Outside 'SNL,' Poehler Stays Edgy with Improv

By Nick A. Zaino III,
Boston Globe - 10/31/2003

In her three seasons as a cast member on "Saturday Night Live," Burlington native Amy Poehler has made her mark with frenetic characters and impressions of celebrities such as Sharon Osbourne and Kelly Ripa. Tuesday, fans will get to see some of Poehler's best, edgiest work when Comedy Central releases the first season of "The Upright Citizens Brigade" on DVD. The sketch show lasted only three seasons, just long enough to show the potential of what Poehler and her fellow UCB members Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, and Ian Roberts could do.

Poehler won't go into detail why the show was canceled. "It was too good," she deadpans over the phone. "Comedy Central couldn't keep it because the show was . . . making the other shows look bad."

Poehler's introduction to the world of improv and sketch comedy came at Boston College in a group called "My Mother's Flea Bag." She took that basic training to Chicago in 1993, where she studied at Second City and Improv Olympics with old pros such as Del Close, who later lent his voice to the opening scene of "The Upright Citizens Brigade."

"I was in an improv group in college and decided that's kind of what I wanted to keep doing," Poehler says.

Poehler joined the the Upright Citizens Brigade in 1996. Shortly after, the Chicago-based group moved to New York as part of the Comedy Central show. They've stayed together, working at their own Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York, while collaborating on outside projects. The theater has taken on a life of its own, becoming a hot spot for improv and sketch shows, as well as a school for the next Upright Citizens generation.

It's also a place where Poehler can return to her roots. After shooting projects such as Barry Levinson's "Envy," with Ben Stiller and Jack Black, Poehler can perform with people she started with in Chicago. "Going and performing at the theater is kind of a relief," she says. "It's pretty easy to do something that fun with people that talented."

While Poehler would've preferred the Upright Citizens show had continued, she's happy it will have new life on the shelves.

"Now you can live in DVD land forever," she says. "People can watch it and program it once a week like it's still on TV, and everybody will still be happy."