High Times Greats: Interview With Nick Offerman

A Q+A with the comedian and master woodworker Nick Offerman, who brought a handcrafted pot pipe and stashbox to the interview.
High Times Greats: Nick Offerman
Nick Offerman by Katy Winn

For the May, 2013 issue of High Times, David Bienenstock interviewed Nick Offerman, who turns 51 years old on June 26.

Nick Offerman arrives for his High Times interview and photo shoot directly from the set of NBC’s hit comedy Parks and Recreation, in which he stars as libertarian bureaucrat Ron Swanson. A master woodworker as well as an actor, writer and producer, Offerman sports Swanson’s signature bushy mustache and a well-worn Willie Nelson t-shirt. For show-and-tell, he’s brought along a coffin-shaped stash box and a Lord Of The Rings–style pot pipe, both of which he made himself.

Offerman grew up on a farm in rural Illinois, where he learned a love of tools and craftsmanship that he’s developed throughout his life. As a struggling young actor in Chicago’s influential Storefront Theater scene, he built sets and props for local productions as a way to get a foot in the door, and also to supplement his meager income. Years later, after moving to southern California to pursue film and television roles, he opened Offerman Woodshop, his own craft studio in Los Angeles.

And if all else fails, he can always fall back on showbiz, since his culturally iconic portrayal of America’s favorite meat-eating, gun-toting, property-rights-defending Parks Department employee has lately made Offerman a hot property in Hollywood. Along with his real-life wife (and Ron Swanson ex-wife), Megan Mullally, he’ll be appearing in Somebody Up There Likes Me, an offbeat new indie comedy from Bob Byington, the writer and director of RSO and Harmony and Me. Offerman will also be featured (along with Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis) in We’re The Millers, a comedy about an elaborate plot to smuggle a thousand pounds of pot across the Mexican border.

Given these high-profile appearances and his well-known love of bacon, we decided to tempt the man behind the mustache with a plate full of maple bacon ganja chocolate chip cookies, specially made in his honor by the author of our very own official High Times Cannabis Cookbook. Sitting down to sample one between photos, Offerman appeared to take great delight in fielding our questions.

Nick Offerman Gets Stoned with High Times

Could you start by telling me a little more about the coffin-shaped stashbox and Gandalf pipe you’ve brought?

Offerman: First of all, this Maple Bacon Ganja Chocolate Chip Cookie is goddamn delicious. Was that the question? Because that’s my answer …

Okay, the coffin-shaped stash box is adorned with the visage of J.R. “Bob” Dobbs, the High Epopt of the Church of the SubGenius—a faux religion based out of Dallas that’s been around since 1979. It’s really funny: Bob Dobbs preaches “Get slack and smoke frop,” which is weed. They just promote a weird, tea-head lifestyle. My friends and I were very into this church in college and theater school.

Years later, when I was making a coffee table for one of those friends and his wife, I knew that this particular friend was going to need some place to stash his weed. And since he loves all things macabre, I made a coffin-shaped box that fits neatly into a secret compartment underneath the table.

As for the pipe, if you enjoy smoking and you’re a fan of the writing of J.R.R. Tolkien, I think it’s only natural that you dream of making such a pipe. But first you must learn how to drill a hole through a thin, curved tube, which is very difficult. So when I finally discerned how I could achieve such a thing, I immediately did so.

Have you ever used marijuana while acting?

Offerman: I tried it once when I first started smoking pot back in college. I thought: “Marijuana is amazing! The world is so beautiful—it’s going to be so cool when I get really high and then perform in this production of Man of La Mancha.” So I did it. And, you know, one of the things new initiates often say when they first smoke pot is, “I feel like everybody’s looking at me.”

Well, when you’re standing on a stage and people have paid money—they are indeed looking at you. It was quite unnerving. I got especially freaked out because I had a scene where Sancho Panza hit me upside the head with his guitar, and normally I would do this half back-handspring thing and make it look like I landed on my face. Now, I’m not sure exactly what I did on this particular occasion, but I jumped up and spun and flipped and managed to land squarely on my temple—in fact, I busted my head open. And I actually had three small roles in the play, so for the rest of the show, all three characters had a streak of blood running down their cheek. And that was the last time I tried smoking weed before going onstage.

Is marijuana ever a part of your creative process if you’re not performing?

Offerman: When I use weed creatively, I’m much better at drawing or making something or playing music. But what I do for a living is mostly performing as an actor or writing, and for those things I need to have my faculties sharp. So I’d say that, indirectly, it’s very helpful. The doors that I open when I’m using marijuana profoundly affect the body of knowledge I have to draw from when I play characters or write about life situations.

Aside from Maple Bacon Ganja Chocolate Chip Cookies, do you have a favorite edible?

Offerman: Well, I have to say that the heyday, the salad days, of my pot career was in my twenties and early thirties, and I wasn’t around a crowd that knew how to do much more than make brownies… but we definitely visited Xanadu once or twice under the influence of those brownies.

By and large, though, most of my marijuana career has involved joints and pipes and bongs. When I started out in my theater company, one of the guys had an eight-foot bong. And there was a rather Olympian competition that we would engage in trying to clear it: You had to stand on a coffee table and get somebody else to light it for you. Only at a young age—maybe 23 or 24—could a few of us actually clear an eight-foot rip. And then you would fall on the floor and smile for 11 hours.

