It’s smart, funny and sunny in there— so it’s no sur­prise that her lat­est movie role is a char­ac­ter named Joy.

Los Angeles Times - - PARADE - By Neil Pond Cover and open­ing photography by Ari Michel­son

For the new Dis­ney/Pixar an­i­mated fam­ily com­edy In­side Out, Amy Poehler gets into her char­ac­ter—lit­er­ally. She pro­vides the voice (and spunky per­son­al­ity) for Joy, one of the five emo­tions in­side the head of Ri­ley, an 11-year-old girl, guiding her through a par­tic­u­larly tur­bu­lent time in her young life.

For Poehler, play­ing an up­beat char­ac­ter—as op­posed to her co-emo­tions Anger, Fear, Dis­gust and Sad­ness—came easy. Her

In­side Out costar and good friend Bill Hader (who plays Fear) notes that his for­mer Satur­day

Night Live cast­mate al­ways has been a bea­con of good vibes and pos­i­tive at­ti­tude.

“The first time Imet you was when I au­di­tioned for SNL,” he tells Poehler dur­ing a chat with Pa­rade (see “Funny Friends,” on page 8).“I was in­cred­i­bly ner­vous. You came back and were su­per-nice and in­tro­duced your­self, and I’ve al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated that. You were so wel­com­ing.”

“Amy,” Hader purrs, “how can I be nice like you?”

Poehler laughs. “Bill asks me that ques­tion all the time,” she says. “Or he sends me let­ters in weird, mag­a­zine block type: Why Are You So Nice?”

Then the two of them break into gig­gles, the kind that make you want to laugh too.


Born in New­ton, Mass., Poehler, 43, honed her com­edy chops with Chicago’s famed Sec­ond City and Im­prov Olympic troupes be­fore land­ing in New York and join­ing Satur­day Night Live in 2001. In her seven suc­cess­ful years on the show she be­came known for her skew­er­ing of cur­rent events at the “Week­end Up­date” news desk—where she and Tina Fey be­came the first fe­male co-an­chor­ing team in SNL his­tory—and for her spot-on im­per­son­ations of Hil­lary Clin­ton, Kelly Ripa, Brit­ney Spears, Nancy Grace and other per­son­al­i­ties.

But Poehler’s hu­mor was never mean-spir­ited, down-and-dirty or hurt­ful. Her jokes were al­ways fizzy, smart, satir­i­cal barbs—de­liv­ered with a smile.

“When I got on SNL, I came out of com­edy clubs, and I thought the best com­edy came from be­ing an­gry, call­ing peo­ple on B.S. or what­ever,” says Hader. “And Amy was the fun­ni­est per­son that wasn’t that way. She was so open.” On her hitTV se­ries,

Parks and Recre­ation, which aired from2009 un­til its fi­nale in Fe­bru­ary, she played Les­lie Knope, the ever-op­ti­mistic deputy direc­tor of the Parks and Recre­ation Depart­ment in the town of Pawnee, Ind. Her TV char­ac­ter found a way to be cheer­ful even when the odds were stacked against her—a lot like Joy in In­side Out.

Poehler her­self is “def­i­nitely very­much like that,” says singer-song­writer Amy Miles, who says the two be­came “in­stant friends for life” af­ter they met work­ing on the 2001 movie com­edy

Wet Hot Amer­i­can Sum­mer. “She’s nice to ev­ery­one, she re­ally is.”

Poehler says one thing that’s helped her to be so open and pos­i­tive is never los­ing touch with a sense of fun—the same sense that drives her char­ac­ter in In­side Out. “What I love about Joy,” she says, “is her de­sire to be silly, to be ridicu­lous, to have fun, to not be afraid of how she looks. That’s some­thing peo­ple lose as they be­come adults; we get scared and panic and worry about what we’re go­ing to look like and sound like, or if we’re go­ing to fail.”


In 2007, Poehler and an­other friend, TV pro­ducer Mered­ith Walker, con­cerned about the lack of pos­i­tive mes­sages young girls were get­ting from

the me­dia, de­cided to do some­thing about it—with a twist to help them hold on to that sense of fun for as long as they could. Bring­ing aboard Miles as “a third amigo,” they launched an on­line dig­i­tal TV se­ries called Smart Girls at the Party, which be­gan as a se­ries of in­ter­views with young girls about their tal­ents, dreams and what­ever was go­ing on in­side their heads (just like in

In­side Out) and in their worlds. “Amy in­ter­viewed, I did the­mu­sic, Mered­ith pro­duced,” says Miles. “It was very home­made. The charm of Amy, in­ter­view­ing th­ese young girls and re­ally lis­ten­ing to them, mak­ing them feel re­ally im­por­tant for 20 or 30 min­utes—she’s just got a real gift for mak­ing peo­ple feel com­fort­able.”

