Nick Offerman and his noble pursuits (interview)
Nick Offerman is already off to a busy year. When he’s not portraying the mustachioed meat eating Ron Swanson on NBC’s Parks and Recreation he’s touring the country with his American Ham comedy show, or he’s working on or promoting a film like the recently released independent comedy Somebody Up There Likes Me, or he’s legitimately making things out of wood, or he’s hanging out with his wife, famed stage and screen actress Megan Mullally.
And when he’s not doing one or a mixture of all those things, he finds times to talk with idiots like us. And on that note, check out our interview below. Special thanks to Mr. Offerman for taking the time to speak with us. We follow the rules of Ron Swanson’s pyramid of greatness in great detail so it was an honor.
I wanted to tell you that Somebody Up There Likes Me looks fantastic.
Thank you. I’m really proud of it and I’m so excited to be releasing a little indie movie, the like of which I’ve shot a great many. But we have this wonderful new arena of “video on demand” and I’m really excited to see how a film can play when usually, if anything, you get a little art house release in theaters, but now the whole world can see it at the same time so I’m excited to see if we can do some business.
You once mentioned you prefer doing those types of films over bigger productions.
I prefer anything with a small group of people rather than a big budget project because on a big budget feature, you can end up feeling a little more like a prop. Like, alright, put the plumber back in his trailer. Make sure he’s refrigerated and we’ll be ready for him again on Wednesday. There’s like 150 people running around and you never get to really know everybody. On a movie like Somebody Up There Likes Me, there’s a crew of 20 or 25, so you depend on everybody and see everybody doing their work, collaborating all around you, and it allows the group of us to feel much more like this is our film. We all made at least 1/20 of this project.
You directed and episode of Parks And Recreation recently. What was that experience like?
Incredibly fun. Someone just asked me about that and I said it’s like going over to the coolest kid in town’s house and getting to play with his toys. Getting to work with our crew and our cast was just a privilege and it made it a very gentle first experience. They took very good care of me. When I watched the episode, it was the last one that aired last week after the wedding episode, called “Correspondent’s Lunch.” My first emotion was just one of gratitude towards the cast for being such high end professionals.
Do you think you’d ever direct a a film?
Sure, yeah. I would love it. If I were to direct a film, I think I would want it to be of a smaller budget like that because I come from theater. That’s what I trained for in college and the first handful of years of my professional life were in Chicago Theater and then LA. When I work with a small, independent film company, it just feels much more like a theater company, which is what I’m used to. I like to at least get my feet wet that way before messing around with somebody’s millions.
You mentioned at the Apple store you didn’t have a comedic background. Obviously, you’re very funny but how did you get into comedy?
Well, thank you for the compliment. I appreciate it. It’s an interesting thing. In the business, there’s a real distinction. Everybody wants you to be a specialist. So people treat comedians who’ve been trained at Second City, or the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, or the Groundlings, as comedy experts. But in the theater business, where I come from, what you call legit theaters in Chicago like Steppenwolf or the Good Men, and I had my own company called The Defiance Theater, you have to be able to perform Shakespeare and intense drama and comedy all in one season. I love comedy, I love performing comedy, and I thought there were things I could do. I just didn’t realize I wasn’t considered a specialist. At some point here in LA, casting directors began to say to me, “Oh I didn’t know you do comedy!” As if it was a special skill like speaking French or something. The older I get, the more I enjoy working on light hearted material rather than bleak dark stuff. I don’t think I’ll ever aspire to work on a CSI-type show or anything where you spend your week shooting 14 hour days picking apart a corpse in a ditch. I’d rather make people laugh.
You mentioned you’re a fan of Laurel and Hardy other vaudeville comedians
Yeah, my wife and I both really love Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. I love the vaudevillian tradition. I especially love people who can make you laugh without having to say anything. I think that’s something I’m really attracted to.
You and your wife are doing a vaudevillian play in the near future, right?
No, we’re doing a play in the spring, here in Los Angeles called Annapurna. It’s the name of a Himalayan peak. It’s a drama, a 2 person drama, with some flights of comedy, but it’s more like a Sam Sheppard play.
Everything I’ve read about you and your wife, it seems you have the perfect marriage. What’s the secret?
Well, I don’t think anybody has the perfect marriage. I think we’re just lucky as hell that we found the person that we’re meant to be with, but it’s still a relationship between 2 people. So you got to work at it and nurture it, but I feel damn lucky. Whenever we get in an argument, it never occurs to me to do anything but make up. We’re going to be together for the rest of our lives so we might as well get back to kissing. I just feel really lucky to have found my soul mate, which is kind of a corny term, but it’s really true. We got together and discovered we were meant to be together and we both just feel really lucky. We’re both weirdo artists and we have very strong opinions, so to find somebody that you get along with is like winning the lottery.
You’re currently traveling across the country doing live performances. How’s it been going?
That’s my show American Ham. I initially conceived of the show because I was invited to speak at some colleges. I thought, “by God, there are certain things I’d really like to say to the young people of our nation.” So I wrote this show. It’s my 10 tips for prosperity. It’s a humorous show, certainly, but the tips are sincere. I tell the audience things like say please and thank you, or engage in romantic love, or use a handkerchief, but then I surround it and dress it up with some jokes and I play some funny songs on my guitar so that the audience isn’t bored silly.
I’m most fascinated by your woodworking background. I read once you enjoy it more than acting. What’s the experience like making something with your hands?
I think everybody has a creative superpower and they just have to figure out what it is. I think every person alive is amazing at making something, and I’m just lucky that I’m halfway decent at making stuff out of wood. So when you get to engage in that – in the Zen discipline and Shinto arts – they have a saying the way of the arts is the way of the Buddha. Meaning if you figure out what it is that you love to do, whether it is paint, play music, cook, or make things out of wood, you sort of have a holy obligation to do that. That’s your calling. I feel that way about woodworking. I love that I’m able to make things out of wood with my hands that are beautiful and functional whether it is a table or a canoe. I’m learning how to make string instruments. I’m starting with ukuleles, heading towards guitars.
All of those things have a very different result than acting. When you work as an actor, you have to collaborate with a team and you never have ultimate control of the product you’re making, but when I make something out of wood, I get to make every decision. At the end of every day, instead of having a bunch of film in a can or having a bunch of information on a hard drive, I have a tangible result that I can put my hands on and look at and say, “There’s the result of my work.” That feels incredibly charismatic. When I make a canoe paddle, I take a plank that is awkward and not good for much; I slowly shape it into a canoe paddle. As the object’s intension begins to come out in my hands, I can feel its use as I’m shaping it, and it just feels like magic. Like I’ve turned this tree trunk into something I can use to drive across the lake. That feels like a noble pursuit.
We’re unbelievably thankful for Nick Offerman taking time out to talk to us. For more information on all of his projects, visit his website.