Interview: Nick Offerman on his ‘Simpsons’ voice and TV life after ‘Parks and Recreation’

I talked with Nick Offerman earlier this week and got the answer to the question I'm sure you're all wondering:

A ukelele. 

What? You weren't clamoring for details on the latest carpentry projects from Hollywood's endlessly busy Renaissance Man? 

Personally, I'm always interested in Offerman's woodworking, because I know the value he puts in maintaining that pursuit and skill — it's not just a hobby — while following a schedule that would exhaust a lesser man. On Offerman's recent/current slate: He's completing work on the final season of “Parks and Recreation.” He's touring the country with his one-man humor/lifestyle spectacle “Full Bush.” He directed the marvelous and star-studded video for Tweedy's “Low Key.” He's apparently co-producing a documentary about writer Wendell Berry. He appeared in the summer blockbuster “22 Jump Street” and probably has another half-dozen movies coming out soon.

And this Sunday night (October 5), Offerman can be heard as a guest voice on “The Simpsons.”

While Offerman is no stranger to FOX animation voices — he produced and starred in “Axe Cop” and also was heard on “The Cleveland Show” and “Bob's Burgers” — he describes the chance to guest on “The Simpsons” as “a pinnacle.” 

In the episode, Offerman voices Captain Bowditch operator of The RelationShip, a vessel that gives fathers and sons the chance to learn to sail and to repair their relationships. And if you're surprised that Offerman is, himself, a passionate devotee of all things nautical, you haven't been paying enough attention.

Beyond talking about “The Simpsons” and carpentry, my interview with Offerman also covered the on-set emotions for the “Parks and Recreation” team, as well as his thoughts about this spring's pilot season and a return to TV.

It was a great chat, because Offerman is always great to chat with.

He can be heard on “The Simpsons” this Sunday. 

Check out the full Q&A…

HitFix: Hey Nick. How you doing today? I appreciate you taking the time.

Nick Offerman: Absolutely. My pleasure. How are you doing Dan?

HitFix: I”m doing good. So I guess speaking of time, first of all, tell me a bit about your schedule at this moment between “Full Bush,” “Parks and Rec,” all the other things you do. What is your schedule these days?

Nick Offerman: That”s a very funny question. It”s been very much on my mind today. Usually I basically just keep adding projects until I”ve learned the lesson the hard way that my plate will only hold so much, my Chinese circus will only allow me to spin so many plates before everything comes crashing down. So I”m hustling quite a bit. One sort of oversight on my part this year has been – my wife is doing a show on Broadway and we have a two-week rule. And so since she”s working six days a week on Broadway it”s completely incumbent upon me to get myself to New York every week or two. And it just didn”t occur to me when I signed up for that, that I should consider that another schedule-filler, like it was a job — however romantic and fulfilling — it still is putting in hours. [He laughs.] And so I”m hustling quite a bit but I”m still in good spirits.

HitFix: Okay, are there sort of moments where exhaustion sets in or where you actually do hit a breaking point or do you always stay just on the right side of the breaking point?

Nick Offerman: So far I”m keeping it together. But I am, this week things have started to pile up in a way where, you know, I”m not getting quite enough sleep so I”m starting to just think, “Oh, this is probably too much,” because I don”t know when I will be able to afford to like sit down and drink a couple of beers.

HitFix: And do you actually know what the answer to that is? When you”re gonna be able to do that?

Nick Offerman: So one of these days I”m sure. But maybe next week. [He laughs nervously and uncertainly.]

HitFix: How important is the sort of adrenaline rush of live performing to keep you going at this point with all of these things on your plate?

Nick Offerman: I”ve definitely learned to depend upon it. Fortunately it seems that I can get an audience chuckling without being remotely polished. The key, I would say to any fledgling humorist starting out, is to make sure that sloppiness is part of your recipe. That way they come to expect fumbling and clumsiness and they say, “Oh, it must be a charming part of his personality.”

