The Lost Roles of Amy Poehler
Over the past two decades, Amy Poehler has amassed one of the most impressive resumes in comedy history. Not only did she play a significant part in America’s largest comedy institution, Saturday Night Live, she also co-founded the UCB, a venerable comedy institution in its own right and one that grows in influence every year. If those were Amy Poehler’s only accomplishments, it’d still be pretty damned impressive, but, for the past three years, she’s produced and starred in Parks and Rec, arguably the best sitcom on TV. Throw on top of that recurring roles on Arrested Development and Late Night with Conan (before it was a hit) and the fact that she used to collaborate in the late-90s with future auteurs Judd Apatow and Louis C.K., and you have a body of work that’s unparalleled elsewhere in the comedy world.
Let’s take a look at the various TV and movie projects that Amy Poehler’s been involved in over the years that haven’t panned out for one reason or another, including two nixed Judd Apatow pilots, a movie based on a graphic novel about a cafeteria lunch lady, and the beloved Will Ferrell movie Anchorman.
Sick in the Head (rejected Fox pilot, 1999)
This Fox pilot was Judd Apatow’s first project after he formed his own production company in 1999. Created by Apatow and Freaks and Geeks/Bridesmaids collaborator Paul Feig, Sick in the Head starred David Krumholtz, Kevin Corrigan, Amy Poehler, Austin Pendleton, Andrea Martin, and Kevin McDonald. Sick in the Head has been described as an updated Bob Newhart Show, with Krumholtz playing the central character, a newbie psychiatrist, Corrigan playing his slacker roommate, Pendleton and Martin playing his parents, McDonald playing a patient with a different disorder each week, and Amy Poehler as a “sassy suicidal patient.”
Judd Apatow tweeted the above photo of him with the cast last year, saying the pilot “came out great,” but Fox passed on it anyway. Had Sick in the Head been picked up, Amy Poehler would have had to pack her bags and move to L.A., leaving her Comedy Central sketch show Upright Citizens Brigade and the nascent UCB Theatre scene in New York behind, so maybe it’s for the best that the show didn’t go forward, as awesome as it sounds.
North Hollywood (rejected ABC pilot, 2001)
Judd Apatow cast Amy Poehler in another comedy pilot two seasons later. The pilot to North Hollywood was shot, but unfortunately rejected by the ABC network. It starred Jason Segel, Amy Poehler, and Kevin Hart as a trio of struggling actors in Los Angeles. Apatow has admitted he only created the series because Fox wouldn’t approve Jason Segel as the lead for Undeclared. In the pilot, Segel played a guy who worked as Frankenstein at Universal Studios, Poehler’s character was the assistant to Judge Reinhold (who also starred as a beaten-down version of himself), and Kevin Hart played a stand-up comic who sells Reinhold on letting him play Axel Foley’s cousin Teddy in Beverly Hills Cop 4.
North Hollywood sounds really funny and it’s a shame we haven’t seen anything from what sounds like a unique mix of talented comedians, but this is another case where things worked out just fine (probably better) for everyone involved anyway. After ABC passed on the show, Judd Apatow sold Undeclared to Fox (he gave Segel, Poehler, and Hart but not Judge Reinhold recurring roles) and Amy Poehler scored a spot on Saturday Night Live, where she quickly developed a following and became one of the show’s most beloved castmembers.
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (movie, 2004)
The original cut of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s first big-screen collaboration, Anchorman, featured tons of extra scenes and an ending and subplot that were ordered taken out of the film by the studio. Amy Poehler had a scene in the original cut of the movie as a bank teller, but the scene was cut out when a plotline about a militant Weather Underground-like crime syndicate was excised from the movie. There was so much extra Anchorman footage that it was cut together and released as a second movie Wake Up, Ron Burgundy, with Amy Poehler’s role restored, along with appearances by Maya Rudolph, Kevin Corrigan, Justin Long, and Stephen Root.
The Heartbreak Kid (movie, 2007)
Before Ben Stiller and the Farrelly Brothers came aboard to remake the classic Neil Simon comedy The Heartbreak Kid, an entirely different cast and creative team were in place on the project. Jason Bateman and Amy Poehler were hired to play the central bride and groom who soon realize they’re not a match. James Bobin, who co-created Flight of the Conchords, directed Da Ali G Show, and Jason Segel’s Muppets movie, was brought in to direct the Bateman-Poehler version of Heartbreak Kid, but the studio soon replaced the talented cast and filmmaker with the Farrelly and Ben Stiller. It’s a shame that this version of the movie never got made, as the movie we got ended up pretty disappointing and Bateman, Poehler, and Bobin might have breathed some life into it. Even though Amy Poehler didn’t have a massive part on Arrested Development, this would have been a nice little Arrested pseudo-reunion.
The Lunch Lady (unfilmed movie, 2009)
A few years ago, Amy Poehler signed on to star in a big-screen adaptation of Jarrett Krosoczka’s graphic novel series The Lunch Lady. Here’s how news outlets described the plot:
“The story follows a mild-mannered cafeteria worker who secretly dishes out helpings of justice as she and her assistant investigate various wrongdoings. All this while three students try to figure out what her double life is all about.”
Since the movie was first announced three years ago, there doesn’t seem to have been much progress made on it. Poehler has moved on to other projects, mainly on Parks and Rec and various movies, but there’s always a chance that she’ll return to Lunch Lady some day.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (movie, 2009)
During an interview in 2007, real life couple Amy Poehler and Will Arnett mentioned that they were “spearheading” a movie adaptation of the childrens’ book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, in which they would provide voices for some of the animated characters. It’s not known why they didn’t stay involved with the project, but the movie got made without the two of them lending their voices to it. I’m assuming that Poehler and Arnett dropped out of this one due to being overwhelmed with their many TV and movie projects (and that whole ‘raising a family’ thing). Plenty of Poehler’s SNL cohorts, like Bill Hader, Andy Samberg, and Will Forte, ended up landing roles in Meatballs anyway.
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.