Are you a fan of summer camp comedies that feature a talking can of mixed vegetables, a falling piece of SkyLab, and a tender but explicit sex scene starring Bradley Cooper and Michael Ian Black? Then you’ve probably seen Wet Hot American Summer (and if haven’t, then, boy, do we have a movie for you!).
Wet Hot grossed just $300,000 when it was released in the summer of 2001, but over time, its cult status has grown — as has the stature of its cast, which also includes Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Christopher Meloni, and Elizabeth Banks. To mark the 10th anniversary of director David Wain’s anarchic debut film, we’re running a series of Q&As with the movie’s stars. Today, it’s the turn of Poehler, who played Susie, Camp Firewood’s show director/choreographer. You can read her recollections below.
But, seriously, FYI, you guys, be prepared, be enthusiastic, and LEAVE YOUR BULLS— ATTITUDE AT THE DOOR!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Wet Hot American Summer seems to have been that rare film that everyone had a good time making.
AMY POEHLER: Even when I was shooting it, I remember thinking, This is the most fun I will ever have making a film. It was a total blast. I don’t think it was for David and (co-writer) Michael Showalter. They were working really hard and we were all kind of fooling around half the time. David didn’t hang out so much because he was a gentleman with a real job. We would be partying in the infirmary office and he would come out and pretend to be yelling at us in his pajamas. The partying never ended. I never went to summer camp. Imagine being in your ‘30s and being told, “You have one last chance to go to summer camp, only this time you’re with the funniest people around and you’re getting paid!”
Although not much.
God no. But we weren’t losing money, technically. And that, to me, is a win. I look back on it so fondly. We slept in bunks and acted like juveniles in every way. The partying never ended. There was no Internet. Nobody had laptops or computers. I can remember it was a big deal because Ken Marino had a portable TV and he had watched Clooney’s last episode of ER, and ran around the hallway crying after Clooney left. There were dry erase boards in everybody’s rooms and lot of notes about where everybody was: “Meet me here.” “Let’s go there.” We had like, a camp counselor who was kind of chasing us around and everyone was hiding beers and he was following us around and stuff.
He was the guy in charge of the camp?
Yeah. He was kind of p—ed off that we were there. As he should be, because he made a terrible decision to let us come there before he had to open camp. So he was bummed. He became that guy that we were all like, “Oh god, don’t let him see us do this!” It was like the ultimate authority figure. Now, having 10 years behind me, I can only imagine how difficult his job was — to have to be the buzzkill in terms of making sure that nobody was throwing their cigarettes in the grass of the beautiful camp.
I believe just seven people went to see Wet Hot at the cinema.
[Laughs] Yes. seven people went to see it. That was exciting for me, because having done a sketch show with Upright Citizens Brigade on Comedy Central, we only had five people watch that show. So it was exciting to have the two extra people come to the film I was in!
Looking back, do you think Susie is an early version of Leslie Knope?
Oh, they would certainly get along. Although Leslie would be a little terrified of that character. Susie considers herself an artist and she’s a terrible leader, a terrible people leader. They would respect each other’s punctuality, maybe. [Laughs] I think that’s about it.
You were often partnered onscreen with Bradly Cooper. Did he have any concerns about shooting the sex scene with Michael Ian Black?
No, I don’t think so. We were all hanging out and watching it. It was just really fun and funny. When you’re doing comedy you really want people around you to be game. You want to feel safe and go for it and do funny stuff. And I think everybody felt that. David Wain is a very skilled director at making people feel like they have room to move around and it will be supported. So I think if you get to perform with funny people you wouldn’t feel self-conscious. What you will feel self conscious about is if you hold back. That would be the shaming.
It seems like a favorite movie of a lot of people in the comedy community — and not just because half the comedy community is in it.
Yeah. I still have a lot of people who come up and say they loved it. I think a lot of people who went to camp, it touched a real special place for them. They did a beautiful job of making the movie look more expensive than it was. I think maybe just because people were young and everyone was kind of doing it for the experience and the fun of it, it kind of somehow shows. I was so pleased with the movie. But the experience was so awesome that even if the movie had never even come out, I would have been totally satisfied.
To read more about Wet Hot American Summer, check out the 10th anniversary retrospective feature in this week’s Entertainment Weekly.