When she was just starting out as an actress, Amy Poehler was told she had "a great face for wigs." She took it as a compliment. The woman who has played everyone from high-strung preteen Kaitlin on Saturday Night Live to ambitious municipal staffer Leslie Knope on NBC's Parks and Recreation has now doffed the wigs and character wardrobe to expose her true self in her first book, Yes Please. During a tour stop in Toronto, she spoke to The Globe and Mail about how writing the 329-page tome – part memoir, part essay collection, part life advice – differed from penning Saturday Night Live sketches or television scripts.
You talk about how writing a book was so difficult for you because your brain is programmed to do improv. And being able to put something aside and have it be permanent was a challenge.
I'm used to getting to tinker with things for a while and I like the oxygen and energy people bring to work when they act it or work with it. I've collaborated a lot and I've written things certainly all my life, but this was the first thing I wrote that I had to hand in and couldn't change and it had to get put into a jacket and kept warm until somebody read it. And that was a daunting thing. You have to kind of get over the projected vision of, how do I figure this out? Just get to it. Do the work.
The majority of the other writing experiences you've had have been so collaborative, I imagine, in a writers' room. Was this a really lonely experience?
I've written scripts and plays and poems and stuff all by myself. What was interesting was I had to write about myself by myself. Which was not always bad. I know some people write with other people but to me it felt like I could only write about myself by myself. There were times where you just felt like you were staring into a mirror and you're going to lose your mind.
How was that – writing about yourself? So much of the writing you've done has been in the point of view of another character.
Yeah, it's like finding your real voice. And my goal was to tell the truth and be funny and I think that I did that. But I also say in the book that nothing is anybody's business and I'm a pretty private person. So how does a private person write this, and how do I connect with what I want to say without being kind of in control of what I want this book to be?
A lot of your friends in comedy have done books that are similar to this. Were those models for you or were you trying to do something that was different?
Because we all do comedy we're often kind of lumped together, but we're all so, so very different. In the entire world, yes, we share a similar thin slice. But I would say all the women that wrote books – all of whose books I loved and reread before I wrote my own – have very different stories and things to tell. In one way it's really, really nice to be included because I think they're good writers and I'd like to be in the company of good writers and be considered one. And another way it's kind of lazy when people assume we're all saying the same thing or telling the same story and that we're all interchangeable.
This interview has been condensed and edited.