Amy Poehler on Nightline Friday, April 18Mar 13, 2015
'SNL' Actress Discusses Her Character Choices and the 2008 Campaign
Amy Poehler has starred on Saturday Night Live for seven years, beloved for her risk-taking quirky characters, and more recently, for her buzz-worthy Hillary Clinton impression.
But she feels most at home away from the television cameras in a dimly lit theater in Manhattan, where tickets only cost $5.
Watch the story tonight on Nightline at 11:35 ET
For the last 12 years Poehler, 36, has performed with the Upright Citizens Brigade, an improv comedy group started in Chicago that Poehler brought to New York with other comedians in order to get their names out.
While she doesn't need help with name recognition anymore, and she certainly doesn't need the money, she continues to perform with the improv troupe.
'It's the closest thing I have to church. You show up to have this communal experience with people that I really love to feel,' Poehler said.
'I think it reminds you you're supposed to be silly. I think sometimes with a certain amount of success you get a little disconnected from what brought you there. And you get nervous to take chances and so what I do like about this show is it reminds me over and over again to take risks and be dangerous.'
At 5 foot 2 inches, she is a fearlessly physical comic who once blacked out on live TV after a particularly rough pratfall.
On SNL she has chosen memorable characters such as Caitlin, a trashy, one-legged reality show contestant; Amber, the host of 'Good Morning Meth'; Michael Jackson; and Sharon Stone.
Her Biggest Fans
Poehler grew up in Burlington, Mass., the daughter of two teachers whose unmitigated support of their daughter's career borders on hysteria.
'They watch literally almost every SNL for the past seven years, live. I'm not kidding. They watch it live. They have everything I've ever done on tape. Every movie poster I've ever done. I have restraining order against them. It's now getting inappropriate,' Poehler joked.
They have reason to be proud. Poehler has broken some glass ceilings in the comedy world. Three years ago she and Tina Fey became the first female co-anchors for the iconic SNL sketch 'Weekend Update.'
Poehler enjoys doing the 'Weekend Update,' because it is one of the few roles that lets her be herself.
'I love doing the update. & The difference is that you will say your name on the show. It makes a difference,' Poehler said. 'You allow yourself to be yourself on camera, which is hard for an actor to do but really hard for a comedian to do. You're not hiding behind a character.'
She was inspired by her comedy idol Gilda Radner who got her start on the show 30 years ago.
'I would have to say my ground zero person was probably Gilda. I remember thinking how she held her own in a group of real alpha males.'
She is starring with Fey in the comedy Baby Mama, in theaters April 25, which tackles the decidedly un-funny subject of infertility with odd couple antics.
Poehler plays Angie, a crude, working class girl with a heart of gold who signs on to be a surrogate for Fey's Kate, a single yuppie in her late 30s who can't get pregnant.
'We were excited about the idea. We felt we hadn't seen it in a while. The idea of it being a straight-up comedy about two women. The topic felt very real to us, like it was really ripe for good jokes,' said Poehler.
While Poehler acted out her fair share of outrageous moments in the movie, she wanted to be careful in how she portrayed Angie.
'I had to make sure that she was blue collar realistically,' Poehler said. 'She goes through a journey in that film that's not always what you agree with & and you have to kind of stay on board with her and figure out why she's making these choices.'
Comedy in the 2008 Campaign
But her latest movie isn't what recently got Poehler a spot on TV Week's list of the 10 Most Powerful People in TV News -- it is because of her famous impression of the New York senator and 2008 presidential hopeful.
Poehler plays up Clinton's perceived icy demeanor and the press' sometimes fawning fascination with Sen. Barack Obama, Clinton's rival for the party nomination. The character has been widely credited with changing the dynamics of the 2008 primaries.
At the Feb. 26 Democratic debate in Cleveland, Clinton referenced an SNL skit that showed debate moderators grilling Poehler's Clinton while going easy on Obama.
'If anybody saw Saturday Night Live, you know, maybe we should ask Barack if he's comfortable and needs another pillow,' Clinton said.
But Poehler doesn't believe she has any real influence in the 2008 presidential election.
'I would argue that most people have decided what they want to do,' Poehler said. 'If you were turning to SNL to decide who your candidate is, you're in real trouble. You need to read some newspapers.'
Poehler studies videos of Clinton to act out her voice, mannerisms and her famous laugh.
'I like that laugh. I like when any candidate laughs because it rarely happens and you rarely see them on TV doing it. I imagine that their lives are pretty miserable.'
While Poehler's impression of Clinton, among other characters, has brought success, she's not taking anything for granted.
'There is not a day that goes by for real that I don't take a moment to be very grateful for where I am at. And when Don Pardo says my name on Saturday Night Live, I just kinda take a moment. I am very grateful because I know that these things come and go and you like to hope that you have a skill that you can always go back to.'
Fortunately, Poehler has a back-up plan.
'I would go back to the streets and just do my experimental puppet theater. I would just do fake news in the streets and see who listened.'
Jenn Bartels, Aubrey Plaza, & Casey Wilson Featured in the NY Daily NewsMar 13, 2015
Only a week after her prime-time hit 30 Rock returns to TV, Tina Fey will hit the big screen in Baby Mama, alongside fellow star comedian Amy Poehler. Count in one recent Vanity Fair cover and it's safe to say Fey is the reigning queen of comedy - and has at least temporarily stolen the spotlight from the Wilson/Stiller/Rogen fraternity that has dominated the form. New York's up-and-coming female comics can find plenty of inspiration in the resurgence heralded by Fey, Poehler, Kristen Wiig and Sarah Silverman, and for five women in the five boroughs, the stock character of the funny girl will never be relegated to the wings.
