Nick Offerman Thinks We Should All Spend The Pandemic Making Canoes

"I've always felt that way, that when you make things with your hands, I always say it's a great way to say, 'I love you,'"

Nick Offerman Making It

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Making It is a very good show for people like me, who have absolutely no practical skills, and an almost deranged need to be gently entertained, and calmed, like a fractious baby.

The reality show, hosted by Parks and Recreation stars Nick Offerman and Amy Poehler, features a bunch of crafts makers, each skilled in a different craft discipline, who compete to be named the “Master Maker”, and win $100,00 US. This can range from people who stick shells on things, to shadow-puppet makers, to blacksmiths. As far as reality TV competitions go, it’s very good-natured and calm — which is probably because of the huge amount of felt material used. It’s impossible to be angry when cutting out felt.

I was lucky enough to speak to Nick Offerman over Zoom, about all my thoughts and feelings about watching the second season of Making It. For someone who has watched as much Parks and Rec as I have, there’s a sort of uncanny valley sensation to seeing his face pop up on my laptop, and then engage directly with the things I’m saying. It’s mildly hallucinatory.

I mention this to him, and he tells me he hadn’t considered what Making It would be like for Parks and Rec fans.

Making It must be especially comforting because a couple of these characters that you’ve enjoyed in your living room are now talking to you about felt and paste and scissors, which is kind of nice” he muses.

He’s right.

“I mean, that’s what makes me feel so incredibly lucky, because I’m a theatre actor. So, usually I work really hard to interpret a character and deliver dialogue onstage or onscreen. But with this show, I just get to watch talented people do all the work, and all we have to do is be suitably wowed and say, ‘Oh my god. You are such a genius. Oh, and now I get a sandwich’. I love this job.”

It’s a gently enjoyable show, and literally the perfect mood for pandemic watching — so I decide to ask Nick about the importance of arts and craft during COVID-19, the simple joy of making stuff, and the aspirational goals of having many canoes.

Obviously, it’s entertaining, and very funny — but there is also such a calmness to Making It to me. It’s doesn’t have that kind of reality TV fervour, where you feel like they’re going to get pushed off a cliff if they don’t do their thing correctly or fast enough. It sort of made me think that maybe now, in the middle of this horrible global pandemic, maybe this is exactly the perfect time for renaissance in crafts. Do you think this show is going to lead the way into that?

I think we’ve been going through that for some years, where — from my generation on down — we’ve sort of come to learn that consumerism is dissatisfying, and we’re also learning that the machinations that our capitalistic society has been involved in, are directly responsible for climate change.

So, I hope that our show is part of the sort of groundswell of this sensibility of good citizenship, of good husbandry of the planet.

So, all of these issues are dovetailed together, and I think a lot of the more prescient and prudent citizens of the world are saying, “Oh, you know what? These systems that seemed like a great idea to our grandparents and our parents… they were really fun, and everybody had a vacuum cleaner. We all got to eat a lot of incredible crisp flavours, and then eventually we said, oh, wait a second. We’re ruining the planet. We’re not going to be able to live anymore.”

So, what were they doing before this? They were making their own shoes. People knew how to make things, which leads to good citizenship, because you know where your ingredients come from. So you know how you’re treating the planet and the ecosystem. If you buy a pair of shoes, you know if those shoes are healthy, or if children have been abused, or how much fossil fuel has been burned to get them from Mauritius to Texas, or what have you.

So, I hope that our show is part of the sort of groundswell of this sensibility of good citizenship, of good husbandry of the planet.

I’ve always felt that way, that when you make things with your hands, I always say it’s a great way to say, “I love you,” because you’re distracting yourself. If you find something you love to do, whether it’s cook or knit or woodworking or make stained glass windows, it’s thrilling, and it gives you the same dopamine rush, I think, as any video game or any other distraction. But at the end of the activity, at the end of the craft, you have a stained glass window or you have a huge pan of lasagna, and that, obviously, is just healthier.

