Amy Poehler on 'Saturday Night Live', 'Parks & Recreation' and 'Inside Out 2'

amy poehler interview
Amy Poehler: How I Got HereHanna Lassen - Getty Images

At this point, Amy Poehler is now synonymous with the American 21st century comedy scene.

Having risen up the ranks of the comedy improv world (she co-founded Chicago’s Upright Citizens Brigade whose alumni has since boasted Aubrey Plaza, Donald Glover and Ellie Kemper), Poehler became a Saturday Night Live regular cast member in 2001 during which time she notably successfully embodied parodying Hillary Clinton and hosted Weekend Update with Seth Meyers and Tina Fey.

In 2009, she left to star in the lead role of a mockumentary-style sitcom based in the environmental section of an Indiana local government office: Parks and Recreation. With Leslie Knope, Poehler successfully brought to life a fictional feminist icon (for which she won a Golden Globe), and spurred memes and catchphrases for the ages, including ‘Galentine’s Day’. Throughout the show, she also found time to write a best-selling memoir, Yes Please.

Now, in 2024, having been firmly embedded as one of the great American comedians of recent years – alongside her friends and frequent collaborators like Tina Fey (who she has worked with on SNL, Mean Girls, Sisters and recently toured the US with on a comedy tour), Poehler has returned to voiceover work for Inside Out 2. 10 years after the original Pixar hit introduced us to the competing emotions in young girl Riley’s brain (Poehler plays Joy, and with that instantly recognisable, warm voice, it’s no surprise), now, Riley is entering adolescence with new emotions entering the fray, like anxiety and envy.

We caught up with Poehler on the promotional trails of the film to talk through some career highlights.

I wanted to return for a sequel to Inside Out after so long because…

I couldn’t wait for a second one. It's truly been one of the most fulfilling creative experiences, to be involved in their machine. And it is a great gig, to voice Joy. You show up, you get to have this energetic experience and because it's Pixar, it's a great acting challenge.

When I was younger, how I felt about school was…

I grew up with two public school teachers for parents, so school was pretty important in our house. I did like school, not all the time, but I liked the social element and the curious feeling of school. However, like every normal teenager, and like Riley in the film, when you start to switch over from being a kid who's running around just being yourself, to suddenly hearing the sound of your own voice, figuring out who your friends are, and getting worried about what people think of you, it's a brutal crossover and none of us can escape it. I definitely felt that. I was just trying to figure out who I was, what do I believe in? What do I care about? And at that time, everyone is asking you, what do you want to do? Who are you? The big lie that Pixar knows is that grown-ups lie to kids because you don't even know as an adult, so why do we ask teenagers to tell us? That time, for a lot of us, is just on repeat for a lot of our lives.

My role models growing up were…

Personal role models were my parents and teachers. I also loved a lot of comedians, I don't know if they were role models, but they were definitely career models. I loved Gilda Radner, Bette Midler, Steve Martin and Catherine O'Hara. I was obsessed with what they were doing. I was always drawn to these intrepid individuals who seemed like they had it figured out, what you learn as an adult was of course they didn’t, nobody does, but they seemed very brave.

amy poehler interview
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The job that changed my life the most was…

Saturday Night Live. It was certainly the first big job I had, where I said my name and got health insurance. I realised, “oh, I think I can make a living doing what I want to do”. I was waiting tables until I got that job, then I got my teeth fixed, I got an apartment That definitely was the biggest leap for me.

The first job where I noticed getting recognised..

Was SNL. I had done a sketch comedy show on Comedy Central and there would be times where people would notice that, but it felt very niche. I was performing in New York, and I felt like I had a name for myself there. But certainly, SNL was the first time where I got fan letters. Back then there used to be this thing called paper, and they would put a pen on this thing called paper, and they write it and they would mail it. It was weird, you had to lick it, to mail it!

I came up on that show at a strange time. Social media was not around, so there would be message boards. We also had [recording TV device] TiVo just coming out so SNL was just starting to be watched the next day. It opened me up to realising there were people that have opinions about me, who are not my family or my friends

The most unexpected curveball throughout my career has been…

amy poehler interview
Kevork Djansezian/NBC - Getty Images

More external, less about my experience, but more about the business in general. It’s changing constantly and doesn't look anything like it did 10 years ago when I was doing Parks and Recreation. It’s wild how much the medium has changed… it’s exciting. So, that feeling of having to pivot has become really important. Flexibility – which I didn't think would be my most treasured asset – has become that because you cannot, for better or for worse, hold on. Everything changes. That has definitely been the biggest thing about being in this career for, you know, 150 years.

The most amazing things about Parks is that it has had this wild ride. It just keeps coming back in this interesting way that we're not in control of anymore. The pandemic was a good example of that because when you're anxious, you really want to watch something that gets fixed and you want to know what's going to happen, and you want to feel good. That show definitely does that.

The job that was the scariest for me was…

Hosting the Golden Globes was kind of scary, because it was a live, big event. But it was scary for just a short amount of time and then you learn that you can do a lot of things if you have the right people, partner and team. But that was kind of intense. Luckily, I feel like as I've gotten a little older, if I'm feeling nervous or scared about something, it doesn't feel as intense and it’s a good sign that I'm trying something new. I like that feeling. I think the worst feeling is when you feel ambivalent.

I look for guidance in the industry from…

I have such good, hilarious friends. I work with so many funny people, who are my peers and we came up together.. Whether it's Seth [Meyers], Tina [Fey], Maya [Rudolph] or Rashida [Jones] or anyone who I got a chance to grow up with, they are still the people whose opinion I really care about, who I check in with and have them tell me if I'm off. I care very much about what they think, I keep wanting to work with them and wanting to make them laugh.

What’s left on my bucket list is…

Maybe an Olympic sport? What shall we do? It's coming up! No, really, there are a lot of things left that I want to do. I love directing, writing and producing and I'm excited about continuing getting to continue to do more of that. I always feel like success is people and process. Working with people that inspire you and that you like to be around and the process being a healthy one. The idea is the idea of but I have learned that the people and process are the things that you remember.

Inside Out 2 is out in cinemas from 14 June.

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