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The biggest losses from COVID-19 have of course been all the people who have directly suffered from it, whether that resulted in death or long-term health complications, as well as those who have been caught in the whirlwind of the accompanying economic downturn. But there have also been many smaller losses for us as a society, such as the lack of live artistic performances. Musicians and actors have tried to make up for that loss by adapting their craft to the virtual age, and the latest salve arrived this week in the form of Nick Offerman's All Rise, a new audiobook from Penguin Random House.
Adapted from Offerman's 2019 tour that would have extended into 2020 had things unfolded differently, All Rise is a mixture of jokes, songs, and generally humorous observations from the erstwhile star of Devs and Parks and Recreation. EW caught up with Offerman for a conversation about the special that was almost as delightful as the special itself. Check that out below, and listen to an excerpt above. All Rise is available now.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How would you describe All Rise? Is it really an audiobook, or more like a stand-up special?
NICK OFFERMAN: Funny you should ask. I sat down and said, 'I want to write myself an Audiobook Original.' No, I don’t really think of things in that kind of nomenclature. I don’t consider myself a stand-up, I consider myself a humorist. So I’m grateful that one of my jobs is writing what is essentially a series of short essays. They’re always about 3-4 minutes too short, so then I write a song to pad it out. Then I’m able to travel around the country and the world, and recite these essays to audiences. I feel like it’s an evening of essays with song that very neatly and conveniently became an Audiobook Original.
You were touring this material in 2019, and planned to continue it this year. So is it fair to describe this release of All Rise as a response to the year of COVID-19?
You’re absolutely right, I was supposed to tour England and European cities, which I was incredibly excited about because I've not performed in cities where English is not the first language. I lost the experience of playing my show for all those cosmopolitan audiences, the opportunity to sample the pork sausages of all those nations and have a romantic traipse around Europe with my wife, and then of course the income as well. So just across the board it was a huge kick in the beanbag. Frankly I was thrilled for the opportunity to disseminate these thoughts, or “humorist leavings,” as I think one critic dubbed them, in a new form. I don’t usually do a good job of recording myself because I come from the world of live theater, where you have to come be in the room or you miss it. So this is kinda fun for me on a professional level to create this Audiobook Original and convert this evening in theater into an essay delivery system.
How does it make up for the experience of attending a show during this time where we can't?
Sadly I don’t think that is something that could be replicated. If it was, the streaming channels and video-game makers would put us live performers out of business. There’s just nothing that can match the magic and the unpredictability of a clumsy farting human being ambling about on a stage. But that’s a drop in the bucket of the troubles of humanity right now. As a matter of survival, when you look at all the businesses and individuals who have just been left high and dry, I’m comfortable that my rent is covered for awhile.
So I lose my European tour, I say holy cow that’s an incredible bummer, but I'm not in danger of being thrown out on the street. But so many people are! Especially those that work in businesses around these activities, and everybody who works at a venue. I think of all the incredible people who mollycoddle me and when I come off stage sobbing, they lay me down in my cradle and swaddle me in soft cotton and sing me lullabies. These big hairy bearded sound technicians. Looking at you, Freddy from Austin’s Paramount Theater. But one of the things I can do is say, ok I can’t tour but I can take that joke delivery system and try and bring people a little of my medicine, such as it is, to people through their earholes, like an old fashioned barber. I bring my leeches of humor to salve your ill humours.
The first song on All Rise is "We F---ed It Up." I know you recorded that in 2019 but it definitely hits harder now in the pandemic! Seems that’s a sentiment that will stay relevant.
Yep, there’s not gonna be a need for a counterpoint anytime soon. That’s the classic idea of 2020 and the decade surrounding it.
That’s how it played for me now, but it made me think of the much-discussed difficulty of comedy in the Trump era, how it seems like this era would be rich for comedy but mostly ends up stifling and repetitive. With that bit and others, you’re also focusing on the factors surrounding Trump, such as energies of grievance. Is that something you’ve been thinking about?
Absolutely. Our country is not an episode of Batman TV show from the '60s in which a single-minded dastardly villain swoops in and causes havoc. Instead, we certainly have our bumbling braying baby villain president, but he is not a mastermind. We created the Joker or the Riddler per se of our own scenario, so I think that’s been the job of the humorist since the first commentary on body odor all those millennia ago, is to say to your audience, “look at us! We are not ideal!” I do my best to make fun of all of us because I think we’re all incredibly deserving of self-reflection. At the moment, the Republicans have been in charge, they’ve been the ones holding the toolbox and the broom, and apparently nobody ever showed them how to use tools and sweep. So while I’m trying to lambast everybody across the board, you can’t help it if your team is going out on the court and flagrantly shitting the bed every night. You got to talk to management and coaching regardless of how good that one young Democrat rebounds.
As a journalist who works in media, I know there is something to be said for trying to be objective and not show a slant towards one side or another. But you also don’t want to obscure the situation when blame is unequal.
I personally am interested in advancing human rights. That’s sort of what led me to the theater in first place: Looking around at my small homogenous Illinois farm town and saying wow, all these straight white people who go to one of three churches are very nice, they’re really good neighbors, but as I grow older and read stories about the rest of the world, I come to understand what is written between the lines of a town that is all straight white people of one Christian bent or another, and then it’s like ok I see the work of mankind and culture is to get things to where everybody feels the same levels of comfort, respect, and decency as these nice neighbors of mine. So I set off to the wilds of Champaign-Urbana, and that’s still sort of what I'm after.
The undeniable topic of the last few years has been the incredible sewer of our political administration. There’s no getting around the fact that the Democrats are at fault for trying too hard to play by the rules and give their opponents the benefit of the doubt. That’s their failing. Then the Republicans openly say, 'I love to see liberals cry. Those people who want equal rights and want black people not to get shot by the police, I want to see them suffer, and I will get a cup and collect their tears in the cup, and then I will write something funny on that cup, and then some douchebag radio host will commend me for my clever cup of tears.' I can’t let that fly. To openly say ‘my dream is to see other people openly feel pain,’ that’s something I want to call out. I don’t know where you came from, but where i come from that makes you a flaming a--hole. I’m invested in being on the side of the people who are trying to create a place for everyone to live — including flaming a--holes.