Nick Offerman On Telling Stories, Masculinity, And His Love Affair With Words

05.17.19 1 month ago

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Nick Offerman’s voice is unmistakable. A mix of strength and comfort — like a fine automobile. But it’s not just the sound, it’s the words he chooses. In a world where plenty of people try to take the conversational expressway with emojis and abbreviations, Offerman seems to prefer a soulful country drive filled with interesting stops along the way. It’s no wonder that Offerman has recorded more than a dozen audiobooks, including More Bedtime Stories For Cynics (which is available to download now on Audible), wherein he introduces a collection of funny (in the grown-up way) original stories as read by the likes of Mike Birbiglia, Alia Shawkat, Ellen Page, and Patrick Stewart.

Uproxx recently spoke with Offerman about that project along with a host of other things: storytelling, his love for language, and the quest for the right word. We also touched on the drag that is touring the country with not enough time to explore a proper rib joint, dodging offers to play alternate universe versions of Ron Swanson, and why the so-called war on masculinity is really just a needed dose of medicine. And if you ever needed confirmation of Offerman’s goodness, know that he took time out from working for his wife, Megan Mullally, as an unofficial roadie for her band Nancy & Beth and offered these thoughtful answers while his lunch order was getting cold.

How much of a role did you have in terms of curating the stories and selecting the talent that’s involved in this project?

Well, the brains at Audible are, I would consider, superior to my own. They told me about the project, and this happens a lot when you’re trying to put something together; you bounce around names, and ideas, and themes, and tones, but then you need smart administrators with an office, and people to do the corresponding. It’s the unsung glory of the casting director. Almost every medium that I work in, you swing for the fences, and then the people at Audible come back, and say, “Oh, we weren’t able to get this person, or this person, but what about Jean-Luc Picard?” The people writing the stories are so clever. I’m very much the drunk uncle on the porch. They get the whole dinner together, and then they have me come in and say the benediction.

The fact that people can tolerate me and my speaking voice communicating ideas through their earholes is a really nice kind of work, if you can get it. When Audible broached this to me, they said, “It’s meant as a bedtime story, but it’s very grown-up and all of these weird, and fun, perverse people are going to be writing and reading the stories.” I said, “Oh, that sounds like it should have been my idea. Please count me in.”

Obviously, you’ve developed this niche for yourself as a storyteller. Not just with things like this but also with your stage work. How did you discover that?

Well, that’s a very good question. I started out very bucolically in a small town, in a church, reading the Gospel to the congregation. I always felt like that was my first dance with Dionysus. That was the first time that I learned that I could make people laugh, or move them, by enunciating words correctly. That led to theater, which is what I trained in. I went to University of Illinois Theater School. Then, things went well in Chicago theater. Eventually, I found my way to TV and film. This sort of came later. Or maybe it’s come full circle. I changed my congregation, but I’m still providing an opiate to some of the masses, as it were.

Obviously, with any kind of conversation, sometimes you reach from the bargain bin of words, and sometimes you reach for the rafters. A lot of people reach for the bargain bin all the time, but you reach for the rafters a bit more, it seems. Where does that come from?

I’m not sure. I mean, I was a reader from a young age. I really loved books. Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s in a cultural vacuum, in Central Illinois, books were definitely my main source of language and vocabulary. I think I’ve always just loved it. It’s like a treasure hunt, the language. All language is a puzzle that you never finish solving. If you keep searching, you keep finding treasures, and further hidden power chests. That’s my attempt at a video game reference. [Laughs] You find more jazzballs and put in coins and it gives you a tickle.

But it’s something that I’m fascinated with, and I love it, and I never feel like I’ve achieved a mastery. I’m always trying to learn more words. I also, occasionally, misuse words, which I totally cop to. Like, “Oh, yeah. I thought that meant this. Or I said ‘antediluvian’ when I meant ‘antipodean.’ Busted.” It’s a sort of thing that I hope to always keep growing and being able to flex my muscles with.

Is it for the glory of your audience or is it just to tickle yourself, essentially?

Well, I think they’re inescapably connected. Hopefully, I’m tickling us all, one way or another. But I mean, if the audience weren’t there, I wouldn’t walk around lacing together my attempt at entertaining sentences, so I guess the point is the entertainment.

I didn’t know if you went into, say, a bakery and tried to floor them with your word choices or if you just turn it off.

No, but I think that I flip the other side of it, where if I walk into a bakery, or a haberdashery, and I see a word, like “empanada,” I’m always on the lookout for, “Hey, what does that word mean?” I especially love the terminology surrounding craft. Like the words for tools. Tailoring terminology, like “gusset,” and “plackets.” I love being able to describe my equipment.

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