After his Family Weekend comedy set on Saturday night, Nick Offerman sat down for an interview jointly organized by Pipe Dream, WHRW 90.5 FM, BTV and the Binghamton Film Initiative. Offerman spoke about filming the last season of “Parks and Recreation,” trying a spiedie and what’s going to be in his next book.
Release: You made a few Binghamton-specific jokes. I wanted to ask you – when you visit so many different places, and are touring around the country, how do you keep your act fresh from place to place? Do you research jokes for every place you visit?
Nick Offerman: Massengill Disposable Douche. Are you familiar with that product?
R: I am not.
NO: It’s a feminine hygiene product. To help the lady keep feeling fresh. That was maybe an ’80s joke. You know, I love live performance and I come from the theater, where I learn a play as though it’s scripture, and I perform it to the letter. Conversely, when I perform as a humorist, my show continues to evolve, and so something that helps that is when I am going to any specific area of the country, I’ll do a little homework and see if there’s anything funny to talk about. And colleges are fun. Often, they have a mascot that is crying out to be mocked. Or, you know, a sports team, or some sort of administrator who’s been in a scandal. I don’t think you guys have heard about this yet, but check out the newspaper on Monday.
R: And how did you do your homework for Binghamton?
NO: I asked the stage crew when I got here. What’s the sports team? What’s the colors? And they proffered the information about the mascot. Oh, I had a good joke about the spiedie sandwich. I was fed a spiedie sandwich, and I asked why it was called a spiedie sandwich. No one knew, but I discovered about 15 minutes later, in the ladies’ room, why in fact it’s called a spiedie sandwich. The dressing room is in the women’s staff locker room, and they drape black fabric across all the lockers. It’s a very awkward-feeling space, until I discovered that I had four toilet stalls, including an enormous handicap stall, at my disposal. So I did utilize all four of them, but I only pooped in one.
R: What did you use the others for?
NO: That’s a very good question.
R: So, I know you’re shooting the last season of “Parks and Rec,” right?
NO: What’s your major?
R: I’m an English major – and history.
NO: If you have any biology majors, or forensic majors, you might point them to stall number three.
R: I’ll see what I can find out.
NO: What were you asking?
R: So you’re shooting the last season of “Parks and Rec,” right? What’s that experience like? To be ending a role you’re so closely associated with?
NO: I really have no emotions about it. “Breaks into puking and sobs.” It’s funny, I was thinking about it on the drive here – which was super beautiful, the trees are in color. And I come from Illinois, so living in California, I very much miss the seasons, particularly fall, and having trees that turn color. We don’t have that in Los Angeles, where it’s goddamn beautiful every day. I was driving here, and I was thinking about my show, because I go back to work on Monday, on episode eight of the final 13, and I started passing signs for Scranton. And so I started thinking about “The Office.” And my boss, Mike Schur, the main creator of my show, played Dwight Schrute’s brother Mose at the Schrute Farm. And he also was one of the writers of “The Office.” He was one of the heroes of that show. So I texted him a picture of a Scranton sign, and we had some chuckles. So I was thinking a lot about it. I had to stop myself from crying at one point, because it’s so easy to get nostalgic and start missing it already.
There’s a lot of emotion going on. I suppose it’s like winning a lottery, the sort where they say, “OK, you’ve won a million dollars, but we’re going to give you a million dollars every week for about seven years.” And so every week is pretty swell, and then you get to year five and six and you’re like, “Oh shit. They’re gonna quit giving me a million dollars soon.” And so, you know, the end being in sight is very emotional. I’m already beginning to feel pretty bereft. At the same time, I’m incredibly grateful I got to do it at all, and I’m really thankful that we’re ending it on the terms of my boss Mike Schur. You know, he sort of made a deal with the network. Like, I’ll do less episodes if you let me do the ending the way I want to. And we’re doing that, and so from soup to nuts, this has been the best table I’ve ever sat at.
R: At the song that you sang at the end of your set, there’s a line that you might saddle up Little Sebastian once again. Do you think there’s a chance of you revisiting your role?
NO: Oh, I thought you were asking if I was going to have sex with Little Sebastian.
