Last year’s Person of the Year, Donald Glover, was about recognizing a somewhat meteoric rise to fame. Not to reduce what was surely an awful lot of hard work by Glover, but his story is one of making the most of some very good opportunities. This year, we look at someone that has had a longer path full of a lot of hard graft, and no one could deny that she deserves every plaudit that is thrown her way.
Amy Poehler started out at Chicago’s famous improv theatre Second City, going on to be a part of the influential group Upright Citizen’s Brigade. From there, it was onto Saturday Night Live, and a well-known spot co-hosting the Weekend Update segment with Tina Fey. In her book Bossypants, Tina Fey tells of how Amy shot back at Jimmy Fallon after he called a bit she was doing ‘not cute’: “Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute. She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not [especially – clean language ed] care if you like it.” This is the year when Poehler truly did what she wanted, and not only do I like it, I bloody well love it.
Parks and Recreation, which Poehler currently stars in, as well as produces and writes, is probably the best comedy on television at the moment. It does what no other comedy right now does, which is fight back against the 21st Century trend of meanness in humour. It doesn’t truck in cynicism, or wallow in embarrassment, or sit on the sidelines, snarkily commenting in a superior tone. Instead, it embraces and celebrates friendship, hard work and idealism, all while staying side-achingly hilarious. It manages to sneak (and sometimes trumpet) a feminist message onto US network TV without anyone pitching a hissy fit, and has assembled one of the best ensemble casts around.
Poehler’s Leslie Knope is a fantastic comedy creation, balancing competence and intelligence with naïveté and well-intentioned over-ambition. Her slow-burn romance with Adam Scott’s Ben Wyatt has been sweet and relatable, and her relationship with Rashida Jones’ Ann Perkins is one of the best-realised friendships on television. The episode that Poehler wrote this year, The Fight, delved into that friendship as the two had a very drunken falling out, and resulted in a truly hilarious half-hour of television.
Poehler was honoured this year with Variety’s Power of Comedy Award, where she gave a fantastic speech, that also saw Will Ferrell and Nick Kroll make out in the background. On a slightly more sober day, she delivered a speech to the graduating year at Harvard’s Class Day, where, between jokes and Bostonian accents, she spoke of the importance of humility, collaboration and how improvisations rules apply to real life. She’s also one of the minds behind the website Smart Girls At The Party, a brilliant community for young girls championing feminism.
Poehler’s talent, hard work and wisdom make her my Person of the Year. In every stage and aspect of her career, she has demonstrated the power of collaboration; that two people can make a change that one can’t, that asking for help can sometimes produce results one couldn’t dream of. In the year that saw the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, in the age that champions crowdsourcing and kickstarting, it’s a timely lesson, and we’re lucky to have someone out there leading by example.