Galentine's Day: An Oral History From Amy Poehler And The Parks & Rec Writers

What's Galentine's Day?! (Screenshot, courtesy NBC)

Happy Galentine's Day! What's Galentine's Day? On Feb. 13 — the day before Valentine's Day — ladies come together to celebrate their best gals. For the non-Pawneeans out there, the holiday was inspired by the character Leslie Knope on the TV show Parks and Recreation.

LAist interviewed actress/producer Amy Poehler, show co-creator Mike Schur, and writer Emma Fletcher about the legacy of the holiday 10 years later, the legacy of the show itself, and the power of friendship.

GALENTINE'S DAY: THE ORIGIN STORY

Mike Schur co-created Parks and Recreation with Greg Daniels, who also created the U.S. version of The Office. Galentine's Day began in an episode of the same name during the second season of the show, its first full-length season.

Mike Schur: The idea came about because the show was always pitched as a show about female friendship — the pilot was about Leslie and Ann meeting for the first time and becoming friends.

Amy Poehler: [Playing Leslie Knope] was, and continues to be, a wonderful experience. My job consisted of playing a woman who doesn't give up, who dreams big, and who constantly tells the people around her that she loves and supports them. It was very good for my mental health. We all need someone like Leslie cheering us on.

Laying out the rules for what the spirit of Galentine's Day entails, in the second "Galentine's Day" episode. (Screenshot, courtesy NBC)

While different writers are assigned to write each script, the show was a hugely collaborative process. Schur's name is on the first "Galentine's Day" episode, but he credited writer Aisha Muharrar as potentially being the one who pitched the idea to begin with.

Schur: Leslie's the kind of person who would love Valentine's Day. It wasn't about undoing Valentine's Day — she genuinely loved all holidays, and present-giving, and celebrations.

But it was the perfect Leslie Knope idea, because the idea was, the day beforehand, let's eliminate the romantic aspect of it — because it's exclusionary to people who aren't in romances — and say, there isn't a day set aside where we just celebrate friendships, especially female friendships. And so she just took it upon herself to do that.

Poehler: I loved doing scenes with all of the women in the cast — a Galentine's Day scene usually meant we were all huddled together for the day.

Schur: She described it as "ladies celebrating ladies," right? It was just her and all of her best female friends, and she took one day out of her calendar year to gather them all together, and to tell them why she loved them, and why she thought they were special and important in her life.

April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) gets a mosaic of her face from Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) on the first "Galentine's Day" episode of Parks and Recreation. (Screenshot, courtesy NBC)

Leslie's Galentine's Day gifts for her friends in the first "Galentine's Day" episode range from hand-crocheted flower pens to personalized 5,000-word essays explaining why each of her friends is so awesome.

Emma Fletcher: Leslie gives everyone mosaics of their faces, and when April turns hers around, her scowling face matches the mosaic perfectly. It just really tickles me to have your grumpy face immortalized like that.

Schur: And it sort of took off. We did it once just because we liked the idea of it, and then it just became this thing that people locked into.

The show revisited Galentine's Day in future episodes, including giving the idea a full episode in season 6. Emma Fletcher and her writing partner wrote the first draft of that episode

Fletcher: The episodes were assigned at random, and the people whose names ended up on them were only a reflection of who happened to write the first draft. Every episode was written by every person in the room... but it was super cool to get to take a crack at Galentine's Day.

As someone who isn't particularly dramatic by nature and who tends to struggle in emotionally heightened situations, it was a relief not to be expected to pitch catty lady fights.

WHAT MADE LESLIE KNOPE AND ANN PERKINS' FRIENDSHIP #GOALS

Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) and Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) in the first "Galentine's Day" episode of Parks and Recreation. (Screenshot, courtesy NBC)

Poehler: I love that the show celebrated female friendship in such a pure way. Leslie and Ann were always on each other's team. They shared a deep connection and never gave up on each other, even knowing how different they were.

But I think the real reason the relationship worked is because I am in love and obsessed with Rashida [Jones] in the same way Leslie is. She is my wife for life.