R: That was my next question.
NO: I fucked the stuffing out of that little horse, son. Nah, I doubt it. I mean, nobody’s said anything. I feel like – my wife at one time was supposed to make a spin-off of her role on “Will and Grace.” That was the plan, and then they spun off Joey from “Friends,” and it failed, and in network mentality they were like, “Well, the apple failed, so the cantaloupe could never work!” So they switched her idea around. So if something was in the works, I believe I would’ve heard about it by now. I feel like both “The Office” and “Parks and Rec” are such a unique paradigm. They’re not a traditional sitcom, and so I don’t expect there will be seeing Mr. Swanson again.
R: So you said in previous interviews that you once auditioned to play the role of Wolverine, and your “Parks and Rec” costar Chris Pratt is of course in “Guardians of the Galaxy” as Star Lord. So if you could play any superhero, who would it be?
NO: That’s a good question. For years, because I’m a little more beefy than the way most of those guys are drawn, I always thought the only guy I could play was Ben Grimm, who becomes The Thing in The Fantastic Four, because he’s a rather thick fellow. In fact, Michael Chiklis played him, which some would argue is a little too thick … no, he’s terrific. I’ll never disparage that guy.
I don’t know. I mean, Wolverine was always my dream and again, I think Hugh Jackman is an incredibly talented performer but I don’t know. I’ve had enough of those movies, like Wolverine’s been kind of ruined for me because it used to be this weird thing nobody knew about and only really weird Dungeons and Dragons kids even knew who the fuck Wolverine was, and we’d say “snikt snikt” to each other in the hallway because that’s the noise that his blades make when they come out. S-N-I-K-T. And then it became this huge popular thing, and so it was no longer cool and underground anymore. There’s some comics that I like. There’s one called “The Boys” that I really love and the main dude is The Butcher. I wouldn’t mind taking a swing at that guy. But I’m too old. Who’s an old superhero? Some sort of weird cowboy-sheriff-boxer.
R: I can see you as a cowboy-sheriff.
R: So I know that in your later years in college and out of college you were involved in a theater company, Defiant Theater. You won an award in Puppetry and Masks in 1998. Has your work behind the scenes informed your acting?
NO: Well, I grew up in this great farm family, which is a community of people working together for a small monetary profit. But the riches we gleaned with our life together were multifold. And the same is true of small theater companies. You don’t make any money, but you live like a king. The life is so delicious, you achieve the highest highs and some very low lows, but I can’t imagine feeling more alive through my youth. And so I feel like that’s carried forward even now. On any project that I work on, I do my best. Sometimes it’s hard if I work on a movie for two days but I generally do my best to learn everybody’s names. Because I’ve often been on the crew, I’ve often been the guy driving the truck or the guy screwing the scenery together, and so that’s who I gravitate to. I can never lose sight of the fact that we’re all making this together.
And that’s kind of antithetical to the normal hotshot attitude of where you’re supposed to hold yourself apart from the hoi polloi slinging the camera cable. But I guess in that way I’ve always enjoyed the theater, because if you get a group of creative, passionate people together, maybe one time you’re Hamlet and maybe next time you’re sewing the costumes for the ladies to do Trojan women or what have you. And I feel much more passionate about projects where I can see everybody making it together. Even that Mask and Puppetry award, I had a team. I was the head of the team, but we had ten way better artists than me making these super cool masks and these weird little puppets. So we all shared the award.
R: You mentioned on stage that you’re working on your second book. Could you talk a bit about that, and maybe what else is next for you?
NO: Sure. My second book, we’re just deciding on the title, and it’s a book about a group of great Americans that have inspired me, in short. It starts with George Washington, and we get some historical figures: Ben Franklin, Teddy Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt, Frederick Douglass. And then we get to people that are more recently passed away or still living. And some of those are like Michael Pollan, the great food writer, Wendell Berry, who I mentioned in my show, who to me is the hero, the Elvis Presley or Justin Bieber, depending on your age. He is the one who gets my panties in a bundle. And you know, Carol Burnett I’m talking to, Laurie Anderson who is a great performance artist and musician. I’m trying to land an interview with Willie Nelson. Muckrakers, people who paddle their own canoes and have achieved a great success by being really independent and really self-sufficient.
