Nick Offerman on the Ease of Being Nice
This Week on the Talk Easy Podcast with Sam Fragoso
Illustration by Krishna Bala Shenoi.
Talk Easy with Sam Fragosois a weekly series of intimate conversations with artists, authors, and politicians. It’s a podcast where people sound like people. New episodes air every Sunday, distributed by Pushkin Industries.
Actor, author, and woodworker Nick Offerman joins us in the studio! We begin with his new book, Where the Deer and the Antelope Play: The Pastoral Observations of One Ignorant American Who Loves to Walk Outside, which was inspired by Nick’s upbringing in rural Minooka, Illinois, the writings of poet Wendell Berry, and his experiences with the late Sam Shepard at Steppenwolf Theatre.
Shortly after working with Shepard, Offerman began to find his footing—on and off the stage—as a performer, carpenter, and fight choreographer. He reflects on his galvanizing role in the film Going All the Way, the guiding principles of George Saunders, lessons from his sensei Shōzō Satō, the start of his nearly two-decade marriage with actress Megan Mullally, the phone call that changed his life, and the complicated legacy of Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation.
Then, before we go, we return to the timely (and urgent) message of his new book, a song by Jeff Tweedy, and a poem by Wendell Berry.
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From the episode:
Sam Fragoso: In part of your book, Where the Deer and the Antelope Play, you bring Jeff Tweedy and George Saunders into the Glacier National Park in Montana. At the end of your trip, you have a dinner, and I wonder if you could recount some of that evening?
Nick Offerman: Well, when we had our final dinner to wrap up the trip, George—in his inimitable way—talked about how nice everybody was on the trail. It devolved into this idea of, when you’re with people, it’s a lot easier to be nice in an instinctive way. But the farther you get from people, which is also represented by talking face to face, to talking screen to screen, to talking on a phone with no visual, to texting… by the time you get to that, it’s become so impersonal that it’s so much easier to shake your first and say, “I hate you.”
Then, Jeff talked about how liberals generally are progressives, and what those people want us to accomplish is to love people in the abstract, instead of thinking about them as foreigners and creating an enmity there. Come to understand that we’re all us.
We’re all part of the same bag of molecules. If you care about anything like your family, or your community, or your ecosystem, then we should try our best to treat it all with equal affection, because it is all the same. That’s a hard thing for everyone to wrap their heads around, but we can just start with people. Then, we can maybe expand that to people and animals.
SF: Fittingly, I have a poem for us that I thought you may want to read.
NO: This is by Wendell Berry, and it’s called The Peace of Wild Things.
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
That’s all I’m suggesting. I’m suggesting that a little more of that, and a little less of, maybe, fantasy football, can be not a punishment—but a reward.
Nick Offerman is the New York Times bestselling author of Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers, Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living, and Good Clean Fun: Misadventures in Sawdust at Offerman Woodshop. He is an actor, humorist, and woodworker. He is married to the most beautiful and talented actress working today, Megan Mullally. They live in Los Angeles, California, with their pups and an impressive collection of assorted wood clamps.
Sam Fragoso is the host of Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso, a weekly series of conversations with artists, activists, and politicians. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, and NPR. After conducting seminal interviews with icons like Spike Lee, Werner Herzog, and Noam Chomsky, he independently founded Talk Easy in 2016.