After eight seasons on Saturday Night Live (for which she earned an Emmy nomination — a rare honor among cast members), Amy Poehler is ready for prime time. The 37-year-old now plants herself on NBC's Parks and Recreation, a mockumentary-style sitcom from the executive producers of The Office about an ambitious mid-level bureaucrat in the Pawnee, Ind., parks department. The show premieres April 9, two days after her girly vacation comedy Spring Breakdown drops on DVD. The Baby Mama star shares the queer scoop on these projects and explains why she'd want her baby boy to grow up gay — with or without Liza Minnelli's blessing.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: Tell me about your character Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation. Could she be a lesbian?
Amy Poehler: She's this deluded, somewhat fragile person who doesn't have any real power but wants to change the world. Sweet Leslie would probably attempt lesbianism just to have that experience and open her mind, but it would be really fumbly and awkward. There would not be anything sexy about it.
Any quirky gay characters or subplots on the show?
I'm sure there will be. In very local politics, you want to make sure everyone's voice is represented in the town hall meetings. I'm sure Leslie would want to reach out to the gay community to ask about different things — like how to obtain a liquor license.
Will Leslie's parks fall prey to George Michael-style recreation?
That's funny, because the show starts with Leslie thinking, "I'll turn this disgusting pit into a park, and everyone will want that." Right away the town is like, "No, because people are going to be partying and having sex there."
When did you get your first taste of gay culture?
I had an interesting and rather unorthodox experience at Boston College, which was a very Jesuit, sports-heavy school. I lived off-campus with, like, seven other people, including three gay guys, and we were known for having super-fun parties. This will date me, but we threw a "Goodbye to the '80s" party, and my gay roommates dressed up as the Robert Palmer girls. I dressed up as "Baby Jessica," the little girl who fell down a well. I went to a lot of gay clubs in Boston, and I spent a lot of time getting to know that scene.
Who's the most important gay person in your life now?
Shane from The L Word. She just can't get her shit together. She's a broken bird, and she needs someone to fix her. Just when you think she's ready for love, she sabotages it. And the woman gives a rock 'n' roll haircut. [Laughs] There are a lot of amazing, really talented gay writers at SNL who I'm proud to call my friends, and our times together have meant a lot to me. There are tons of gay people who work in all departments of that show.
Then why haven't there been more openly gay SNL cast members?
That's a really good question, but I don't know. Someone should pick that up as a thesis at Hampshire College.
Is it true that you and Tina Fey met as members of an improv team, Inside Vladimir, named after a gay porno?
Yes! It was 1993 in Chicago. There was a local convenience store called JJ Peppers — which also sounds like a gay porn — and it had this really weak selection of adult male videos. I find it charming when a store just gives it a try with eight dusty titles. One of them was Inside Vladimir. I believe there was some kind of Russian theme, but the story was lost on me very quickly.
You actually bought and watched it?
At the time we were broke, so we probably rented rather than purchased. I should try to track it down and watch it again, because I'm sure there are subtleties that I missed on the first viewing.
Say something nice about your gay fan base.
That's the ultimate stamp of approval. It's a very loyal, discerning audience, and one that cares very much about its comedy. There are a lot of times in comedy when you have to be OK with looking the fool, and the gay audience rewards you for taking big swings. Not only do they appreciate the vulnerability of broken-down characters, they also enjoy the wigs.
Spring Breakdown sounds pretty gay-friendly.
Please, that movie is made for the gays! If we can't get the gays to go see that movie, then I don't know what they want. It's this fun, silly romp about three ladies in their 30s who do spring break one last time, and it stars Parker Posey, Rachel Dratch, and me. Our very gay director, Ryan Shiraki, calls it a "gay acid trip." I'm lucky enough to work with and be surrounded by gay men who love women.
In the film Rachel's character is engaged to a guy played by Seth Meyers who's obviously gay. Have you ever unwittingly fallen for a gay man?
Not yet. In fact, I've always been confused by women who don't see that. But as I get older, I get a lot less judgmental about why people are together.
Before your son, Archie, was born this past October, you told USA Today, "I don't care if it's a girl or a boy. I want it to marry Alice Richmond, Tina [Fey]'s daughter." Though it might throw a wrench in that wedding, would you like a gay son?
Well, they're so good to their mothers, and they usually keep a clean apartment. Sure, we'd probably have a grand ol' time. Recently, Rachel Dratch, Kristen Wiig, a couple SNL writers, and I all went to see Liza Minnelli's show at the Palace in New York. Unbelievable! She was so gracious when we got to meet her afterward. I told my friend, who was pregnant at the time, that Liza had to bless her baby so that it would either be gay or be a big supporter of the gays for the rest of his or her life. So Liza laid her hands on my friend's stomach and sang the first couple of lines from "Cabaret": "What good is sitting alone in your womb? Come hear the music play!" [Laughs] I was thrilled.
For my requisite Mean Girls reference, are you a regular mom or a cool mom?
I'm going to be a regular mom. The cool mom thing can really backfire. I'm out working in Los Angeles right now, and it's filled with cool moms with tight figures in jumpsuits, but when they turn around they have the face of a 70-year-old. It's very disconcerting. I'm probably jinxing myself, but I like children to have nice manners and a lot of boundaries. My hope for my children is that they're happy, and my hope for myself is that people want to be around my children.
In last year's short film The Mystery of Claywoman, a mockumentary about an urban legend, you play Debbie Harry's lesbian lover.
That was a dream come true. I did that for a friend of mine, Michael [Cavadias], who is a beautiful specimen. After we shot our little scene, I hailed a cab for Debbie, who was wearing strappy bondage shoes, kick-ass sunglasses, and this fabulous asymmetrical coat with crazy buttons. When she left, I said to Michael, "Oh, my God. The 14-year-old Amy Poehler is exploding at the fact that I just hailed Blondie a cab."
You said in a 2007 interview that you hoped someone would dress up like you and put on a one-person show at a gay cabaret. Have you met an "Amy" drag impersonator since then?
I'm so bummed because I'm still hoping for that day. I just hope people keep mistaking me for Lady Gaga. Christina Aguilera may steal a lot of Lady Gaga's style, but Lady Gaga steals a lot of my jokes, and a lot of people don't know that.
In addition to your Nickelodeon cartoon The Mighty B!, you've positioned yourself as a role model for young girls with your Web series Smart Girls at the Party. Guess you can't screw up and get photographed taking bong hits anymore.
[Laughs] Shit. You're right. And I love getting photographed taking bong hits. There's nothing in them; I just like taking pictures next to bongs. The message of Smart Girls is how girls can change the world by being themselves, but it's also a very gay-friendly show because it ends with a dance party. I have not met one gay in my 37 years who doesn't enjoy a dance party.
Finally, how can I bag a man like your husband, Will Arnett?
Just go up to a big guy, cough a little, and say "Carry me" in a baby voice. Sometimes that works. Will's so gorgeous and funny, but what attracted me to him most was how much of a provider he is. He was really a man among a lot of boys. He's also so in love with his gay fan base. Will would love nothing more than to wake up in the morning, step outside, and wave at his gay fan base — and since we live in New York's West Village, we can both do that.
The Advocate, May 2009; extended online version.