HitFix: Does that mean that as sleep deprivation sort of progresses and sets in that the show is gonna become more surreal and out there as you keep doing it?

Nick Offerman: Perhaps, yes, I do begin to see visions and they fuel me. My little friends speak to me and we all have a good time.

HitFix: Let”s talk about this week's “Simpsons.” Tell me a bit about Captain Bowditch.

Nick Offerman: Well he operates a square rigged sailing vessel called The Relation-Ship upon which fathers and sons come for a sort of out-of-bounds weekend to repair their relations in whatever therapeutic way they require. And, you know, Captain Bowditch seems to be running a pretty noble operation. It”s no small feat sailing a massive wooden ship while also delivering counseling to these broken relationships. And so – I”m personally obsessed with old sailing ships with Her Majesties Royal Navy when the British – when Britannia ruled the seas and all the novels of Patrick O”Brian and the Horatio Hornblower series and all that. So I couldn”t have snagged a more perfect role. And then of course Captain Bowditch is not perhaps, just like the mechanic who can never get his car started, he might be in need of a bit of counseling himself.

HitFix: This guy sounds like sort of another Nick Offerman Man with a Code. And I know that I personally could never convincingly deliver a code for anything. Why does this come sort of so naturally for you?

Nick Offerman: I”ve got to say I must come by it honest because I certainly didn”t sit down and plan it that way at any point. I suppose I grew up in a pretty simple household with strong discipline and part of my coping mechanism under the rule of that discipline was to sort of find a sense of humor in authority and in the disciplinarians of my parents and my grandparents and my school principals and the priests. And so I think that”s something that the “Parks and Rec” writers really capitalized on. They said, you know, “If we make this guy say a rule for eating meat, it”s gonna be funny.” And they obviously extrapolated much greater comedy out of me than I ever could have wrought myself.

HitFix: But now you”ve also sort of started getting that comedy out yourself in your own shows. So how is that process different when you”re sort of generating your own, I guess, Nick Offerman self-image versus when the “Parks and Rec” writers are doing it for Ron Swanson?

Nick Offerman: Well I suppose, you know, we”re both dipping into the same palette of paint colors but first and foremost the ideology is different, you know. Ron Swanson is this staunch Libertarian anti-government and our show has been rather intelligently compared to “The Simpsons” in that a character like Ron would make a fantastic cartoon and he would also make a terrible real life person. He would have died of cholesterol-choked arteries by the time he was 17.

HitFix: Now you”ve done “Axe Cop,” “Cleveland Show” and “Bob”s Burgers” at FOX and now “The Simpsons.” Are there any differences in sort of the recording processes on these shows or is it basically just all the same from your point of view?

Nick Offerman: They”re all pretty similar. The downside of being so busy is that like, you know, you”d always dream of getting the whole gang together in a room and cracking wise and watching Dan Castellaneta spin his incredible magic. But, by and large, you know, they squeeze you in for a two-hour session when everyone”s schedule allows and so it”s in a room with a microphone and some funny producers and writers. And it”s still an absolute gas. I mean voicing a character for “The Simpsons” and then seeing him later drawn when I went in to do some ADR absolutely sincerely made me cry. I was so moved that I was looking into the mouth of Homer Simpson on the screen and I couldn”t believe that I”d reached that pinnacle.

HitFix: That was exactly the word I was about to use. Does this actually feel like a pinnacle to you? It feels like something where you can go, 'Okay, check that one off the list, I”m a “Simpsons” voice'”?

