Amy Poehler has long been among the best in the business of making people laugh. With her project, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls in full swing, and her first book, Yes, Please, on the horizon, Poehler is poised to establish herself as one of the most honest, kind and inspiring voices in the media landscape today––and to do so in a way that makes people smile. The always amiable Poehler sat down with Martin Short, also a soon-to-be author, before a rapt audience at BookCon in New York City.
The wit began to fly immediately, Poehler said the title of her book to tumultuous applause which caused Short to quip: “I’m a big fan too, but you say Yes, Please and get a standing ovation, I don’t get it.” From there the two settled into a comfortable and charming back and forth that lasted the better part of an hour. The pair covered a lot of ground with Poehler explaining the motivations behind writing her book, making cracks about getting her gig on SNL "the way everybody does"––by sleeping with the head writer (which would have been Tina Fey at the time)––sharing anecdotes and dropping nuggets of wisdom––”My motto is good for you, not for me.”
Though it is tempting to include the whole of their conversation, that would make for some lengthy reading. So in lieu of that, below are eight of the most amazing things Poehler had to say while chatting about her book, writing and life in general.
About the title of her book, 'Yes, Please':
"Well, I write in the book that when you improvise, there’s this idea that you have to say yes. And as I’ve gotten a little older, I’ve added please to the end, because I realized when you say yes to things, it means you’re not doing them alone. You’re usually asking for help and wisdom and collaboration from someone else."
"I feel like I’m at the point in my life where I’m not old enough to have complete wisdom about what’s happened already, and not young enough to get away with being kind of cute and in denial. I think everybody feels it, this idea that the best is yet to come, but also a lot of stuff is passing you by. You can feel very, very old when you’re young, and you can feel very young when you’re old. Age is just this fluid thing that you get to decide how you feel about."
About the infamous Hillary Clinton-Sarah Palin cold open:
"Seth Meyers wrote that. Tina and I kind of punched it up with him, but Seth wrote it. Mike Shoemaker, producer, wrote the famous, ‘I can see Russia from my house.’ That was one of the rare, rare examples, I think this maybe happened one other time, where I actually was performing something and I was like ‘Oh, this is really big.’ That was for many reasons, mostly that are covered in Tina’s book, Bossypants--which you should read.
"Just the expectation of Tina playing Palin was so exciting because people were like, ‘[excited breathing] She looks like her! She looks like her!’ and I was six months pregnant, so poor Hillary had to watch this pregnant person play her. I remember they made this special jacket to cover my stomach and I was behind the podium and Archie, my boy, at the time was doing flips in my stomach as we were doing the scene. And I was just like, this is f**king weird."
About the time that Jon Hamm cheered her up when she was pregnant and crying hysterically on set:
"My wonderful obstetrician, who I’ll call doctor G., my beautiful, wonderful, obstetrician doctor G. was an old Italian obstetrician who famously delivered Sophia Loren’s children, so he was pretty old. And my kids’ dad, Will, and I used to joke like ‘Is he too old?’ He was in his 80s––80 is the new 60, right?––and he wore suits and he was just so wonderful, he would say ‘Only one glass of red wine a night.’ He would say things to me like ‘Your child is already so smart, I can tell.’ He was just wonderful.
"Anyway, Jon Hamm was hosting Saturday Night Live, his first time and I was just getting to know him. We were doing a sketch, a Mad Men sketch. I was dressed in a kind of old timey wig and a dress and I was huge, and my plan was I was going to do the Jon Hamm show and then I was due the next day. And so, as an example of the beginning of what children do to you––which is they f**k up all your plans––I remember saying to my doctor, I’m going to do the show and then I’ll come in Sunday and we’ll deliver Sunday/Monday, which was crazy.
"On Thursday I went [to the doctor] and nothing was happening, nothing was dilating, no doors were opening, everything was good. I was shooting, I did the sketch with Hamm on Friday and I called my doctor ‘cause at the end there you kind of have to call in everyday. His receptionist was crying, so I said, ‘What’s wrong?’ and she said, ‘He passed away last night.’
"I was due the next day, okay. So, it’s my first kid, I’m in a Mad Men outfit, like you know it’s the 50s, I turn to everybody and I just start hysterically crying. And a really pregnant woman crying is just terrifying. You’re so juicy tears just like squirt out. It was like a punchline to a joke, I said, ‘My doctor just died and I’m due tomorrow.’ Jon Hamm, who I just am getting to know, comes over and puts his hands on my shoulders and is like, ‘This is a really important show for me...and you need to get your sh*t together.’ I laughed so hard, I probably peed. I believe that going from crying to laughing adds like five years to your life. In that moment it was so funny.
