The actor, woodworker and comedian digs deep in his new standup set, which examines a social and political culture beset by the 'demons' in the White House
A late October conversation with Nick Offerman opened in perfectly Nick Offerman fashion, the actor and comic, reached in the midst of a drive from Boston to Albany, New York, extolling the virtues of peak autumn foliage.
“It’s all gold and red and orange,” said Offerman, who routes his fall tours so that his time in New England coincides with prime leafer season, as he traveled alongside the Mystic River. “I’m feeling high on pigment.”
It was the lone time during the interview when Offerman could have been construed as channeling his outdoors-loving “Parks and Recreation” character, Ron Swanson. Elsewhere, Offerman, who brings his latest comedy show to the Palace Theatre on Friday, Nov. 22, held court on myriad third-rail topics, such as the growing scourge of white nationalism (he referred to its ranks as “those soft, Nazi boys from Charlottesville”) and the recent debate in comedy circles centered on “cancel culture” and driven by politically incorrect types who have interpreted even mild criticism as an attempt at a larger public “silencing.” (Adam Carolla, for one, has turned these running grievances into a cottage industry even as he trumpets his position as the host of “the world’s top daily downloaded podcast.”)
“I think to complain about PC culture, frankly, is just another arm of white supremacy, isn’t it?” Offerman said. “It’s an extension of Make America Great Again, like, ‘Oh, just let us call people faggot like we used to because nobody really cares. Who is that hurting? Can’t we all just go back to a time where it was understood that we could punch down at these specific people?’”Alive hopes that cancel culture targets "Young Sheldon" next: Sign up for our daily newsletter
Offerman also reserved sharp words for Southern politicians who claim to “not have a racist bone in [their] body” (“Human beings are born into racism; it’s like a cloud saying it doesn’t have a water molecule to speak of,” he said) and the “spinelessness” of modern Republicans in the face of the ongoing impeachment proceedings against President Trump.
The comic even waded into cultural conversations he described as “messier,” including the discourse around civility that took place after footage surfaced of comedian and TV host Ellen DeGeneres palling around with former President George W. Bush during an NFL game.
“It’s always been OK for the royalty to sit and laugh together,” Offerman said. “But finally the civilization is having its say: ‘Well, hang on a second. Supposedly you’re an advocate for all of these progressive rights. And this other guy is a war criminal who’s guilty of some truly heinous shit, including the discrimination of your actual subset. This guy has voted against your life.’”
For Offerman, these conversations, though sometimes unpleasant, are a clear sign of progress, with historically underrepresented groups rightly claiming a seat at the table, which can cause long-entrenched forces to lash out in sometimes unseemly ways.
“When I feel myself being asked to stand in judgment, that’s the danger zone where I can either dig in and be an asshole or I can pull back and say, ‘You know what? I would like to hear what other people have to say who aren’t middle-aged white guys,’” said Offerman, expressing his support for movements such as Me Too, Time’s Up and Black Lives Matter. “And, yes, it’s going to be ugly, and it’s not always going to be perfectly balanced. It’s a human project, but it’s heading in the right direction, so let it fly.”
A theater actor by trade, Offerman made his first forays into comedy around 2012, at the time referring to himself as “a humorist” since he didn’t feel confident enough in his material to describe the show in more traditional standup terms. (He said he now feels comfortable calling himself a standup comic, adding it to a growing resume that includes woodworker, author and actor of stage, screen and TV.)
“I started out sort of leaning on my strengths, or gimmicks that I [thought] would please an audience. I had an idea that if I talked about subject matter like bacon, or using a handkerchief, that it would go over well, which turned out to be true,” Offerman said. “But now I’m growing as a writer … and I feel my work is addressing hard truths about our society in a way that I never even would have attempted a few years ago.”
While this evolution is partly informed by the current administration — “There’s no escaping the fact that … demons have literally taken over the White House and everyone is dealing with it, either in calling out the indecency or at least claiming to not be aware of the indecency, which itself is pretty terrifying,” Offerman said — it’s also shaped by a continuous self-evaluation that has become an increasingly important part of the comic’s writing process.
“As I sit down to write a show, obviously I’m placing a lens over my life, my psyche, asking, ‘Have I evolved? How have I failed to evolve?’ And then I’m ringing that particular shop rag out and seeing what is usable,” Offerman said. “It’s a constant balance of: Where do I think we are as a society? Where do I think I am within that society? And what can I speak to that might help more than hinder?”