Smart Girls soon be­came amys­mart­, an ex­panded, thriv­ing web­site with wide-rang­ing con­tent in­clud­ing in­ter­views with suc­cess­ful women, we­b­casts, links to other re­sources, tem­plates for DIY projects and posts from Smart Girls con­trib­u­tors.( pro­gram­ming be­came even more ro­bust af­ter be­ing pur­chased, last fall, by Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­tion con­glom­er­ate Leg­endary En­ter­tain­ment.)

Miles says the site was al­ways en­vi­sioned as a silly-se­ri­ous “guide” for young girls, es­pe­cially as they nav­i­gate through the tricky ado­les­cent years .“Life feels so des­per­ate and scary at that time,” she says . “Smart Girls didn’t make fun of it, but it opened up the dia­logue so that girls could talk about, you know, their pe­ri­ods, or how they can be them­selves in a cul­ture of to­tal im­age bom­bard­ment about try­ing to be per­fect.”

“I was the daugh­ter of two public school teach­ers,” Poehler says. “I had great teach­ers who en­cour­aged me. There’s that won­der­ful age in young boys and girls, the pre­pubescent age, where they want to be a sci­en­tist and a teacher and a mo­tor­cy­cle rider and po­lice of­fi­cer—you know, the imag­i­na­tion is run­ning wild. Smart Girls is this idea of cre­at­ing con­tent that I would like to have seen at that age. It’s an at­tempt to have an an­ti­dote to all the neg­a­tive stuff on the In­ter­net. It’s an at­tempt to be a joy-spreader, that’s for sure.”


Poehler says she was drawn to In­side Out, made by Pixar ( Cars, Toy Story,

Find­ing Nemo) and dis­trib­uted by Dis­ney, be­cause it had heart-tug­ging, cross­gen­er­a­tional el­e­ments with which both of those com­pa­nies have al­ways been so strongly iden­ti­fied. As the sin­gle mother of two young sons, Abel, 4, and Archie, 6, both with her for­mer hus­band, ac­tor Will Ar­nett, she could re­late to the char­ac­ter of the lit­tle girl, Ri­ley, as well as to her par­ents (voiced by Diane Lane and Kyle Ma­cLach­lan).

“The themes of ‘let­ting go ’in the movie are so great,” Poehler says .“That re­ally res­onates forme, how you’re away for a day and you come back, and it seems like your chil­dren have grown five inches. Time is mov­ing so fast.

“The other thing in the movie is, what kind of crazy stuff in your head mo­ti­vates you to do the things you do?” she adds. “So not only do we dive into Ri­ley’s head, we also go into the adults’ heads and see what’s in there too. It’s a re­al­ity that every­body has to be able to deal with the joy, anger and sad­ness in­side them, and some­times they’re not so easy or sim­ple to un­der­stand.”

Miles thinks about what goes on in­side Poehler’s head, what it might look like if she could steal a glance. “It would look very Poehler started amys­mart­ as an “an­ti­dote to all the neg­a­tive stuff“on­line.


—AMY POEHLER com­pli­cated!” she says. “I know there’s a lot go­ing on in there. But it re­ally just comes down to sim­ple terms for her: a mom, a friend and a daugh­ter. And joy is the cor­rect emo­tion for her.”

“Joy” may be the right word, the right emo­tion and the right char­ac­ter for Poehler. And she may spread sun­shine, make peo­ple smile and make peo­ple laugh. But she doesn’t find what she does easy to de­scribe. “Com­edy is not an easy thing to talk about,” she says. But she knows pos­i­tive vibes can tap into some­thing pow­er­ful— pow­er­ful enough to turn emo­tions around, maybe even pow­er­ful enough to change other things.

“In In­side Out, you go on this jour­ney where you laugh re­ally hard, and you also feel re­ally big feel­ings,” she says. “And those two things are re­ally ul­ti­mate for me: big feel­ings, big laughs. Get­ting to do those things to­gether, that’s an ul­ti­mate goal. It cer­tainly changes how you feel ev­ery day, if not your week—if not your world.”

From top: Amy Poehler made TV his­tory on Satur­dayNightLive’s “Week­end Up­date”news desk (with Tina Fey); she stars as the voice of Joy (mid­dle) in the new an­i­mated fam­ily film InsideOut; with good friend and for­mer SNL cast­mate Bill Hader; and on

the Park­sandRe­cre­ation set with Nick Of­fer­man.

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