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The Transformation Of Amy Poehler From Childhood To Parks And Recreation

As Leslie Knope on NBC's "Parks and Recreation," Amy Poehler created a character who was hard not to love. Sure, she was a bit of an overachiever, but her enthusiasm for service to her community in the fictitious city of Pawnee, Indiana, was contagious. Knope knew how to rally the people around her, including Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza), and Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari), and that same talent translated to Poehler's ability to build an audience. Despite a slow start in its first season, the show quickly gained traction for a seven-season run as one of television's few female-led comedies (via the LA Times). With that, Poehler helped pull off the nearly impossible.

Today, Poehler is one of those household name celebrities who's carved her own path and paved the way for the women behind her. She's a standout in the industry and a kind of comic hero. It all started with a somewhat unusual upbringing in Burlington, Massachusetts.

Poehler scared her own parents

Unlike a lot of comedians, Poehler can't tap into a troubled childhood for material. Instead, she grew up with parents who encouraged and supported her. "They gave me the feeling as a kid that there wasn't anything I couldn't do," she told The Wall Street Journal. "I'm very lucky to have parents who never pressured me or gave me any sense that I wasn't living up to some dream that they had for me."

From a young age, Poehler had zero stage fright, an awesome sense of humor, and a great desire to be involved (much like her future character Leslie Knope). In high school, she was class secretary and served on several committees. From there, she went to Boston College as a communications major.

Her mom and dad imagined she might become a newscaster or a reporter, but when Poehler graduated, she surprised them. Her plans weren't exactly what her parents had hoped. In fact, they were frightened for their daughter.

She did a deep dive into improv comedy

Poehler told her parents she wanted to act after college. That was enough of a shaky start in life. Then, she gave them the details. She wanted to be an improv comedian. She'd performed in an improv troupe at Boston College. Now, she was off to Chicago to perform with ImprovOlympics and Second City. It was there she met a new great friend: Tina Fey. They even created their own two-person show.

Poehler soon formed her own troupe, the Upright Citizens Brigade, with fellow players Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, and Ian Roberts. In 1996, they moved to New York City and opened their own theatre, aiming to get work in television. Two years later, they had a show on Comedy Central.

For years, Poehler's old friend Fey tried to convince her to leave the UCB show and join her on another. In 2001, Poehler finally agreed to make the move.

She was a star of screens large and small

Poehler joined the cast of Saturday Night Live and quickly made her mark as a superstar. The first episode she appeared in was a historic moment as the first to air after the attacks on 9/11/01. Before the season ended, she was a full-fledged SNL cast member. "You have to kind of fake it 'til you make it," she said on the Today show. "You have to believe that you deserve to be there."

In 2004, she broke ground by teaming up with Fey to become the show's first female co-anchors of the news sketch "Weekend Update." That same year, she also took her talents to the big screen as a cast member of "Mean Girls," playing the mother of Rachel McAdams' character (despite a real-life age difference of only seven years). With the role, Poehler gained movie star status, plus the chance to work even more with her longtime pal. Fey wrote the film and appeared in it, too.

Poehler loved working on Parks and Rec

When Hilary Clinton ran for president in 2008, Poehler took up the job of portraying her on SNL — in comedic fashion, of course. Another standout moment on the show was when she famously performed a gangster rap about vice presidential hopeful Sarah Palin (the real one), while nine months pregnant. Soon after, Poehler filmed her last show as a cast member and left to have her baby, but it wasn't as if she had nothing planned when her maternity leave was complete.

The executive producers of "The Office" had a new series planned and Poehler was set to star in it. "Parks and Recreation" was originally viewed as a spinoff, but quickly found a more solid footing among fans of the female-led series. With Poehler at its center as Leslie Knope, the show couldn't fail. It aired from 2009 to 2015, and there's even been talk of a "Parks and Rec" reboot. Poehler told Variety in 2019 she's definitely up for it should the opportunity arise. "Leslie was really good for my physical and mental health," she said. "Playing her and getting to come in and tell everyone how great they were, it really did extend my life."