And it’s sort of looking at these people’s lives –and those who I can talk to, I am – to look at our country which is described by our founding fathers as being a great American experiment. And I feel like it was a great leap forward in human rights and personal freedoms and democracy. But at the same time, it was very much established by all wealthy white dudes who were like, signing the Declaration of Independence with ink that their slaves had just crushed up in the backyard. So there are still a few things. And there still are. We’ve made all these leaps forward begrudgingly, but I’m just interested as an artist in examining how we can continue to evolve. I feel like our nation has gotten really lazy in every way. We’ve become such a nation of consumers, even in our politics, no matter what side of the fence you’re on, we’ve learned to consume that. I no longer know nearly enough about politics, I just turn on Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to find out what I think. And the other side is turning on Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and Ann Coulter, or whatever other cunt they like to listen to. But you know what I mean? They think the same thing about me, and that’s become a form of consumerism that pisses me off, because it’s frustrating because no matter who we put in the White House, we keep killing people in the Middle East. I’m just interested in can we keep trying to become cooler instead of just being like, “Hey fuck it, I got a pickup truck and gun. My kid plays baseball…” I’d rather not rest easy on those laurels.
R: Is your book the format of an essay collection on each of these people?
NO: Kind of, each chapter is a person. Yoko Ono…
R: She’s one of them?
R: Why do you find her so great?
NO: Oh my God. I was ignorant. My wife is a big fan of her art. And she said we’re going to her opening one time, in Santa Monica. And I said “You’re aware she’s the evil woman who broke up The Beatles, right?” And this was about 15 years ago, and she said, “Mmm … I don’t know that’s the case, but here, check out her art.” And I had no idea of her life as an artist, and she’s an amazing, beautiful, unbelievable artist who I find really inspiring. She saw this guy who is like the closest thing to a messiah in our millennia gunned down in front of her on the sidewalk of her building, The Dakota. Didn’t move, still lives there. Never batted an eyelash. Just kept on promoting her ideas and his ideas to try and promote world peace and loving one another. And I just find her incredibly heroic. And based on my own ignorance, I feel it’s incumbent upon me. Hopefully some dipshit Ron Swanson fans will read my book and be like, “Oh, man, I didn’t know she was actually cool.” So there’s a lot of that going on. I think I’m doing a reality show about making stuff. Like a “Handmade in America” kind of old-fashioned craft show.
R: In your woodshop?
NO: Some in my woodshop. I don’t want it to take over my woodshop because I have woodworkers performing woodworking there. My woodshop will be represented, but it will also travel to different shops around the country and visit people who make things in an old-fashioned way. I’m always doing films, I have some film work. My wife and I have a new touring show called “Summer of 69.” No apostrophe. We’re going to tour a lot next year.
R: What’s that tour going to be about?
NO: Well we did it once already, then this Broadway show took her away for about five months from touring. But it’s kind of an old-fashioned variety, husband and wife, like Sonny and Cher kind of show. With songs, and it’s very funny, and very ribald, as the title would have you believe. And we end with a big dance number.
R: Those are all of my prepared questions. I have a few speed round questions where you have to answer immediately after I ask the question.
NO: So you say.
R: NSync or Backstreet Boys?
NO: No thank you.
R: If you could be a piece of furniture, what would you be?
R: Last book you read?
NO: “Tenth of December” by George Saunders. Please read it, it’s fucking amazing. And he lives like 90 minutes from here.
R: Cats or dogs?
R: Name a celebrity.
NO: Megan Mullally.
R: Favorite article of clothing?
R: Now I have a few word associations. Just tell me what you think comes to mind when I say each word.
NO: Am I awarded any points? Speed round?
NO: Let’s say 17. This is word association?
R: Yes, and these word associations will total 20, as did the last round.
NO: Thank you.
NO: Fatuous? My sister.
R: Your total score is 37.
NO: My god, thank you.
R: That’s all I have.
NO: Elevators were invented by the Otis Corporation to keep us from using stairs. They’re the biggest contributors to diabetes in the country. I’m bringing the Otis Corporation down.