You and your husband, comedian Nick Offerman, just co-hosted the Sundance Film Festival Awards. Can you take us back to that first date?
We were doing a play together in Los Angeles and we were both in the cast. Nick wasn’t really on my radar in the beginning. You know when you scan the room to see who you’re going to have the fling with? Well, he didn’t make the cut. We had a lot of scenes together and when we were rehearsing I thought he was really funny. After a while I was like, “Wait, is he kind of sexy? What is happening?” Before then I had always dated really skinny, muscle-free, rock ‘n’ roll drummers. I had never dated a manly guy like Nick. We went to dinner one night at this really nice restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. Nick was wearing yellow-ish overalls and he tucked his napkin into the bib of his overalls. I remember thinking “Okay, he’s tucking his napkin into his overalls. What happens next?” On the way out of dinner we were about to get on an escalator and he took my hand and I got butterflies.
When was the moment you knew that he was in love with you?
Well, he had been pursuing me and I was kind of fending him off because I had thought that I wanted to be single. I had only been having flings and Nick is not fling material, at all. He’s just not, he’s the marrying kind. One night I got in my car and I was just starting the engine and all of a sudden the door opens and he gets in the passenger seat. I said, “Whatever you think is going to happen right now is not going to happen so you can just get right on out of the car.” He was chagrined but I wanted to take things really slowly, I really put him through his paces! He had to jump through a lot of different hoops before he got the… vagina.
After 14 years, does he still make you laugh just as hard as he did in the early days?
He’s so funny, yeah. Nick really, really makes me laugh. He was making me laugh tonight just in the little things he would say. That is the first thing that attracted me to him, his humor and also that he’s such a good guy. He’s a solid, nice guy and he’s very secure with himself and knows who he is.
Does both of you being in the entertainment industry make it easier or harder on the relationship?
I think it’s probably easier for us because we get to do a lot of stuff together, like tonight. We often do things together and if he is going to go do a movie I can go with him. He spent an entire year with me when I went to New York to do my last Broadway musical, we just moved there with our dogs. I think it’s kind of nice because if he was in another business, like if he was a stockbroker, he wouldn’t be able to travel around with me and vice versa.
What career moments are you most proud of?
One of the first Broadway shows I did was a revival of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and I played the lead female role opposite Matthew Broderick. I was already in my mid-30s and working consistently but that really started a lot of things rolling for me. And then “Will & Grace” of course and “Party Down” and “Children’s Hospital”. I’m really proud of my band Nancy and Beth as well as the play that Nick and I did last spring that’s moving Off-Broadway, “Annapurna”. There’s something about performing in front of a live audience. I learned everything from doing theatre in Chicago before I moved to Los Angeles. I didn’t really study acting or anything so pretty much everything I learned was from doing musicals.
Are there still new doors you hope to break open?
I still really want to do so many great things. I want to show what I can do as an actress which I don’t know that I’ve really been able to completely do yet. I want to do comedy but I also want to do more dramatic stuff and more film maybe. I want to do another television show that’s great. I don’t care where it is or if people watch it, I just want to be an artist.
Do you and Nick look to each other for approval when you read a new script?
Oh, yeah. We read each other’s scripts. I got offered a couple things recently where I was like, “Oh my God, please let it be great!” and then Nick will read them and give me his two cents worth. I know when something is really great but when it’s in the middle somewhere is when I need some help.
Favorite Chicago memory?
I love Chicago. We used to go to this little bar across from Steppenwolf called Gaslight several nights a week. I didn’t drink alcohol at all but we’d just go and hangout and everybody was there. All the theatre people hung out together and it didn’t seem competitive. There was a real sense of community. I feel like we have a similar situation now in the comedy world in Los Angeles.
How would you describe the L.A. comedy world?
There’s this huge widespread web of really gifted, funny people and everyone is supportive, everyone hires each other for their jobs. If somebody’s directing something they’ll hire the group. New people come in and it’s very welcoming and warm, it’s not really like that in any other branch of the entertainment industry I’ve worked in. It’s definitely not like that on Broadway. Although I have met and worked with some very nice people it just doesn’t have that complete easy-going feeling of supportiveness on Broadway. The comedy community really has that feeling of a community.
What do you know now that you wish you would have known 20 years ago?
I wish I would have had more confidence. I didn’t realize that I had a particular facility for comedy. I knew I could sell a joke if I had to but I didn’t realize that it was a particular talent of mine or that I was especially good at it, which is so weird because when I think back to when I was a kid I was always listening to music and I knew every lyric to every song but I also had every comedy album. I had all of Bill Cosby’s comedy records, the Smothers Brothers, Flip Wilson, the guy with the ponytail—What was his name? It was before your time. I’ll have to ask Nick—But I had a ton of comedy albums and joke books that I treasured yet I never connected the dots. I had a huge thing about Carol Burnett growing up. I had a deal with my mom because her show was on at 9 p.m. on Mondays but my bedtime was 9 p.m. so every Monday I’d have to go to bed at 8 o’clock and sleep for an hour and then she would wake me up and we would watch Carol Burnett and then I’d go back to sleep. Why I never thought, “Oh, I should work in comedy,” I don’t know. I’m kind of a late bloomer.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
Meryl Streep. It’s so conventional but I love her. I know her a little bit and I’ve had a drink with her but I’d like to have another drink with her! She’s just the coolest and she’s so funny and smart. She’s great.
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