Character Deep Dive: Leslie Knope

Episode still from Parks and Recreation showing main character Leslie Knope.
Source: Colleen Hayes/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Portrayed by: Amy Poehler
Show: NBC’s Parks and Recreation

Leslie Knope’s deep dive is one of those deep dives I’ve held off on for the longest time because every time I sit down to write it, I don’t even know where to begin. It especially feels weird now because while I live by a very specific “be the Leslie Knope of whatever you do” motto, the truth is, I haven’t been that version of me in what feels like forever now. I used to pride myself on being the best gift giver and using my creativity in almost every area possible, this year and last, I’ve given almost everyone I know gift cards or money for their birthdays. I haven’t been creative in the ways that I used to be.

But I suppose I’ve written. I’ve still used my excitement in other ways, and I should be proud of that. It’s what Leslie would want, isn’t it? For us to use what we’re good at it in some way even when it’s hard.

Leslie Knope is one of those characters who matters to everyone for different reasons because she’s so multifaceted and complex, it’s easy to find something relatable in her. She is far, far from perfect, but she’s unapologetically herself and that’s why I’ve always connected with her.

I don’t shy away from vocalizing my excitement because Leslie never shied away from vocalizing hers. She let herself find joy in whatever it is that brought her happiness, and she was always incredibly vocal about it even when people didn’t reciprocate that excitement or looked at her with hesitations. If all politicians were actually as Leslie tried to tirelessly be then damn, we’d actually live in a pretty fantastic world. The world wouldn’t be dark and terrifying, it’d be hopeful and exciting even amidst darkness.

She was always a character who embodied hope because you knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that Leslie would do anything and everything to support the people she loved. She’d go above and beyond. She’d find ways to show them love, happiness all while using her words to spread positivity. Leslie showed everyone, with all her might, just how important they are to her, but the different ways in which she did it depending on the person are what tell us that you don’t have to have all or nothing, but that there always ways of reminding people that you care. What always matters through it all is where your heart is at, and the fact that you are willing to get to know people intimately.

What matters is just how much you are willing to try, to give your all and to bring your best to all that you do. And in writing this, I realized that’s been the type of message that I’ve lost this year in thinking that I was somehow failing Leslie when in reality, I’ve still been trying my best. And that’s where I presume she’d be proud because she’d be proud of all her friends if they were in the same boat.

One of the reasons Leslie is so relatable as a character, so memorable, is because she’s completely human. She has doubts, she has experienced heartache amidst her joy and she has panicked even while she has believed in herself. What she’s always kept grounded in the midst of all the positivity and the hard work is the desire to do right. That innate desire to ensure that she’s the best version of herself even after she’s been unkind or cruel (often in competition) is why she’s so easy to adore.

Leslie is competitive, she has keen beliefs she holds onto, and she isn’t afraid to say things as they are, which is why as a politician, she does the best job of ensuring the equality she believes in comes out in the work she nurtures, spends time with, and perfects. As we’ve said, she is far, far from perfect, but she tries her absolute hardest. That’s what we see as audience members, which we cling to and believe so fiercely in because the kind of heart that she brings to the table outshines her flaws.

Women. The reason so few comedies succeed the way Parks and Recreation did is because Leslie Knope did everything in her power to uplift other women, believe in them, and love them through everything. Was Ann Perkins perfect? Nope, but to Leslie she was, and when you see beauty in other people, that beauty becomes a reality. She sprinkled life, breath, and passion into the lives of the women she cared about because she wanted them to succeed more than anything. While Leslie’s competitive streak might come out in areas like Model U.N. or Pawnee Goddesses versus Pawnee Rangers, other women are never her competition. She’d never stand by and let her friends speak ill about themselves or be unkind to themselves. If anyone asked for her help, she’d be there. (So long as she wasn’t assisting someone from Eagleton, obviously.)

Leslie’s love for her lady friends is everything. She created Galentine’s Day to show that and so many of us not only embraced that holiday for ourselves, but it’s slowly becoming a thing more people are aware of even if they haven’t seen Parks and Recreation. Leslie did that. She took the unyielding adoration for her friends and decided to celebrate it. Though ultimately for Leslie, everyday is a day to celebrate her friends however she can.

