Nick Offerman

Nick Offerman: “I have a pugilist in me”

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Short Profile

Name: Nicholas Offerman
DOB: 26 June 1970
Place of birth: Joliet, Illinois, United States
Occupation: Actor

Mr. Offerman, what’s the furthest you’ve gone to make someone laugh?

One time in Chicago in the 90s, my theater company, The Defiant, put together a circus freak show during the legendary Abby Hoffman Died For Our Sins Festival. Among other feats of wonder, I consumed a crystal goblet of my own urine for the audience's edification. I think that was the peak — or the nadir, depending on your point of view — of me letting my audience know that I was no longer member of the Catholic church altar boys. (Laughs)

How did that go down?

Of course the audience was horrified! It was an absolute travesty and I immediately went out and got drunk to erase my embarrassment. But that's how you learn. That's historically how I had to learn what not to do on stage. (Laughs) It was important for my personal growth to go through that experimental phase, but I can see in hindsight that at the time it wasn’t that appealing to commercial producers. But I come from a really conservative, humble and hardworking family that always was very well behaved — and that made me say, “I don't want to behave, I want to act like a jackass, because people laugh at it, and I feel like we need that release.”

“In my twenties I spent a lot of time working out how weird should I be.”

And now your audience is embracing that misbehavior, right? You once got drunk and urinated all over Los Angeles for a punk-rock music video, and people loved it.

(Laughs) I mean, if I was doing the exact same work that I was doing 20 years ago, it would probably still be too weird to reach the size of audience that I’ve been lucky enough to reach nowadays. Today I've shaped my persona as a performer, and I can take that into bigger arenas and I can qualify to work on a show on television or to do a play in a big commercial playhouse for example. But in my twenties I spent a lot of time working out how weird should I be.

And how weird is that?

Well, I think every human being by definition has something really weird about them. We’re taught by society to repress that unique quality or that weirdness: as you become socialized, you have to be homogenized, there are these old fashioned notions that you have to conform to. As an artist especially, I absolutely bristle against that! You should celebrate whatever is weird and unique about you. It’s your specific flavor. It’s like a bottle of exquisite wine, or an amazing distilled barrel of scotch whiskey. Every cask, because it is an organic quantity, is going to have a different flavor. We should embrace those different qualities rather than make everything taste like the same can of soda pop.

I agree, but that’s not the message we’re being fed from television and the media. Conformity always seems to overshadow uniqueness.

Exactly. But if you only paid attention to television and social media, you would think that all we’re supposed to do is make as much money as possible, and buy as many retail goods as possible. I’ve found that making a life with one’s hands and spending your time with loved ones pays less dollars but makes your life much more rich. I feel like the American Dream has been a bit hijacked by consumerism… And I learned the hard way that that’s actually quite empty and depressing as a lifestyle.

So you did buy into that lifestyle at one point?

Sure. I grew up in this wonderful, frugal farm family in Illinois. I was always very practical and I made a lot of my living as a laborer, which makes a person very realistic in terms of what you should spend your earnings on. But I did have this notion as an actor that if I were going to “make it” someday, that that would mean I would buy fancy cars I didn't need and I would smoke a lot of joints and float around in my pool all day. And there was a day, probably in 2003, that my wife and I had a little swimming pool at our house and I thought to myself, “You know what, I believe I made it, I’m going to smoke a joint and float in the pool and listen to some Neil Young.”

How did that feel?

I realized that that dream is full of shit! It lasted for about five minutes before I said, “What are you doing with yourself, you could be getting some work done.” It’s an incredibly important part of a human being’s health to have a purpose, to use this gift of a body and a brain, the ingenuity and creativity of this human form to get something done. And if you let those resources lie fallow, that creates depression and the need for escapism. If I were to engage in that lifestyle, I would immediately become some sort of wastrel or drunk and a negative force on civilization, rather than my repeated attempts to become a positive force.

“I would rather promote positivity than be cynical and make people laugh with negativity.”

Do those attempts ever hit a wall?

Well, I have a pugilist in me. I could easily give over to the part of me that wants to fist fight everybody. But given whatever abilities I arrived on the planet with I can look at it and say, “Alright, I seem to be able to entertain people to some extent.” Everybody is amazing at something — some people write music, some people are leaders, some people raise children, some people cook food. If you find what it is that you can offer to your fellow men and women, I think it creates a much more rich recompense.

Would you consider entertainment as your offering to your fellow men?

Yeah, and I think the purpose of art and entertainment is to get people to love one another. I would rather promote positivity than be cynical and make people laugh with negativity. And my work is often speaking to myself as powerfully as it is to my audience. Really, all of humanity’s problems come down to how we treat our neighbors, do we love one another or do we act in a selfish way. If you trace war to its origins it just comes down to, “We want to get all the apples off the tree before that other group.” And we lost sight of the fact that the other tribes are also in our family. We should always maintain our focus on making sure everybody has a piece of the apples. And I am not only telling these things to my readers and listeners, but I’m taking the opportunity to remind myself to hug people before I punch them!