NEW YORK — On the debut episode of Smart Girls at the Party, Amy Poehler sits in a dark studio and solemnly introduces her first guest as a “singer, actor, dancer, musician, feminist, entrepreneur and skateboarder.”
Sitting across from Poehler is a 7-year-old named Ruby, who cheerfully displays a just-completed drawing.
Charlie Rose, eat your heart out.
This summer, while much of the TV world is in reruns, a number of comedians have taken to YouTube, including Poehler, Rainn Wilson, Walter Latham and, in a new role, Shaquille O’Neal.
Smart Girls at the Party is the flagship show for Poehler’s YouTube channel of the same name, part of an ambitious initiative from Google’s video-sharing site to plant a crop of niche-oriented channels from show business veterans. The rollout has continued through the year, gradually premiering more than half of the nearly 100 channels YouTube has poured $100 million into, while pledging to spend another $200 million on marketing.
Comedy is only one of the many genres among the new channels (they range from the gaming hotbed Machinima to The Wall Street Journal), but it’s perhaps the most viral-ready: Production value isn’t needed to send a funny clip sailing through social media.
Smart Girls at the Party, which has some 7,500 subscribers thus far and has generated more than 400,000 views, is geared toward adolescent girls and young teens with the stated aim to “celebrate individuals who are changing the world by being themselves.”
“We wanted to celebrate the noncelebrity,” says Poehler. “We wanted to embrace and highlight the cool period in any boy or girl’s life where they’re just so full of possibility and ideas and passion.”
The channel includes shows such as Ask Amy, where Poehler answers questions from viewers. In one episode, Poehler, who’s currently shooting a film directed by David Wain ahead of the next season of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, waxes about managing stress while sitting in a bathtub.
In Meow Meow Music, Poehler’s friend Amy Miles hosts a mini version of a Pee-wee Herman-style variety show. Every episode of Smart Girls ends with a dance party.
“YouTube and Google and the Internet in general is filled with so much – I don’t know – garbage humiliation stuff,” says Poehler, who has two young boys. “We’re trying to do stuff that’s not focused on people falling down. Although – don’t get me wrong – I love people falling down, especially when monkeys fall out of trees. That’s my favorite part of the Internet.”
Wilson, who plays Dwight on The Office, also has hopes to shift the online dialogue. His channel is an outgrowth of an earlier SoulPancake Web site and book, both of which grapple with philosophy and spirituality in a casual way.
“We want to engage users creatively, uplift the conversation, dig into life’s big questions and kind of make thinking and feeling cool and fun and irreverent at the same time,” says Wilson.
Wilson, a member of the Baha’i faith, hosts the channel’s Metaphysical Milkshake, in which he interviews people in the back of his custom van.
Other shows include Live a Little, about atypical high schoolers; Subcultures, about niche communities; and Art Attack, where artists create something from a suggested “spark.” Wilson is particularly enthusiastic about a pilot called Last Days, featuring interviews of people with terminal illnesses. (He promises it’s uplifting.)