Joe Biden, President-Elect of the United States, appeared twice in Parks and Recreation as himself. Leslie Knope, the main character of the show, made many references to then-Vice President Biden throughout Parks and Recreation‘s seven seasons. Leslie (Amy Poehler) once confided in her best friend, Ann (Rashida Jones), that her ideal man had the brains of George Clooney and the body of Joe Biden. She also admitted in front of her husband that Joe is her celebrity sex list, stitched a picture of Joe Biden’s face into the “unity quilt” she made for her and Ben’s families, and paused for a brief moment when Bobby Newport’s campaign manager, Jennifer Barkley (Kathryn Hahn), attempted to bribe her into dropping out of the city council race in return for Joe Biden’s personal phone number.
Biden’s first appearance on Parks and Rec occurred in season 5, episode 7, “Leslie vs. April.” The brief scene was filmed in July 2012, but aired in November after the 2012 Presidential Election, meaning it had to be filmed in a way that would have worked no matter who won. In the episode, Leslie and Ben are celebrating their recent engagement, so Ben decides to surprise Leslie with a gift – a short meeting with her favorite person, which leaves her overcome with emotion. The Vice President also returned for the Parks and Recreation finale, which takes place in the future and hints that Ledlie and Biden are friends.
Leslie Knope has many political heroes and constantly references her favorite public servants, but Leslie’s obsession with Joe Biden both as a successful politician and her dream man became a running gag on Parks and Rec. The gag culminated in two hilarious cameos by Joe Biden himself. Naturally, the clip of Leslie first meeting Biden has gone viral in the days following his successful 2020 bid for President of the United States, but how did Joe Biden’s appearances in Parks and Rec come about?
While you’d expect Knope’s adoration of the VP to be one-sided, Biden was actually a fan of Parks and Rec. At the time of his casting announcement, Parks and Rec executive producer Michael Schur told EW how it happened: “His staff really loves the show, and he apparently had watched the show with his family and his family liked it.” Schur also revealed why the show had to keep the cameo secret, given its potential to break election rules: “The hardest part was keeping it secret for so long because there’s all these FEC rules and equal-time rules. We couldn’t air it before the election because it was the equivalent of a campaign contribution to advertise for one candidate.”
Biden was not the only prominent U.S. political figure to appear on the hit NBC sitcom. The late Senator John McCain, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former First Lady Michelle Obama, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and several other well-known politicians appeared in various episodes. The former Vice President also revealed to the New York Times his take on the cameo: “My whole family loves Parks and Recreation and I had a great time filming that scene. It was a real honor that in my sitcom debut I got to meet someone like Leslie Knope, who believes so deeply in public service. She’s an example for men and women across the country that there’s no higher calling than helping other people. On a personal note, I’ll never figure out how Leslie Knope got my home phone number, but that really just shows how committed she is.”
Parks and Rec is known for being a pretty optimistic representation of local and federal government, but there are some things in the show that are based in a surprising amount of realism, including Leslie’s many town hall meetings that go completely sideways and also her deep commitment to her job in public service. Parks and Recreation never officially explains Leslie Knope’s massive crush on President-Elect Joe Biden, but the fictional character often chose real-life political role models to inspire her based on the characteristics that she most identifies with and admires: commitment to their work and the people they serve.