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Matthew Gilbert | Critic’s Notebook

Many entertaining reasons to make this Amy Poehler Month

As Leslie Knope on “Parks and Recreation,” Amy Poehler portrays an aspiring female politician who doesn’t compromise for the men who dominate that world.Chris Haston/NBC

But this month belongs to Amy Poehler, who was named Hasty Pudding’s Woman of the Year on Tuesday, cohosts the Golden Globe Awards with Tina Fey on Sunday, and premieres the final season of her NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation” next Tuesday. The Poehler wave, which began with the October release of her best-selling memoir, “Yes Please,” is cresting.

Poehler is very much one of our own, the daughter of two teachers from Burlington, a graduate of Burlington High School who stays in touch with her English teacher, and a one-time scooper of BellyBusters during the big-haired 1980s at Chadwick’s ice cream parlor in Lexington.


“ ‘Masters of Sex’ is the degree I got from Boston College,” she joked about her local alma mater while hosting the Golden Globes last year — minutes before she was named best actress in a comedy.

With a temperament that ranges from warm to fiery to sarcastic, Poehler is one of the most broadly likable comics working today. Like others from her generation of “Saturday Night Live” players, including Fey and Seth Meyers, she manages to be mainstream without sacrificing her intelligence and her news-consciousness. Her cackle — which Meyers calls “without exaggeration, one of my favorite sounds on earth” — is addictive.

Poehler, 43 and the mother of two, has developed a distinct comic identity since 2001, when she joined “SNL” and, in an unusual move, jumped from featured player to full cast member during her first season. She projects both amiability and confidence, or, as a reviewer of “Yes Please” calls it, “radical niceness.” But then she can mock with a razor-sharp edge — her dis of a Hollywood heavyweight at the 2013 Globes, for example, when she said: “Kathryn Bigelow’s nominated tonight. I haven’t really been following the controversy over ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ but when it comes to torture, I trust the lady who spent three years married to James Cameron.” Gasps were audible.


Or, better, watch her fierce, historic, and still thrilling Palin Rap from “SNL” in 2008. Poehler spat out jokes about then-vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin — “In Wasilla we just chill baby chilla / but when I see oil let’s drill baby drilla” — while Palin sat watching, a smile pasted on her face. It solidified Poehler’s place in pop culture eternity.

Oh, and while Poehler danced and rocked and shot a moose with a finger-gun that night, she was nine months’ pregnant. It was a potent reminder that women can work hard and rock it right up to their delivery. Over the years, Poehler has openly embraced the culturally charged “feminist” label, something many famous women dodge in fear of alienating their audience. Her memoir “Yes Please”is filled with friendly little truth-bombs addressed to women: “It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for,” she writes. “It takes years to find your voice and seize your real estate.”

She has also positioned herself as a mentor to tween girls, as cofounder of a girl-empowerment online community called “Smart Girls at the Party,” which includes “Ask Amy,” her video responses to questions about love, exams, and, in an episode about online imagery, the Boston Marathon bombing. “Girls,” she writes in “Yes Please,” “if a boy says something that isn’t funny, you don’t have to laugh.”


Amy Poehler’s best-selling memoir, "Yes, Please.”

In a way, it’s strange to think of Poehler as a political comic — her style is so casual. And yet, for all its goofiness, “Parks and Recreation” is at its core a political comedy about an ambitious woman in government whose fantasy is to become the first female president of the United States. Over the years, Poehler’s Leslie Knope has created a template for how to be an aspiring female politician without compromising for the men who dominate that world, and without losing optimism. In the long run, Leslie appears to have it all — power, love, and dignity. It’s the opposite of “Veep,” which is a brilliantly sharp and ironic look at
a female politician who has happily traded in her soul for power.

“Parks and Recreation” may be Poehler’s finest accomplishment so far. Despite low ratings, the Emmy-nominated show, which Poehler executive produces and occasionally writes and directs, has been beloved by critics and launched a few stars, including Chris Pratt, Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari, and Aubrey Plaza. During a period when Congress is in a prolonged partisan deadlock, “Parks and Recreation” has offered viewers a kind of healing, a vision of a place named Pawnee where a woman named Knope can get everyone to say yes.

Poehler will undoubtedly kill it at the Golden Globes with Fey, for their third and, as they are saying, final hosting gig. They have become a model for how to lightly escort a long, self-serving telecast through its paces. “I’ll be wearing an ER bandage dress with stilts by the Ohio stilt king,” Poehler says in an ad for the Globes, already undercutting the fashions and the frivolousness of the event.


No doubt she will cackle Sunday night, and no doubt we will smile.

More coverage

• A short history of the Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year awards

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.