And that’s just it. I thought I had to do big, brave, bold grand gestures all the time, but sometimes, celebrating our friends means screaming about the latest article they’ve written or showering them with praises when they’ve treated themselves to something they’ve wanted. When it comes to what Leslie Knope would do, she’d do the best she can and then some, but what’s always made her acts so beautiful is the genuine desire behind everything.

I always thought I was so strange for needing to hold on to little moments. I thought it was strange that I wanted to absorb everything that was happening, but until we saw how vocal Leslie was about it, I wouldn’t really share that with people. And that’s just it, Leslie made it easy for all of us to understand that we need to proud of the parts of us that otherwise might appear strange to other people.

I embraced the fact that I am a crier because Leslie Knope showed that you can be both strong and an absolute sap. “I’m cried out but I want to cry more, so I’m re-hydrating.” Listen, sometimes, you have to let the tears out when you’re happy and when you’re sad, but especially when you’re happy because there’s nothing quite like happy tears.

Leslie’s life was what she made it out to be. She stood her ground and ran for City Council as she wanted. She’d chug down godforsaken vodka to ensure that Ron didn’t go back to Tammy I. She’d go above and beyond to support Ben in everything that he did. She’d do anything to ensure that April and Andy and Tom always rose to her highest potential. She’d support Ann and Donna through everything.

One of the other reasons I also held off on this deep dive for so long is because like Leslie, I can always say too much. I can go on and on and on about why she means so much to me, why she matters so much as character, and where all her strengths along with her flaws lie. But then people might not read it and then that’d make me super sad.

There are a lot of things I think of when I think of Leslie Knope, most of the time, it depends on which of her moods I’m also feeling that day, but one of the things, in spite of the fact that I never actually am, is I’m ready. The truth is, I’m never ready. I wasn’t ready to write this deep dive because she’s always going to be a character who means too much to me, but at the same time, I suppose I am ready. I am ready for whatever comes my way because what I’ve embraced in learning from this character is that I’m capable of a lot more than I think I am.

“When we worked here together, we fought, scratched, and clawed to make people’s lives a tiny bit better. That’s what public service is all about: small, incremental change every day. Teddy Roosevelt once said ‘Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is a chance to work hard at work worth doing.’ And I would add that what makes work worth doing is getting to do it with people that you love. I started my career more than thirty years ago in the Parks and Recreation department right here in Pawnee, Indiana. I had a lot of different jobs, including two terms as your governor. And soon, a new, unknown challenge awaits me which to me, even now, is thrilling because I love the work. Not to say that public service isn’t sexy because it definitely is, but that’s not why we do it. We do it because we get the chance to work hard at work worth doing, alongside a team of people who we love. So I thank those people who walked with me and I thank you for this honor. Now, go find your team and get to work.”

Leslie Knope | “One Last Ride”

I’m capable because much like Leslie Knope, I embrace the fact that I’m passionate and empathetic. I embrace the fact that I’m sensitive and overdramatic sometimes, but you know what, I’m big enough to admit that it took a long time to get here and I’m happy with it. I’m big enough to embrace the fact that though I may have lost my creative streak during this pandemic, I’ve found other ways to be the best version of myself, and I still get ridiculously excited about things and try to force my friends to watch it to join me in the spirals.

And like Leslie, I found my team because wherever I go, I try my absolute hardest to make sure everyone in the room feels welcomed and included. I haven’t met any Jerry/Gerry though, so I don’t know, I might forget to include them if that happens, but I’m only human after all. And flaws are part of humanity. It’s not about perfection, it’s about trying. I couldn’t write a single article during the first six months of the pandemic, and I’ve finally decided that it’s okay. That doesn’t mean I’ve failed or wasted the time at home, it means that I did my best to get through.

Leslie Knope spirals, she should sleep more and work less sometimes, she screams and cries, she praises and she pouts. She eats waffles with all the whipped cream because she’s right and she should. She loves fiercely and she loves forever, and she hates kale because she understands the importance of eating things that taste good. (Don’t at me. We’re right.)

And she wouldn’t have been as exemplary or as memorable of a character if Amy Poehler didn’t bring so much passion and heart to her embodiment. Poehler’s devotion, understanding, and immense care for the character brought her to life beautifully and inimitably.


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