Seriously Funny: Amy Poehler

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.

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 [a] 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."

'Baby Mama'

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."