Amy Poehler: ‘Parks and Rec is one of those comedies that people heal themselves with’ | Documentary films
OWhat is your process for preparing for directing, and how does that compare with your past films? fionasack
Well, Lucy and Desi is the first documentary I made. There’s tons of preparation and research before you even start shaping the story. It was great working during a pandemic because, rather than being on set, I was interviewing people. My editor – who worked on the Bee Gees and Pavarotti documentaries – and I kept cutting for a point of view. It really started to take shape as we understood the subject better. So it was a very different animal.
How has Lucille Ball influenced your own comedy? DeJongandtherestless
Like all good art comes in and out of your life, you see it in different ways. I Love Lucy sounded like a show that came with my TV, but it wasn’t until I was older that I really started noticing Lucille Ball’s performance. Then I started reviewing it for writing, production and nostalgia. She has a huge influence because she took very surreal and crazy situations and played them so grounded.
Since Lucille Ball seems to have such a big influence, who would you invite to the table of your dreams? isisloyd
I think I’m just going to do the Lucy and Desi related dinner table, so Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Carol Burnett, Bette Midler, Norman Lear and Sammy Davis Jr would be a pretty loud table. I feel like with this gang there would be a lot of cigarettes and not a lot of food, so maybe we’d order a pizza.
If you were in your twenties, how would you try to get into acting? Would you still go the Improv/Second City route, or would you explode on TikTok? Emily M
The company has changed so much, but the talent always seems to find its way. I had no connection when I started my improv sketch group and did live performances. So: that’s an excellent question. Please don’t take me back to my 20s, I guess that’s my answer. Don’t make me go back. You can’t make me go back.
Catherine Hahn refers to you as a real “womanan’s woman” – supportive and dedicated to the empowerment and growth of women. What else can we expect from Paper Kite Productions and hHow do you continue to find the energy to inspire the next generation of young women to become future leaders of comedy? Hanna James
Paper Kite is my production company. We produce film, television and animation. Russian Doll Season 2 is out next month and Harlem Season 2 has just been picked up from Amazon. It is such a joy to lead this company with these genius women. Producing and directing gives me great satisfaction. How to find the energy? I do not know. Maybe if I have to go back to my 20s, I’ll bottle the energy of my 20s in a backpack and take it in capsule form.
You seem as comfortable writing, directing and producing as you are in front of the camera. But which one makes you feel most vulnerable? Hanna James
I think if you do your job well, you should feel insecure and vulnerable, because it means you push yourself to try new things. Isn’t vulnerability everywhere? I will answer the opposite, that is to say that I certainly do not feel invulnerable at all.
My husband and I just finished watching Parks and Rec for the third time, this time with our kids (9, 13 and 15), who roared with laughter; it’s so joyful and hopeful. What is the secret of its re-watchability? MillHouseMo
I think – to get a little existential – when times are scary and uncertain, we like to go back to things we’ve seen before. Comedy is above all a way of healing. A lot of people went back to shows they knew would make them happy, that they could watch with their families, and they knew how it would end. And I think Parks and Rec was lucky to be a part of that.
Leslie Knope was often called a “steamroller” for the way she behaved in her relationships. How does a woman empower herself to respect without being misinterpreted as domineering or authoritarian? Hanna James
I don’t know if it’s even a woman’s job to try to find the balance. We should ease the burden on women in general. Women are constantly asked to walk the fine line of sympathetic, aggressive, speaking their minds, and being nice. We should shift the burden of finding the right way to express what women feel and be more receptive to creating a little more space.
I often find myself thinking, “What would Leslie Knope do? Do you? Jonesie38
Oh yes. I mean, talk about energy. This character is such a drive, so action oriented and always trying to find a way up and out. She has a strong sense of justice and is a loyal guardian of her friends. She sees things in people that they don’t see in themselves and believes in people before them. She doesn’t always think or act right, but her heart is always in the right place. So yes, I do sometimes think about what Leslie would do.
Since Leslie loves breakfast foods, what is your favorite breakfast dish? neobarbarian
Oh boy, that’s where we differ. I don’t want to cause trouble – I like waffles, but I don’t like them. I’m more of a savory breakfast person…and that’s the kind of game you’re going to get from me. My character could love a waffle; I just to like this. That’s the kind of stretch you get when I act.
Which British comedy do you like? That one
I’m a kid of the 80s, so our British comedy came smuggled on a VHS tape from a friend’s cousin who had heard of a show called Brass Eye. So we had to get a lot of our British bootleg comedy style, unless it was something more mainstream like Monty Python that aired on PBS. We didn’t have access like we do now so it took us so long to discover your beautiful shiny jewelry.
What is your opinion on dark comedy and would you ever play a character like Fleabag? NourMyth
I didn’t hear a word you said because I’m still furiously trying to think of the best British comedies to sound cool. I’m too scared to even start naming because I have a deep reverence for British comedy. Americans my age felt very special when we were able to find out, like we were the only ones who knew who Garth Marenghi was. Give me a minute.
What advice would you give to young budding filmmakers and writers? ella pascua
Hmm. Prepare your list of the best British comedies for the Guardian, damn it. For comedy writers – and this advice is by no means new – just write constantly, all the time, as much as you can, as much as you can bear. Because, like any muscle, you have to keep working it. It’s the same with comedy, improvisation… you just have to keep trying.
You have written, produced and directed so many phenomenal plays for television and film over the years, wWhat kinds of stories do you turn to now, and how do they differ from what interested you 10 years ago? bvckle
I don’t have a fun answer to that, but I always try to find new and interesting ways to understand characters and people. Sorry. I’m in a total spiral over my list of British comedies. I can’t stop thinking about it. You name a few British comedies and I’ll rate them from one to five cookies. Alan Partridge? Five cookies! The UK office? Five cookies! peepshow? Five cookies! Fawlty Towers? Four cookies.
If you were to make another documentary, what or who would you do it about? lauren8101
Oh, I don’t know. Who would you like to see a documentary about? French and Saunders? Twenty-five cookies! I have such respect for British comedy that I was paralyzed to even talk about my favorite genres. Now there’s just this incredible cross-pollination of cast and writers and actors working together in a way that I don’t think they’ve ever done before, which is frankly very exciting, like Catastrophe with the great Rob Delaney and great Sharon Horgan. Disaster! Five biscuits and a cookie, because Rob Delaney is American.
Lucy and Desi are now on Amazon Prime