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?
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.
the longer this TRUMP national nightmare rages on the more i realize what a treasure JON STEWART was when he was host of THE DAILY SHOW. some may contend that his influential show contributed to a modern national discourse that puts a premium on humiliation via parody and satire as a means of pushing a political perspective, but this misses the point. much like 18th century BRITISH pictorial satirist WILLIAM HOGARTH, utilized satire to lambast the the hollow soaring rhetoric aristocracy with the grime and filth the defined the lives of their subjects, so has STEWART utilized similar tools to point out hypocrisy and violations of the public trust in both AMERICAN ruling parties. i also liken him to a modern day H.L. MENCKEN, whereby utilizing intelligent wordplay and the power of the written/spoken word as a righteous cudgel against his opponents.
what always amazes me is how the right attempts to mimic STEWART to promote their repressive agenda and myopic, self-satisfying policies. it always fails, whether its DENNIS MILLER, GREG GUTFIELD, BILL BURR, TIM ALLEN, ADAM CAROLLA, NICK DIPAOLO or even JIM NORTON. comedy seems to be at its core about empathy. the idea that you and i see the ridiculousness of some aspect of daily life enough to laugh about it. if you have a closed mind, or rely on others that share your shuttered perspective than thats no longer comedy any more, or at the very least its an inferior version of it in mind because there is no friction, only confirmation of a rigid belief system.
when STEWART was at his best was when he was lampooning his targets with their own words, often replacing his role as the presenter of the joke to that of a commentator on the joke. i loved it when this meta-discussion happened because it confirmed the cognitive dissonance and verbal gymnastics that conservative politicians had to go through pre-TRUMP.
now, nothing matters. facts. truth. shame. accountability. its a sad time.
we need STEWART back, not that his brand of comedy would somehow change the political landscape. but his return would bring hope at a time when such is in short supply.
as an aside his work on behalf of 9/11 first responders is the work of a true PATRIOT. not the phony flag-waving, jingoistic bullshit we have come to associate with that word. an actual PATRIOT. god bless him.
i was watching a recent FRONTLINE documentary called about immigration policies under TRUMP called ZERO TOLERANCE the other day and was swept up with anger and frustration at how collectively diminished and lost we have become as a country in the past few years.
i am definitely not the most vocal rah-rah american ever, but i did spend nearly half my life abroad as well as spent time as a volunteer with the PEACE CORPS serving others in our name. so i feel like i have some skin in the game. i do care about our role in the bigger international community, probably because i grew up in it. i've seen firsthand how others once viewed our country with a sense of ambition and aspiration. that is gone now. what is continuing to go on in our collective name as americans makes me particularly ashamed of my gender and ethnicity. i hate that when TRUMP speaks he feels deeply that he is talking on my behalf as a white male. the fact that people feel are foolish enough to agree is depressing on a level i cannot even begin to effectively express.
i was trying to think of a bright spot since my return stateside over 2 years ago and i realized going to see a taping of the now defunct COMEDY CENTRAL satirical send-off THE PRESIDENT SHOW with my dad at STEPHEN COLBERT's old studio (where during college I similarly witnessed a taping of his similarly-themed COLBERT REPORT) really connected me back to humanity, being able to laugh at this current ass clown occupying the oval office with a diverse crowd of like-minded citizens. at the time i needed that.
this show is an artifact of the beginning of his term. my fear now 3 years in is that he is completely beyond parody as he has now become the modern personification of evil in a purely american capitalist-gone-wrong mold.
we are almost a year out, so please vote. if you aren't registered, here's a LINK to help get you started. i'll say it again, please vote.