Jennifer Bartels, 26, was born in North Carolina, but spent part of her childhood in Staten Island. After college, she moved back. 'Staten Island has really played a part in the characters I pick to play,' she says. 'I'm big on playing, like, a Duane Reade employee that wants to get a pregnancy test or somebody that has a fight with Vinnie because he took her Honda.'
Bartels performs long-form improv comedy with her team, Twelve Thousand Dollars, at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, the place that launched the careers of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and other contemporary comic bigwigs.
Bartels calls Fey, and others such as Poehler and Kristen Wiig, 'new age,' women who are both successful and attractive. 'I think that stereotype of the vest with the tie and the water has died down a bit,' she says.
Beauty and funniness haven't always gone hand in hand in pop culture, Bartels points out. She grew up aspiring to the princessy leading roles.
'I always wanted to be the pretty girl,' she says, 'the one who's, like, 'Come, save me, please.' And I never got that. I was, like, 'Why am I playing the fat sister?' And I'm not fat at all.'
When she started reading for the comic parts, she began getting more work.
These days, she can be found taking the Staten Island ferry in time for a late-night improv show.
'At first, I envisioned Working Girl,' she says, 'where Carly Simon plays and I'm on the ferry in my tan tights and my Reeboks and I'm, like, 'I'm going to make a difference and be someone.' I literally played the song on my iPod to rev myself up. That worked for, like, one month.'
If Tina Fey set the standard for power-house comedian-slash-writers, Casey Wilson is ready to step up to the plate.
The 27-year-old is the newest member of the Saturday Night Live cast, the show's first hire after the end of the writers strike.
Her first feature film, Bride Wars, co-written with frequent collaborator June Raphael, is in production, with Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson as friends who plan their weddings for the same day.
'June and I are writing a little something for ourselves,' Wilson says of other projects on the slate. 'It's crass and kind of darker.'
Growing up in a boisterous family in Alexandria, Va., humor was almost genetic for Wilson.
'My dad's in politics, and my mom was too, so we were a very funny family,' she says. 'I have a younger brother who would raise his hand at the dinner table to get a word in because he was more shy. He was looked down upon in my family. 'If you want to talk, you better come up with something!''
Studying theater at NYU, Wilson met Raphael and the two created a two-woman show. 'We called it 'Rode Hard and Put Away Wet' after this phrase my mom used to call women who were, like, in an airport bar before 1 p.m.,' says Wilson. 'We wanted to do a show about those types of gals who've got too many miles on 'em but keep going.'
The show went from NYU to Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre - already a hot spot for comics. 'I went to see a show and Amy and Rachel Dratch were in it, and I just thought, 'This is for me,'' says Wilson.
After about a year, the show moved to Los Angeles, where Wilson performed for two years. It wasn't until she had nabbed her spot at SNL and moved back to Manhattan that she realized how much she missed New York.
'I feel like my L.A. experience was listening to musical theater in my car and crying. ... I'm so glad to be back.'
Her audition for SNL, she says, was one of the toughest performances of her life. 'You've got five minutes and you basically have to do - in Studio 8H - as many characters as you can think of. You just do them one after another, rapid-fire. I brought in a friend to help me do this bit about a quadriplegic stripper. He was gracious enough to carry my dead weight around.'
Being on the show, though, has been pure enjoyment - even starting her weekly performance at 11:30 p.m. is no trouble.
'I used to get this huge thing of coffee and before the first show Kristen Wiig was like, 'You know, I don't think you're going to need that coffee out there.' That adrenaline kicks in in such big way that it's like I've had my seven cups of crackalatta at Dunkin' Donuts.'
Even if you haven't been to a comedy club in a while, you may have spotted Aubrey Plaza dressed as an NBC page, giving a studio tour in prime time on the sitcom 30 Rock. It's an experience she knows well. The 23-year-old comedian once worked as an NBC page.
'When they were casting that episode they were looking for someone who could improvise what a page would say. Ideally, they wanted a former page who was also an actress and that was me,' she says. 'I even had my own page uniform I brought to the set.'
Plaza moved from her native Delaware to attend New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. She was in the perfect place to get behind the scenes at her dream gigs, interning at Saturday Night Live and working various other jobs at NBC.
'I think ultimately I want to be in a position where I can write my own movie and star in it,' she says. 'Or have my own TV show and be head writer - Tina Fey style.'
When interviewed on the phone, she was in Los Angeles for a series of auditions. In New York, she performs with Upright Citizens Brigade, on the same long-form improv team as Jenn Bartels, and has carved out a niche in Long Island City, where some 20 of her high-school friends ended up, leading her to christen the area 'Little Delaware.'
Like many young comics, her biggest break yet came from the Internet. She exchanges verbal jabs with comic Liz Cackowski in the online series The Jeannie Tate Show. Cackowski plays a suburban mom who hosts a talk show from behind the wheel of her minivan; Plaza plays her badass, substance-loving daughter. The series of videos, most under five minutes, have tallied more than half a million views on YouTube.
'After Jeannie Tate I'm constantly being cast as a mean, bad teenager,' says Plaza, who insists she was sweet growing up. 'I just think I have a really angry looking face. I don't smile that much, so people automatically assume I have dark secrets.'
Congratulations Wyatt Cenac, newest correspondent on The Daily ShowMar 11, 2015
Wyatt studied improv at UCBTLA under Matt Besser and Ian Roberts and performed with the Harold Team Robot Doctors. Also a stand-up and sketch comedian, Wyatt has been seen in numerous UCBTLA shows including Comedy Death-Ray, Rap Crisis Center, Quick & Dirty Musicals, The Doo Doo Show, Jeff Garlin's Combo Platter, See You Next Tuesday and many more.
Check out Wyatt's UCBTLA performer page for videos and upcoming shows.