Amy Poehler: Renegade roots are showing

Comedy Impact Report 2011: Honoree

When the Upright Citizens Brigade opened its second New York location Oct. 29, Amy Poehler was there, improvising for disciples who often hear her name but rarely see her. “It was emotional for me,” says Poehler, who 15 years earlier had moved to New York with Ian Roberts, Matt Besser and Matt Walsh, where they soon found themselves operating a theater and acting in a Comedy Central sketch show of the same name.

From those renegade roots, the 2011 Variety “Power of Comedy” award winner has seen her comedy career bloom. Today she’s starring in the fourth season of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” a run that has delighted critics and earned numerous Emmy nominations. Poehler also co-created toon series “The Mighty B!” for Nickelodeon, on which she voices the main character. And, of course, she still finds time to occasionally swing by “Saturday Night Live.”

“Upright Citizens Brigade” helped Poehler snag her part on “Saturday Night Live,” where she spent roughly eight seasons, including a few hosting “Weekend Update.” She found her way into other projects, including parts on “Arrested Development,” “Mean Girls” (with “SNL” co-star Tina Fey) and “Blades of Glory” alongside husband Will Arnett, as well as a co-starring role in “Baby Mama” with Fey.

Everything she’s done, including “Parks and Rec,” can be traced back to UCB’s comedy philosophy, one that’s shared by all of improv comedy: “Surround yourself with people who are better than you, and you’ll look good,” she says.

The show itself sometimes feels like a long-form improv comedy set — it’s tightly scripted, but the mockumentary style lends a looseness, and episodes have a long memory. “If something happens on the show, there are consequences,” Poehler explains. “People get fired, people have sex. There’s not this reset button every time.”

Poehler’s accomplishments owe much to the rogue sensibility of UCB, which wrote its own rules rather than play by another’s. Instead of waiting to be discovered, the group invented a forum to show what they could do.

“It can be so dreadful standing up against the wall waiting for a cute guy to ask you to dance,” Poehler says. “f you go and dance on your own or with your friends, you feel a lot better.””Frankly,” she adds, “sometimes you have to let people know what you can do.”

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