Amy Poehler on how she learned to make people laugh after 9/11

From Saturday Night Live to Pixar's Inside Out, the comedian's star continues to rise

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Up until recently, Amy Poehler was – as described by a fellow comedian – “the funniest person nobody knows”. She may still not be that well known here, but make no mistake, she is one of the most powerful women in the entertainment business. Her stint on Saturday Night Live, alongside her friend Tina Fey, as well as her role in Parks and Recreation (which returns for a new series on Monday 27 July on Dave), have turned this teacher’s daughter from the Boston suburbs into a star.

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For the past two years, Poehler and Fey have hosted the Golden Globes to rapturous applause. At 43, Poehler still has the air of a lottery winner, who, rather charmingly, can’t quite believe her luck. “My career has been an interesting one,” she reflects. “It’s been like a slow and steady race. Every step has seen me figuring out where to go next.” 

She’s acknowledged as one of a number of American comedians who have pushed the boundaries, with a razor- sharp satirical wit that takes in everything from politics (she does a deadly Hillary Clinton impression) to how men react to pregnant women. She writes, directs and produces her own shows (including the sitcom Welcome to Sweden and several episodes of Parks), is a successful author and, of course, acts, too. Her latest role is in Pixar’s animated adventure Inside Out, voicing the character Joy, one of the inner emotions ruling the behaviour of an 11-year-old girl named Riley. 

When I suggest that Poehler is forging a new path for female comedy, she protests, saying, “I think that would be presumptuous. But I do feel I’m in a ‘straddle’ generation. I see the younger generation and I’m lucky enough to work with them, and I’m also very respectful and in debt to the generation that came before, who had harder obstacles to overcome than I did.”

Poehler grew up in a happy home where banter over dinner with her brother Greg (who co-writes Welcome to Sweden) was part of family life. “There was an expectation to keep up at the table,” she says. “Brits understand this – you kind of have to get good at teasing and you have to be able to take it and give it. You guys call it taking the p*** – and we learned that early on.” 

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Growing up, her own comedy influences were not exclusively American. “Monty Python and The Carol Burnett Show were the two shows that seemed to be on in our house all the time. My mom watched a lot of British comedy for a suburban schoolteacher from Boston. Later I was watching a lot of early SNL (Saturday Night Live), Eddie Murphy, Gilda Radner.”