Amy Poehler: Live from New York

By Pauline O'Connor,
New York Times - 4/4/04

On a recent Sunday evening, while countless millions were glued to their television sets for the season premiere of "The Sopranos," the actress Amy Poehler was bustling around backstage at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Chelsea. Ms. Poehler's main gig is "Saturday Night Live," on which she lampoons pop-culture stars like Avril Lavigne and Kelly Ripa while introducing her own indelible characters, notably Amber, the trailer park queen, to the world at large. But she also has what one might call her Sunday Night Live: the weekly improv show at the theater, which she opened five years ago with several fellow transplants from the Chicago comedy scene.

The backstage area resembled a college dorm room, the pixieish Ms. Poehler its den mother, fetching drinks, introducing herself to visitors, darting back and forth to chat with the other performers, including her "S.N.L." colleagues Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, Horatio Sanz and Seth Meyers, who were lounging about on couches. "I've been in L.A. taping `Arrested Development,' " she reported, referring to the Fox sitcom that features her husband of six months, Will Arnett. "I had to sleep with him to get the part," she stage-whispered.

Kidding aside, Ms. Poehler's work and personal life are decidedly intertwined. In addition to the overlap between the casts of "Saturday Night Live" and the Upright Citizens Brigade and her role on her husband's TV show, Ms. Poehler also appears in the new film starring Lindsay Lohan, "Mean Girls," which was written by Ms. Poehler's longtime friend Ms. Fey. "I play a mom and Tina plays a teacher in it, and we were talking about how we didn't think we looked old enough to be the mothers of teenage girls," said Ms. Poehler, who is 32. "Then Lindsay walked by, and we looked at her dewy, 17-year-old skin, then we looked at our skin and we immediately realized that actually, we do."

In one corner sat the comedian Janeane Garofalo, who was to be that night's guest monologuist. Ordinarily, the guest delivers an impromptu set inspired by a word or phrase shouted out by an audience member; this evening, however, Ms. Garofalo announced, "No matter what anyone yells, I'm going to tell my Tom Jones story."

Soon, the standing-room-only crowd was treated to an hour of rapid-fire free association, kicked off by Ms. Garofalo's not-exactly-improvised tale of her altercation with a bellicose elderly woman at a concert by Mr. Jones, the Welsh singer.

After the show, the cast gathered at their usual clubhouse, the pub Chelsea Commons on 10th Avenue and 24th Street. Pizza was ordered, and Ms. Poehler and friends - including Meredith Walker, a talent producer for ESPN; Amy Miles, a musician; Brooke Posch, an associate producer; Mr. Meyers; and Ms. Garofalo - commandeered a pair of tables.

Ms. Garofalo and Ms. Poehler reminisced about their first meeting: it was at a book club, Ms. Poehler recalled. "And we were talking about this book - do you remember what it was?"

" `The End of Alice,' by A. M. Homes," Ms. Garofalo shot back.

"Yes, `The End of Alice!' " Ms. Poehler continued. "It was so pretentious, and everyone was so reverential about it, except the two of us."

The pizza arrived, and Ms. Poehler assumed the role of perky camp counselor, reminding the group to start preparing for their annual Nantucket summer vacation. "She's such a planner," Mr. Meyers razzed. "Competitive, too," he added. "Nothing would make me happier than to beat Poehler at one of the hundreds of games we play."

By 1 a.m., everyone was exhausted. Before heading to her home in TriBeCa, Ms. Poehler expressed regret over the relative tameness of the evening. "What's a really hot club right now?" she asked.

"Lotus," Ms. Miles offered.

"See, I'm a comedy nerd - I don't even know what clubs are hot," Ms. Poehler confessed. "Say that we went to Lotus and danced till dawn, and then at dawn, we went to a children's hospital and held crack babies. All right?"