How were you feeling on election night when Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana?

Offerman: Fantastic. Civilization is very funny, I think: We started out as animals, and over time we’ve developed to a point where, slowly but surely, we’re trying to make everything cool for everybody. We just 15 minutes ago, relatively speaking, announced that it’s okay for black people to be treated the same as white people. We just came up with that.

Of course, some of us are progressing faster than others. When it comes to marijuana, I think it’s ridiculous to live in a country that espouses freedom, liberty and equality, yet won’t follow through on a philosophy that says: “If it’s not hurting anybody or their property, you can do any goddamn thing you want.”

Do you have a favorite stoner comedy?

Offerman: The Big Lebowski is just about my favorite movie—to me, it takes the stoner comedy to a more profound level. I find it just as funny completely straight.

What person, living or dead, would you most like to smoke herb with?

Offerman: Oh, gosh… Thomas Jefferson comes to mind. I like a lot of his agrarian ideas, and I think it’s unfortunate that our nation has veered away from his suggestions. I’d love to take a walk on his back 40 and hear what he had to say over a nice bowl of hemp.

Do you have a favorite marijuana strain… something worthy of sharing with one of the Founding Fathers?

Offerman: I’ve sampled a lot of amazing varieties, but I usually get told the name of it just before we smoke—and then by the time we’re done, it’s all I can do to remember the name of the guy who loaded the bowl, never mind the weed. So, basically, if we’re both here—wherever that is—whatever you’ve got is going to be just great with me.

Your co-star on Parks and Recreation, Amy Poehler, once performed at the High Times Cannabis Cup, an event dedicated to naming the best weed in the world…

Offerman: Yes, she speaks very highly of that experience.

Ever been to Amsterdam?

Offerman: Just once. Or maybe twice [laughs]… they tell me I had a very good time. It was such a beautiful city, so picturesque on its own. But then you have a taste of some fine hash, and the canals grow even more gorgeous.

What’s the connection between marijuana and facial hair?

Offerman: That’s an interesting question—one I have not considered before now. I certainly vastly prefer smoking a bowl with a beard to doing so while clean-shaven. I don’t know what it is on an elemental level, but a beard in general evokes hedonism. It’s a more lush personal grooming style. It’s more comfortable and cozy; it’s less sharp and angular and businesslike. For lack of a better phrase, I feel like a beard is more Hobbit-like, even though Hobbits themselves are clean-shaven. There’s something indulgent about a big, bushy beard that goes hand in hand with smoking longbottom leaf out of your pipe.

Do you miss what you called the “dirt weed” that you enjoyed back in college, or are you into the more pristine modern buds here in Southern California?

Offerman: Yes and yes [laughs]. I guess I didn’t know any better when I started smoking in the late ’80s. And anyway, it couldn’t have been that bad, because we got incredibly high.

My friend Joe, who got me started, did such a beautiful job—because, as we all know, it can take a while when you’re turning someone on for the first time for them to feel it. He sat me down with this pipe of his and said, “You’re going to cough, but you have to take these huge hits, and it’s going to take like four or five bowls.” He made me keep smoking until there was no question as to its efficacy. So yes, I’m fairly nostalgic for the stuff we used to get back then. I’m guessing it came from Mexico. I was once offered the chance to make a run down to Mexico to pick some up, but I declined.

Meanwhile, I’ve been astonished over the course of my 20-something years of pot smoking by the degree of improvement in the quality. And now, of course, I reside in a state where they’ve been perfecting their cultivation techniques for decades. When I first came to California in my twenties and ran into people who grew their own weed, I just didn’t know what to think. I felt like I had stepped through the looking glass. I thought: “This is just like that shit I read about in High Times!”

Were you a regular reader?

Offerman: The only periodical I’ve managed to stick with throughout my life is Fine Woodworking. That’s my jam, as they say. But my tribe back in college, we subscribed to High Times, Fangoria and a handful of other fun, weirdo magazines. Each person would subscribe to one, and then we would share them all. And I can remember that we used to freak out at the centerfolds of unbelievable buds. And then it just blew my mind to move out to California and discover that it was all real! We always thought that it must have been the High Times art department making them look so sticky and purple.

Also, more seriously, I grew up in a very conservative small town, and the fact that there could actually be a magazine like that was unfathomable to me.

Now that you’re going to be featured in High Times, is there anything you’d like to say to those guys you used to share a subscription with?

Offerman: This is a fucking honor. I’ve done magazine interviews before, but this is the first time I’ve frantically emailed 12 of my friends and said, “I’ve finally made it!” So yeah, I’d love to send a shoutout to my original early tribe, who took me under their resin-stained wings and taught me how to smoke out of an apple: Joey Java, Ragsdale, Pee-Pee, Hortatsos, Tatro, Prescher, Flanigan, Falcon-Smoker, Goliath and all the rest … Many of us went on to become Chicago’s Defiant Theatre and tickle dozens of people with our high-energy japers and ribaldry. I can honestly say that landing in High Times was beyond our wildest dreams, so I think I can consider this the peak.

Thanks, pot!

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