Nick Offerman: Absolutely. I mean honestly it”s something I would have always considered far beyond my reach, you know. I have always gotten solid acting jobs and I”ve been very happy with that but, you know, when I was obsessed with “The Simpsons” and I had time to – I was unemployed and I could sit around and get drunk and watch “The Simpsons” all day, you know, they”re casting Paul McCartney and Sting and it wouldn”t occur to me that I would ever be in an echelon that those guys had soiled previously. And so, you know, it”s funny. I”m working – I”m co-producing a documentary about my favorite writer, Wendell Berry, who”s this incredible Kentucky agrarian. I recommend his writing above all else. He”s, in my opinion, the greatest living American writer. He writes fiction and poetry and essays. And basically he”s got it figured out. I just think his common sense combined with his pathos and humor are all – like if everybody would read Wendell Berry we”d stand a chance at getting back on top of China here one of these days. And so I”m co-producing this documentary and the filmmaker recently asked me to film my hands and tools and wood making a three-legged stool to put in underneath some voiceover of Wendell Berry in this movie. And it really cracked me up that it felt like that was the peak of my career. And it was film of just my hands and tools without never seeing my face or hearing my voice. I thought, “Now I”ve made it.”

HitFix: So which ends up being the pinnacle when all is said and done?

Nick Offerman: Well I think they can hold hands, you know. But definitely I had a good run to the top and it”s gonna be a lot of naps from here on out I imagine.

HitFix: I feel like whenever I talk to you I sort of have to ask this: How much time are you finding these days for the woodworking or is that the thing that has to get put aside when you have 55 other things on your plate?

Nick Offerman: Well it”s definitely suffering. My time in the shop and my time to practice my guitar are the two main disciplines that I always wish I had more time for. Nut I do get surprisingly a lot done having said that. I built this three-legged stool. I recently made a gift for my wife for our anniversary, a large wooden heart. And a couple of months ago I built my first ukulele which I”m quite proud of and I”m actually playing in my “Full Bush” show.

HitFix: And amidst all of this how much work have you been doing on “Parks and Rec “and what has been sort of the mood on the set this season?

Nick Offerman: Well we”re about halfway through our final 13 episodes and the show is as good as or better than it”s ever been. The writing team is such a crack team of brains-and-clowning that we”re just having an absolute blast. At the same time I think there”s a lot of denial around the set. We started to write little things into stories that sort of nod to the end being neigh. And that naturally makes us very emotional. This has been such an incredible joyful 125 episodes to work on. We”re all so grateful. And while the end will be traumatic, I”ll be just as grateful for the end as I was for the beginning because we got to do – from soup to nuts — we got to serve the meal exactly as we hoped without being unceremoniously nipped in the bud by our troubled network or anything like that.

HitFix: Are you going to be able to write or direct an episode this season or is there just no room in the schedule for that?

Nick Offerman: Unfortunately it doesn”t look like there”s gonna be room. I sure would have loved to. I had written one and directed two and I”m intensely proud of that work. But with only 13 on the docket, there are actual qualified people clamoring for those spots so they”re gonna leave me on the bench. Just wearing my mustache, I guess is my main responsibility.

HitFix: And come spring I”m assuming you”re gonna be in fairly high demand for pilots. Do you have any idea yet of if you”ll be in the market for another TV gig or have you not even begun to think that far in advance?

Nick Offerman: I”m politely walking on by all sorts of opportunities at the moment. I think that anything I got into right away no matter how dreamy the participants, would ultimately be disappointing after the golden experience of working with Mike Schur and Amy on “Parks and Rec.” I also think I”m so lucky to have played this role that was very effective and, you know, I was on the receiving end of, I think, some of the best writing going in the last several years. And so I”d rather let things fade for a while before I try to enact the Full-Cranston.

HitFix: But would that be sort of the dream? Of going from this comedic role and then finding something dramatic, like the Full-Cranston as you say?

Nick Offerman: Well perhaps. I mean my wife Megan and I just really try to follow our noses and work on the best writing we can find. And so I don”t really plan goals like, “Next I want to do a superhero movie” or “Next I want to drive a bus of children off a cliff,” both of which sound very appetizing but generally we just try to look at what our friends are doing and work with people that we enjoy on the best writing we can lay our hands on. So if that”s funny or dramatic or somewhere in between or if it”s on stage or film or TV, only fate will tell us.

Nick Offerman and Captain Bowditch's episode of “The Simpsons” airs this Sunday (October 5).