a place of gender-based exclusion. On this subject she has said: "I think Lorne Michaels has done more for women in comedy than anybody I know. It has been such a fertile ground for talented women." However, Poehler still had to make her intentions on the show clear from the get-go, marking her territory. In her autobiography, Bossypants, Tina Fey describes Poehler's iconic entrance to the New York institution:
"Amy was in the middle of some such nonsense with Seth Meyers across the table, and she did something vulgar as a joke. I can't remember what it was exactly, except it was dirty and loud and 'unladylike.' Jimmy Fallon, who was arguably the star of the show at the time, said, 'Stop that! It's not cute! I don't like it.' Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. 'I don't f*cking care if you like it.'...With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place. Amy made it clear that she wasn't there to be cute. She wasn't there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys' scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not f*cking care if you like it."
Her irreverence in the face of media or audience negativity makes her comedy full of joy, buzzing with life and passion. However, this should not be misconstrued to mean Poehler has disregarded her cast members or the writers of Saturday Night Live. Quite the contrary, her training at Second City ingrained in her a pillar of improvisation: always support your partner. It is a selfless and fearless art form in which Poehler is well-versed, a fact that informs how well she works in a cast. Her demeanor emanates a kindness and thoughtfulness towards others that with time has blossomed into a nearly maternal aura and thus her care extends to wholly include her fellow comedians. It just excludes criticism. Poehler has never had time for opinions and criticism that hold her rising star back from joining a constellation of famed comedians.
Perhaps the only person more genuine and kind-hearted than Amy Poehler is her own character Leslie Knope, the protagonist of NBC's Parks and Recreation, which Poehler also produces. The peppy, waffle-loving government official is perhaps the most lovable and relatable character to grace our televisions in years. Poehler depicts a ferociously ambitious Deputy Parks Director in Pawnee, Indiana whose Energizer Bunny-like dedication to the people of her hometown is likely fueled by the copious amounts of whipped cream and caffeine she consumes.
If the relationship between Poehler and her character were depicted in terms of a blonde, hilarious Venn diagram there would be one very important area of overlap: their shared passion for girls' independence. Knope is decidedly feminist, sometimes to the point of alienating others (particularly men, with whom she has entertainingly awkward luck). In an episode of Parks and Recreation titled "Beauty Pageant," Leslie is on a panel judging a local "Miss Pawnee" pageant. True to form, she wants the intelligent and charitable yet rather plain contestant to win, while the other panelists vote for the very sexy Trish, whose tight blue dress distracts from her impossibly low IQ.
In an interview at the New Yorker Festival this October, Poehler discussed her own desire to perpetuate intelligence among girls starting from a young age. This fearless energy is something Amy embodied in her famous and beloved Saturday Night Live sketch about Kaitlin, a tireless girl between the ages of eight and 11 whose headgear seems not to phase her and who blurts everything that pops into her head. Poehler, in addition, has begun a number of projects based around her desire to promote a love of learning and self-confidence in girls. Once such example is an animated comedy called Mighty B. that Poehler co-created and for which she was the voice of the protagonist. It follows the story of Bessie Higgenbottom, an excitable Honeybee girlscout determined to collect every badge. The project of hers that has contributed most widely to girls' education and the community as a whole is "Smart Girls at the Party," an online television show on which Poehler and some other women interview intelligent girls with a particular hobby (such as robot building) around the ages of 11-13. And to keep it fun and thoroughly Poehler-esque, each show ends with a mini dance party. The entire thing is a celebration of the type of girl Amy embodies -- smart, fiercely self-possessed and dedicated to her passion.
Both in her portrayal of Leslie Knope and in her own life, Amy Poehler's actions make her stand out as an empowered woman while her talent has made her stand out as a comedian. And although most feminists, and likely Poehler herself, would not want to categorize comedians by gender, arguably the most iconic moment on SNL's "Weekend Update" made her one of the greatest game-changing figures for women in comedy. It used to be that child-bearing defined a woman's place in the world; it meant staying at home and a life defined by gender. Watching Poehler as pregnant as can be, her gender does not even cross the viewer's mind. It is testament both to her comedy and the progression of women's place in comedy, for which she has done invaluable work. So to sum up the iconic segment, there is a man in a moose costume, the real Sarah Palin raising the roof, and a tiny, blonde woman whose charisma and comedy are the only things distracting from the fact that she is one sketch away from going into labor. And to sum up the iconic comedian... Well, that just did.