"So the whole day, I just walked around like, ‘Oh my God.’ I was working ‘til like 2 in the morning that night, Maya and Fred were on the main stage pretending to be old people and they kept coming back and doing their characters for me, I was just laughing and laughing and laughing. I went home and watched my favorite TV show of all time, Law and Order. The ‘bum bum’ happened at the beginning of Law and Order, and my water broke. So I went right to the hospital, and instead of doing the show I delivered a baby. … The lesson is, a lot of people can deliver your baby, most people who work in the hospital can do it. Except for Brandon who works in the gift shop."
About her time on 'SNL':
"I got hired in 2001, and our first read through was supposed to be September 11, 2001 and then my first show was two weeks later, the very famous, iconic moment where Paul Simon sang The Boxer and Reese Witherspoon was the host, and it was very atypical. It was nice to start SNL at a time when everyone was talking about comedy being dead... There’s that great moment where Mayor Giuliani comes up on stage and Lorne says, ‘Can we be funny?’ And Mayor Giuliani says ‘Why start now?’
"What was cool was when I started the show in 2001 people were really, genuinely talking about will we ever laugh again? Really. It was like, how can we ever watch comedy again, and how can we ever do anything about politics or the president? ...The news sucked, every day was terrorism and Hurricane Katrina... So there was a lot of pop culture stuff at the beginning of my career on SNL and it was really nice to go full circle and at the end get back to politics.
"There was this relief that you could skewer the people who were running for office, or embrace them, however you look at it. And the fact that the whole country was really paying attention, I mean really paying attention. We had a joke about Dennis Kucinich’s hot wife! And people knew what that was, it was like a sporting event. Everyone was treating politics like a sporting event."
About juggling work and family:
"I struggle every day. I think every working mother does. I think every person who is trying to balance all those things does. And what you have to do is just realize you’re just not going to do it right. Meaning that you have to try to live as best you can, do as best you can.
"I get to work as hard as I do because I have help. … I’m lucky to have it. I don’t take it for granted. I appreciate it every day. There are some people who don’t have that help, but they have their families, they work much harder than I do. I think you have to give yourself a break and not pay attention to anybody else’s thoughts, opinions or advice."
"My generation is a straddle generation. I didn’t have internet in college and now I have internet in like my toilet seat, it’s so insane."
"I was writing in my book, growing up we would have a party, imagine this young people, we would have a party and during the party we would take pictures, but we didn’t see them. So the party would be over and two or three weeks later we would go to a little man who lived in a little hut and you would hand him a ticket and he would hand you back your party photos, weeks later. And you would be the only one who had a copy of them, and you would be like uh, I remember this time and already have the good feeling about the party. The party had already happened and you felt how you felt about it. But with the pictures, the ones you didn’t like you would just, uft [throwing motion]. Of the 20 you would keep three and put them in an album and 10 people saw them.
"If you didn’t like it you threw it away, but more than that, your experience was separate from the photo. Now the photo is the experience. Now every moment has to be captured. I’ve often done this, like, 'ah, I need it [a picture], it’s happening, but I need it!' It doesn’t exist unless there’s a photo of it... We’re really f**ked I think... No! Let’s not have that be the pull quote."
About addressing divorce in her book:
"I don’t really talk about it because I have real respect for my ex-husband and the father of my children, and I also don’t like people knowing my sh*t, but I do talk about how going through something, you get such good perspective. And one of the things I talk about is the books I would now like to write about divorce.
"One is, Get Over It. It’s about people want you to get over things really fast and it’s not about them, so they get bored with it. Chapters include 'She Doesn’t Cry Enough,' 'He Seems Gay to Me' and 'This Won’t Get You Out of a Speeding Ticket.'
"There’s one called, Don’t Worry, I Don’t Want to F**k Your Husband. You don’t have to be married to feel this way, but when a relationship breaks up a lot of times you’re single again, and you’re single in a world you weren’t for a long time and it’s weird to not have a plus one at a wedding and suddenly, you get a vibe. You’re back on the market and people are like [unfriendly voice] ‘Hi.’ --‘No, I don’t want to f**k your husband.’"