photo & text by nacrowe
i first became aware of AMY POEHLER via her short-lived cable show UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE (COMEDY CENTRAL, 1998-2000). in essence i was such a big fan of MR. SHOW (HBO, 1995-1998) after the fact that i went back in search anything similar from that period which led me to shows like THE STATE (MTV, 1993-1995) and KIDS IN THE HALL (CBC, 1989-1995). i was made aware of her again when i discovered the UCB THEATER in NYC when a friend from graduate school and his improv group did a show there in the late 2000s.
her memoir YES PLEASE (HARPERCOLLINS, 2018) is a playfully sarcastic take on being a woman in COMEDY. she tackles everything from WRITING, DIVORCE, MOTHERHOOD, CHILDHOOD, THE ART OF IMPROVISATION, CREATIVITY, DOUBLE STANDARDS, WRITING ROOMS, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, SECOND CITY, TOXIC MASCULINITY, FORGIVENESS, OWNING YOUR MISTAKES, WHITE PRIVILEGE and the like with poise, dignity and more than a little self-flagellation. she comes across as someone cognizant of greater forces that affect her psychological and emotional well-being and seems somewhat on top of combating such with humor and grace.
for me the most interesting aspects of this book revolve less around her career and more around her personal and professional relationships. reading about how she interacts with COLLABORATORS, FAMILY and even her EX-HUSBAND really gives you a sense of the impossible complexity of maintaining the balance of a career and family life. you also get the sense that while she seeks outside affirmation and the "pudding" of winning awards, she similarly gets equal gratification from devising up some group hijinks among the nominees to combat the misogynistic trope and bad optics of woman battling each other. awards are dumb and ultimately meaningless compared to the work itself and the collaboration between partners and ultimately the shared communication with an audience. that interaction seems to be the heart of this book, POEHLER's efforts to communicate the COMMON HUMANITY of her characters, whether on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (NBC, cast member, 2001-2008) or PARKS AND RECREATION (NBC, 2009-2015) among her previously mentioned projects.
my only gripe with this book is how she seems to routinely quote and lionize LOUIS C.K. as some sort of zen master who has a pithy quote for every difficult life situation. obviously that didn't age so well and is a little awkward to read, yet entirely understandable given their past collaborations pre-scandal.
what did age well is everything related to frequent collaborator and "wifey" TINA FEY, who as a writer and producer seems to utilize her platform(s) to promote women (and men) that she feels deserving of the opportunity. i think ultimately that is the model that POEHLER wants for her legacy as evidenced by her grassroots involvement with IMPROVISATIONAL COMEDY and the UCB THEATERS in both NYC and LOS ANGELES (along with their associated training centers). IMPROVISATION by definition is the giving of oneself to the premise of an absurd collective identity that only works with total commitment. seems as fitting a metaphor as any other for her efforts.
its funny how that concept of "paying it forward" never gets brought up with all the biographies i've read concerning male artists and musicians. must be a guy thing, i guess?
photo manipulation by nacrowe
leave it to AARP of all places to produce this gem of a YOUTUBE series where the late comedic legend DON RICKLES (R.I.P.) gets taken out to eat and talk shop with various comedians including ZACH GALIFIANAKIS, AMY POEHLER, JUDD APATOW, SARAH SILVERMAN, SNOOP DOGG, ROBERT DENIRO, MARTIN SCORSESE and MARISA TOMEI.
i know his insults were not exactly the most politically correct or compliant with our current age's cancel culture, but shit that guy was funny. and sharp. even in his late 80s which in a sense makes the AARP thing make perfect sense. here is an elderly dude giving these young bucks a run for their money. you see him not missing a beat with witty comebacks and razor sharp barbs. its totally endearing. you also just get a real sense of how much he was loved and cherished by comedians, actors and directors. almost like a surrogate family.
definitely worth checking out if you haven't already.
i remember when living in VLORA, ALBANIA during my time as a PEACE CORPS volunteer i told new, incoming sitemates that there were three rules to being a good volunteer. now you have to remember that PEACE CORPS had all these maxims and without a doubt, they were all effectively bullshit. here were my three rules. rule #1: don't be a dick. rule #2: dont be a dick. rule #3: whatever you do, don't be a dick.
i remember going around town and hearing different ALBANIANS i knew complaining about my sitemate, the fact that he said all these nasty things to their face. i had to explain to them that he was just repeating things that i already said to them earlier a few weeks back. their response was "yeah, but you didn't mean it." i would tell them they knew i meant it and we'd all laugh.
i feel like what RICKLES did was similar in that he tore down the walls that we put up against each other in order to inhibit honest communication. in a sense he was creating a shared sense of affection through his comedic barbs. i almost see it as a kind of empathy in the way that the ALBANIANS i knew really felt i saw things from their perspective because i was so adept at mocking it and throwing it in their face repeatedly. it definitely went both ways and it was all love. for my sitemate they werent convinced he knew where he was and it came off as spiteful and full of hate. oops.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
i always find it slightly odd to see AMY POEHLER attempting to hawk cable internet services in commercials, but maybe that is because i am her target demographic. perhaps most are familiar with her 7-year run on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE which was highlighted by her turn co-hosting WEEKEND UPDATE with partner-in-crime TINA FEY, but for me her work in the subversive UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE sketch show was the high-water mark.
along with MATT BESSER, IAN ROBERTS and MATT WALSH, their brand of comedy was not unlike the MONTY PYTHON-esque brand of oddly juxtaposed sketch routines common to peers like MR. SHOW. whereas MR. SHOW definitely had a bitter streak that informed their comedy, where the subjects of their routines were almost being eviscerated for full impact, UCB had a more distant perspective that seemed to highlight life's innate absurdity without passing judgement. this was achieved through the ongoing connecting narrative that the members were part of some god-like, all-powerful chorus of extra-terrestrial beings that manipulated human history. the sketches were essentially their observations on human emotions, desires and relationships.
for me, neither show was better, more differing perspectives that made up a generation of comedians that were attempting to navigate their way in the 90s through a new media landscape and burgeoning internet revolution that would only prove to fragment society as time wore on. i still feel that as a culture we are dealing with how to find common ground with one another, as ultimately comedy is a unifying art form. to find something funny it is a requisite that you share an outlook with the comedian. in the end comedy is about empathy.
one of the other more concrete achievements of this troupe is the ongoing UCB Theatre in MANHATTAN which caters to underground improvisational comedy. in grad school i went once to watch a colleague's comedy troupe and was taken aback by the atmosphere of the place. it really felt like a clubhouse. a place where people connect. seems emblematic of their brand of comedy as well.