You’re helping to add to the cycles of nature, rather than be a destructive force in that cycle.

Yeah. I hadn’t thought about the sustainability part of it. I was very much like, “Okay, this is a good mental health thing to do while we’re kind of trapped inside and isolated.”

It’s definitely a good mental health thing to do. It’s a wonderful Zen way to spend one’s time. But yes, also, our show will single-handedly saved the planet.

Oh, great. I’m so excited.

You heard it here first.

What a scoop. Ok. Well, in that light, could you give our readers some tips on where to start making stuff themselves?

Sure. I mean, these days, when I was a kid, it was tough. When I got interested in woodworking or blacksmithing or making wooden barrels — which is called coopering, by the way — any of these sort of artisanal crafts, you used to have to find obscure publications. You had to find people with this somewhat nerdy information. Since the advent and the domination of the internet, you can literally now learn to do anything and very likely order the tools or materials or accessories that you need to become a fully fledged blacksmith.

Even if you zero in on just woodworking, people say, “How do I get started in woodworking?” I say, “Start reading about it. Google. Go on YouTube and find the best woodworkers and look at what they make.” Some of them make furniture. Some make boats that are incredible. Some make violins and guitars. Some just turn incredible wooden bowls. I mean, and the list just goes on and on. So when you get into it, maybe …

I’ve encouraged people who live in an apartment in a big city, for example, you can put a setup on the edge of a desk or table, where you’re just turning, wood turning little pens on a lave or carving wooden spoons. There are all kinds of different things you can do, depending on your budget, your time, your skill level. But across the board, I think making it as a great springboard, because it starts with relatively more disposable materials. Instead of oak planks, you’re dealing with cardboard boxes or PVC pipes or what have you.

I don’t know. I mean, I say just get started. I mean, buy a bunch of popsicle sticks and start gluing them together, and before you know it, you’ll have a Death Star. Then you can build a half-scale Millennium Falcon, and end up in that MONA Museum down in Tasmania.

 Yeah. Yeah, that’s everyone’s goal in Australia, by the way, to end up in there.

Get in line, man. I’ve been there twice, and I can’t wait to go back. I’m crazy about that museum.

What have you been working on while we’ve been stuck inside?

Well, I’ve spent some time at my shop, which one of the silver linings is that I’m not touring the country or shooting a movie, so I get to go work at my shop. I’m working on some ukuleles. I made some beautiful little boxes for a friend for a little commission. I also built some shelves for our garage, which, I mean, it’s been at least 12 years since I had the time to say, “You know what? I’m going to do those garage shelves and reorganise the garage.” I mean, that’s been a silver lining, to get to be that domestically competent.

But the other thing is I’ve always really loved cooking on a charcoal grill, but I’ve discovered smoking meat during this time. So I have an incredible smoker, and Megan has been cooking like crazy, my wife. I’ve been smoking all kinds of pork and beef and chicken, and we’ve been very happy about that.

That sounds amazing. It’s such an interesting thing — the whole notion of how much time we have has changed. We’re still busy, but we’re also very much stuck in one place. I think that’s why when I was watching Making It, I was like, “Oh, this is what I want to do, to sort replace the various parts of my life that have suddenly been stripped away.”

It’s absolutely perfect. All of civilisation is now stuck with that predicament of, “Oh, now what? I’m stuck at home,” and sure, you could like just sit and watch movies or play video games or even read books, which I would place first of those three. I prefer books.

Like I said, this is a good time to build that canoe you’ve always meant to take a swing at, and I would send you to, a great outfit, out of Canada. That’s where I learned to build a canoe. You can get a book. You can get a video, actually, of me building one of their canoes. It’s not as hard as it looks, and I’ll tell you what. When you paddle your own canoe down a river, I’ve seldom felt more powerful than conquering a body of water.

Yeah, I think everyone should end this with at least a canoe.

At least, if not a flotilla.

Making It seasons 1 and 2 are currently available on Binge in Australia.

Patrick Lenton is the Editor of Junkee. He tweets @patricklenton.