Q&A: Nick Offerman on harnessing the power of ignorance
Like so many, national arts reporter Geoff Edgers has been grounded by the novel coronavirus. So he decided to launch an Instagram Live show from his barn in Concord, Mass.
Every Friday and many Tuesday afternoons, Edgers hosts "Stuck With Geoff." So far, he has interviewed musician Annie Lennox, comedian Tiffany Haddish, journalist Dan Rather and basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Recently, Edgers chatted with actor, woodworker and onetime "Parks and Recreation" star Nick Offerman. Here are some excerpts from their conversation.
Q: I don't know how you feel about this, but when I was much younger, I learned a lesson - not to be fearful of being stupid. I would sometimes go to gatherings or dinners, and someone would reference something I didn't know. They'd say, "Remember Flem Snopes?" and I wouldn't happen to know that character. And I found that by pretending I did know him, I would never learn who he was. So I just would say, "Who is that?"
A: That's a great life lesson. You know, here we are and I just had this kerfuffle with my hometown high school mascot. One of the many subjects of racial ignorance in the country are all of the Native American mascots. It's not a new story. But given the national climate, it's one of the things that's getting new attention. Like, I grew up in this small town. A lot of people are angrily saying, "No, we should keep our offensive icon of a savage Native American Indian chief. We're paying him homage." It's a bunch of white people saying, "No, we don't find this depiction of indigenous tribes offensive."
I had the good fortune of my mom and dad teaching me at a young age that ignorance is one of our most powerful weapons. For example, I enjoy woodworking. I enjoy making furniture and boats out of wood. And that's not something I would have ever been able to do without being ignorant and screwing up a bunch of wood and making a ton of mistakes that make me cry and break my 2-by-4s over my knee. Only by going through that and facing my ignorance, was I eventually able to make a table that holds a delicious roast beef dinner.
Q: I've got a picture here of a boat you made.
A: Oh, yes. It's a four-foot rowboat that's totally seaworthy, a yellow cedar and walnut cradle that I made for my friend Marty McClendon and his wife, Jen. It's called the Little Jenny. And it was made on the occasion of their first child. I can even remember the name of the designer, Warren Jordan. That was the first dip of my toes into the world of wooden boat building.
Q: Look at this table on your woodworking website (offermanwoodshop.com/custom/tables). You're selling that damn thing. It's beautiful.
A: We have some kind of museum pieces that are astonishing, one of a kind. And that's reclaimed. It's a funny thing about redwood, you never cut down an old-growth redwood tree. We've already cut down way too many of them. But there are pieces you can come across and reclaim so that they actually get a second life.
And back to your question about ignorance, any situation I go into, especially in show business, I'm always very aware that I'm not an expert in filmmaking. I'm not a screenwriter. Look, there are so many things where I have gaps in my knowledge. So when I meet a director to talk about projects, one of the first things I always say is, "Look, I don't know much about Fellini. I also never saw an episode of 'Friends.' "
Q: I'll tell you, one great sadness for you and your career is that having seen your performance as Ignatius C. Reilly in "The Confederacy of Dunces" at the Huntington Theatre in Boston, I wish the show had gone on to Broadway. I wish more people could have seen it.
A: Well, thank you. That was the plan. But maybe one day we'll get to do that. But it was an absolute privilege to get to play that character. And it was a wonderful production. We had an amazing cast. Nathan Lane generously informed me by text that I had broken his box-office record. It was a huge hit.