Schur: The basic idea of how Greg Daniels and I pitched [Parks and Recreation] was that it was about a project, it was about government, it was about local government, and bureaucracy, and all that stuff — but the center of it was going to be this female friendship.

Where this woman who had a large amount of skill, and acumen, and intelligence — but no kind of political savvy — was going to meet a woman, Ann, who was really smart, and she was a nurse, and she had lived a very kind of nuts-and-bolts, practical life, and was just really good at managing day-to-day stuff — and that the two of them were going to complete each other, in a Jerry Maguire kind of a way.

Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) and Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) in the second "Galentine's Day" episode of Parks and Recreation. (Screenshot, courtesy NBC)

Fletcher: Leslie always searches for the good in everyone she meets (except Jerry), and that is a quality I wish more people had — myself included. It's such a wonderful way to go through life and a wonderful message to be amplified by a TV show.

It's also the reason Leslie finds herself surrounded by so many good friends. She purposefully creates and nurtures the important friendships in her life.

Often young girls are taught that the relationships they should prize above all others are romantic, and thus tacitly assume that means they can let their friendships fall by the wayside if necessary. I think it's awesome to have a character out there telling girls to cherish their friendships — that they are not secondary, but in fact equally as important.

Schur: Each of their personalities completed what was missing in the other one. That was the idea behind the show, completely.

And then, that's a great idea in theory — from the very beginning, Greg and I really liked that idea — but it didn't really become the show until we knew it was Amy and Rashida.

Because the two of them are really good friends in real life — and they're also good friends who are different people. The whole thing clicked into place as soon as the two of them were locked in.

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💘happy happy galentine's day. these women keep me alive. 💘

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They posted their own real-life Galentine's Day photo on Instagram last year with co-stars Aubrey Plaza and Kathryn Hahn.

Poehler: We see each other constantly because we are really close friends who love each other.

WHY GALENTINE'S DAY STARTED TO BE CELEBRATED IN THE REAL WORLD BY REAL FRIENDS

Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) plots conversation topics to have with Ann Perkins ahead of Galentine's Day in the second "Galentine's Day" episode of Parks and Recreation. (Screenshot, courtesy NBC)

Poehler: Holidays are usually awful. Centering one around love and relationship can be a recipe for disaster. By subverting the expectation of Valentine's Day, Galentine's Day reminds you that the women in your life are often your truest and longest loves.

Schur: Women get raw deals at pretty much every turn in American society. There's very little about the day-to-day functioning of American society that, first of all, is fair to women, much less celebrates women, right?

And so I think the idea of someone like Leslie coming up with this idea — take time out of your day to just tell the women in your life that they're special, and they matter — and that what they are, who they are uniquely, and individually, is important and should be celebrated.

Fletcher: There are so many occasions that celebrate couples: weddings, Valentine's Day, New Year's, Presidents' Day, etc. — but none that celebrate the enduring friendships in your life. I think friends were excited for an excuse to celebrate each other.

Schur: I think it's just because that's a nice idea. Like, I think people of any gender and any age and everywhere in the country should be doing this more. We should be talking to our friends more about why we love them, and what's great about them.

And I think that the idea, at that moment even — I mean at any moment. It would be even more powerful now probably, because women have been under pretty much continuous assault by the federal government for decades now, and the last couple years have been especially rough.

But regardless of when it actually was rolled out, I think the simple idea of women telling each other what's great about each other, absent any kind of external force or reason to do it — other than that it should be done — I think that captured people's imaginations.

Poehler: It's really awesome that people keep discovering the show. I am grateful that, almost every day, people come up to me and tell me how much they love it.

The other day I was driving by the teachers' strike in Los Angeles and honked at them and gave them a thumbs up for support. One woman had a picture of Leslie Knope on her sign.

I think she was excited. I was too.

Here's to friendship! (Screenshot, courtesy NBC)

Note: Portions of this story have been edited for conciseness and clarity. Mike Schur's interview was conducted via phone; interviews with Amy Poehler and Emma Fletcher were conducted via email.

And if you want more TV history goodness, go read our oral history of 30 Rock's "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah."