Comedic powerhouses with incomparable rapport, Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman recently ventured into unfamiliar territory with Making It, their first unscripted series. Spearheading the project through her Paper Kites shingle, Poehler’s pitch for the show was beautiful and succinct. “I think she said, ‘We want it to be a hug of a television show,’” Offerman recalls.
Hosted and executive produced by the Parks and Recreation alums, NBC’s crafting series centers on incredibly talented individuals working in various disciplines, who share a penchant and a gift for making intricate works of art by hand. A breezy and good-hearted reality competition series, with little actual emphasis on competition, Making It was crafted like any of the works on display—with a lot of thought, hard work and heart.
From Poehler’s perspective, the show was exciting because it felt unique, like “its own animal in the world of unscripted.” A craftsmen himself—who oversees a Los Angeles woodworking collective, in between other jobs—Offerman brought a lifetime of experience to the table, and found the project equally stimulating, approaching Making It with a specific mission in mind. While engaging in “tomfoolery” with his longtime friend, he wanted to illustrate the magic of crafting, and its considerable value —not only to the individual, but also to the world at large.
Clearly, you both have a real appreciation for handmade objects and those who create them. How far back does this passion go? And what inspired Making It itself?
Amy Poehler: In the show, I kind of represent the person who’s new to this world—who’s really been drawn to the world of making, but doesn’t know how to start. What I like about the show is it caters to the real maker, who knows how to use materials and wants to be inspired, and then also the person who is intrigued by that world, but intimidated by it. So, I represent that person; my learning curve is huge. But Nick can speak really well about what making things feels like, and what it does for us.
Nick Offerman: I grew up in an agricultural family that was very self-sufficient. We made a lot of things in our household, inside and outside, and that was just part of life. Really my whole life, our society has been involved in a pretty rampant consumerism, where, more and more, we surround ourselves with things that are made for us, that we purchase. But there’s something elemental about the human ability to comprehend materials and techniques and incorporate them, like any kind of puzzle, using our brains and our coordination and our hands to make things that are useful, that are just pleasing. There’s a real whimsy, and a sort of wizardry to it, and I came by it naturally. I just learned how to use tools as a kid, and then as my career progressed, I also would make money as a carpenter in different ways.
I never set out to have a soapbox about glitter and glue, but that is the lucky path that has befallen me, and I just love encouraging people. One of my early rants was just encouraging people to make handmade cards for people instead of purchasing cards, because it’s sort of applicable to the whole paradigm. If you put in the effort to make that gesture that says, “I care enough about you to have made this card”—or, this meal, or this house, or this suit of clothes—it speaks very well of one’s character. It makes you pay attention to your family or your community, or your group of friends. So, I’m just really thrilled to be the lucky carpenter that gets to watch these amazing people craft their brilliant creations, while Amy and I try not to trip too much.
I think many people assume you met as co-stars on Parks and Recreation. But to my understanding, your friendship actually began in Chicago, a couple decades ago.
Poehler: Yeah, the first time we met was at a house party. It was like ’96. Nick was performing with the Defiant Theatre Company, doing a show. Nick, who were you playing again? The devil?
Offerman: I looked that way for a production of Clockwork Orange. But it was a Halloween party, so I came as the devil. [laughs]
Poehler: And we fell in love!
Nick—Did this feel like a pivotal career moment for you? Acting around Chicago while Amy co-founded the Upright Citizens Brigade, you also served as a master carpenter for the prestigious Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Meeting one of your closest collaborators during this period, you were also able to bring your two greatest artistic passions together.
Offerman: Absolutely. In hindsight, it was incredibly fortuitous. And I remember an immediate feeling of kinship, sort of a sibling sensibility—that if we played our cards right, we had the kind of gumption to get a lot done, with our sass and mischief.
Putting together your first unscripted series must have been daunting. Who did you turn to, as a guide throughout the process?
Poehler: Our co-creator Nicolle Yaron has a lot of experience in that space, and really knows how to tame that beast. Because it certainly is a beast. Even as mild-mannered and good-natured as Making It is, it’s a big production to pull off.
Can you elaborate on your vision for Making It, in terms of format and tone?
Poehler: I have to give a lot of credit to NBC. We kept telling them, “We’re not going to humiliate anybody, or even have that many stakes. We’re not going to enjoy or fan any conflict, and everyone’s going to feel pretty good, even the people that lost.” And they were up for it. We really wanted this show to feel like an antidote to real life, to be the kind of thing that you watch with your kids that would inspire them, and get them to make something, and could kind of be healing in a cruel world.
We didn’t want to encourage any of the stereotypical alliances and false conflict—or importance, even. But in the making of it, what we did realize was, there’s so much drama that comes from being vulnerable and putting yourself out there, taking a risk and trying something new. The makers that came through are so creative, but they also care very much about what they’re putting out into the world. So, it has all of that stuff without it being forced. We don’t need to jump out of a plane to feel like we’re taking risks on that show. And also, Nick and I refuse to jump out of a plane on our projects.
Offerman: That’s a young person’s game.
Does this penchant for the positive and good-hearted inform your careers overall? Has it been accentuated by the current political situation in the United States?
Offerman: Well, I really love that. And organically, since [Making It], I have found myself [gravitating in that direction]. I’m in the middle of finishing up my material for this new [stand-up] tour, and that was exactly my stance. “Good lord, things are so bleak.” Our nation’s so full of trying to stay on top of the dumpster fire that our world seems to be in, so my new show, again, is attempting to say, “Instead of coming in with acerbic humor, or heavy sarcasm or cynicism, I would like to give us all a respite from the craziness in the world. We’re all here together, no matter who you voted for, so let’s have an evening of laughter at ourselves, as human beings who got ourselves into this mess. Regardless of how it is that we’ll get ourselves out of it, at least for tonight, let’s have our laughs.”
How did you track down contestants for Making It, who could bring personality and a set of unique skills to the show?
Poehler: It was really hard, especially in Season 2. People had seen Season 1 and wanted to apply, so we had a really big pool. A lot of it came down to really wanting to show people’s strengths. It’s a timed show, right? So, there’s some mediums and disciplines that [are a tricky fit]. It’s going to be hard to crochet your way to a win, for example.
Our casting people were amazing at finding people, and we’re really excited about this season. We have people from all over—young and old, from very different walks of life. People who are skilled in one area, but are trying out new things. People that are just trying this for the first time, or people that quit their jobs to be a maker, or who have blogs and influence hundreds, if not thousands, of people every day already. So, we have a really good season [ahead].
Which of the makers’ creations in Season 1 surprised or excited you the most?
Poehler: Oh, gosh. Everything.
Offerman: As a maker, I’m constantly astonished. I feel like maybe half of the challenges, I could take a swing at. But the place I would fall flat on my face is how fast these people are able to accomplish these works. It’s a rare project that isn’t flatly astonishing, from every single person, and the judging and the criticism always comes out equivalent. It’s like, “Well, this is maybe a 7 in originality, and everybody else is like an 8 or a 9.”
Poehler: More than once a day, Nick and I turn to each other, and we’re just so grateful that we’re not the judges.
Making It will return for its second go-round during the coming holiday season. What more can you tease about it?
Poehler: The makers that were chosen are outstanding, the work is so elevated, the challenges are even harder, and everything is running a little smoother. But there are some surprises, twists and turns. Somebody gets a blister. I mean, things go haywire. There’s some things that are pulled off that are just godd*mn gorgeous.
Has your experience with this series inspired you to venture further into the unscripted space?
Poehler: Yeah. We’ve been working with NBC on that. They have a strong department that looks for original stuff. We have some other things that we’re trying to develop with them, and it’s been a great experience so far.
Amy, you recently made your feature debut with Netflix’s Wine Country, starring opposite many of your closest friends from your SNL days. What was the best part of that creative experience?
Poehler: I’ve had the lucky fortune of having so many people in my life that are good friends, and also kind of the funniest people around, Nick being one of them. So, really, the best part was the whole experience—actually getting it made and putting it out into the world. It’s a miracle to make a movie I’m proud of and then have people see it. You know, the theme of what we’re talking about is “making it,” and the best part of it was making it.
As a television producer, you’ve seen a lot of success in recent years. One of the critically acclaimed series you shepherded, Broad City recently came to an end. Meanwhile, your Netflix series Russian Doll—co-created by Leslye Headland and Natasha Lyonne—has been a huge hit.
Poehler: It’s so great. These things take a really long time to make; you work on them for years and years, and some things come and go, and other things resonate. The fact that these have is just a testament to the women on whose shoulders they’re built.
Nick, your All Rise Tour kicks off on July 20th, and will take you to 37 cities across the country. How did you initially come to stand-up, and what do you enjoy about it?
Offerman: I’m a theater-trained actor and I’ve had a nice, slowly snowballing career. Once Parks and Recreation took off, colleges began to invite me to perform my stand-up, and eventually I acquiesced. I just really liked the idea of talking to two or three thousand young people. There are some things I felt they needed to hear—like, “Carry a handkerchief,” and “Say please and thank you.” And I just really took to it, inexplicably. I never dreamed I’d ever perform as myself, but it’s something that I really love.
This is my third tour, and my biggest one, and like I said earlier, the idea is to take a step back from the planetary, partisan sh*t that’s going on and say, “Look, folks. We’re all in this mess together. I feel like we’ve all been fooled, one way or another, or six ways to Sunday; however you cut it. So, let’s examine some of those things.” I usually try to pack a lot of broccoli into my pizza, so you feel like you’re getting a treat, but then you come out fortified with nutrients, as well.
Are there any other upcoming projects you’re excited about?
Offerman: I’m very excited about this FX series I have coming out in November called Devs, made by Alex Garland. It’s a sci-fi thriller, sort of a genre flavor that people aren’t familiar with me doing, and I was just over the moon about the experience.