Amy Poehler loves “weird and wonderful” more than Leslie Knope loves waffles.
Which is why she started Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, an online community for adolescents where intelligence and imagination are valued over “fitting in,” and where curiosity is so much cooler than gossip.
Poehler is the name and public face of Smart Girls, of course, but she has lots of help behind the scenes. Her best friend—longtime TV producer Meredith Walker—co-founded Smart Girls and runs the operation from her home base in Austin, Texas.
Fast friends from the moment they started working together on Saturday Night Live, in 2001, Poehler and Walker sowed the seeds for Smart Girls over a glass or two of wine one night. Recalling their own adolescence, they agreed that the teen years are a rough patch no matter who you are—the queen bee or the wannabe, the popular girl or the loner.
“We remembered very much how older girls paying attention to us sort of broke the spell,” Walker told the Daily Dot. “We thought, ‘What if we could be that surrogate older girl for people in some way?’”
Thus was born Smart Girls at the Party, a YouTube series. Smart Girls, the website and Facebook page came later. At first, it was just a “Charlie Rose-type interview show for girls that ended in a spontaneous dance party,” as Poehler described it in her first book, Yes Please, out last October.
Seven years later, the videos have racked up more than five million views on YouTube, and more than a million “Smarties” now follow the movement on Facebook.
The Smart Girls website features plenty of geeky science experiments, brainy book reviews, and heartfelt poetry. It even features Poehler’s own advice series, “Ask Amy,” where she answers questions via Skype.
And her advice is just so… smart!
She answers a question from letter-writer Bridget about feeling anxious in social settings, for example, by suggesting in part that the girl shrink her scene.
“And don’t forget that you can always leave!” she goes on. “Sometimes remembering that you can leave is just what you need to be able to stay,” Poehler concludes, before her real-life friend and former Parks and Recreation cast mate Aubrey Plaza jumps into the picture to add her two cents.
“If you feel like a weirdo, it’s okay, because weirdos rule the world,” Plaza says. “Also, if you get anxious sometimes, you should dance, because that’s what I do, and it helps me.”
Smart Girls was acquired by Legendary Entertainment late last year.
The plan is to cultivate a girl-powered team to become the new face of Smart Girls, working both in front of the camera and behind it. Eventually, they’d like to see Smart Girls land on TV, Walker said.
In Austin, they sometimes stage actual events out in the community, and Poehler and Walker hope to extend such programming into schools and summer camps to spread the “real-world experience” and create more Smarties throughout the country.
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