Nick Offerman and Ethan Nicolle Try to Make Sense of the Glorious Madness of ‘Axe Cop’

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There’s not another show out there quite like Axe Cop. Based on the comics where Ethan Nicolle would illustrate fantastic and absurd stories from his young brother Malachai Nicolle, Axe Cop is show that is completely untethered to reality or any kind of traditional story structure. After first premiering on Fox during their ADHD block of animated programming in 2013, the show was in limbo for a while before finding its new home on FXX as part of their Animation Domination. Starting on Thursday April 16th at midnight, new episodes of Axe Cop will air alongside numerous other offbeat animated shows on Animation Domination.

In preparation of the season premiere, I was recently invited to participate on a conference call interview with the show’s creator and executive producer Ethan Nicolle and the voice of Axe Cop, the amazing and incomparable, Nick Offerman. The conversation is wide-ranging. Topics discussed include the creative process of the show, woodworking, facial hair, and more. Towards the end, though, executive producer Hend Baghdady joins and tells an amusing story of how Malachai once tried to get her fired.

Q: So, I was wondering is Axe Cop inspired by a character from somebody that you know or from a movie?

Nick Offerman: That’s a good one for Ethan.

Ethan Nicolle: I mean, I guess the look, the actual look of Axe Cop because it all started just with my brother saying, can we play Axe Cop? And, he had a toy axe, so from there I just kind of — I drew an axe, and that’s just — has always kind of been my standard cop that I would draw just because they always have that mustache, aviator glasses, the hat. So, just kind of like a Burt Reynolds 70’s cop was just kind of what I was going for. There’s not like a real person that it’s based on.

Q: There are a lot of bad guys.  Do you guys have a favorite bad guy that you guys have created, or is there somebody else you would want to create during Season 2?

EN: The funny thing about a bad guy is it really is like he doesn’t seem to get as excited about creating the bad guys. Like, he gets more excited about ways of killing the bad guys, so he’ll just pick anything, like an avocado, or like some random object to make that a bad guy. Let’s kill it.

Q: I love how Axe Cop is kind of bonkers and lawless it is because it’s all based on pure imagination. Can you guys talk a little bit about how there was a gap between the first season and the second season? Can you talk a little bit about what was going on during that time period, and how Axe Cop got a Season 2?

NO: Gosh. That sounds like a question for the executive producer.  FOX couldn’t handle us is the honest truth. There is too much—we reveal too many secrets both of free masonry and a couple other secret societies that I can’t mention, otherwise they wouldn’t be secret, and so they’ve stepped back. I think, sincerely, they tried the Saturday night ADHD thing, and they sort of took a step back, and rearranged the dominoes and said, oh, we have a much better strategy for this, and now we’re trying this FXX plan, which is thrilling.

I mean, I was a big fan of—I don’t know if you guys are aware of the graphic novels from which the cartoon has sprung, but I’m just crazy about those, and so when something is that funny, and whimsically perverse, and you can make a show out of it, and have a network show it to people, it’s incredibly exciting.

We’re tickled pink we get to keep making more funnies.

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Q: So, Axe Cop and Chumble Spuzz, both have this — kind of have these righteous protagonists.  They always seem to be doing what’s — acting on behalf of things for the good of the people, I guess. What is it about these types of characters that attract you to make stories like this?

EN: Well, I mean the funny thing is I mean, Chumble Spuzz is for one thing a comic that may be like one tenth of a tenth of a tenth of readers have read compared to Axe Cop, which is the first comic series I made that got published, and that was all me; Malachai [Nicolle] wasn’t involved in that.  But I think that I do find it funny when a character is maybe not fully informed on what they’re fighting, but they’re just so gung-ho, they’re going to do it.

I think it makes for good comedy, a character that’s just like — they’re very black and white, but they have a mission. They’re very eager to accomplish it and reckless. It’s pretty classic for a comedy, and I think it’s a — yes, so I mean, I think that that’s like Chumble Spuzz, they go to kill the devil, and they’ve never heard of him, they don’t even know anything about him. They don’t do much research after that, they just hear about him, they’re like this guy — why has nobody tried to kill this guy, so they go to kill him.

And, so I think it’s just a good way to start a story, I guess.

NO: I agree that, in general, for my money, playing a character that is standing for justice, wants righteous indignation before he has comprised all the facts always makes for good hijinks.

Q: Question for you, Nick. So, in the past with other characters say, like a “Ron Swanson,” you’ve had stuff in common, I heard that you like doing woodwork in real life, like he likes, too.  What can you relate to, in terms of Axe Cop? What do you have in common with the character of Axe Cop?

NO: Gosh, well I think once Ethan and I got together, he began to draw from my own life. I often wear a cat suit at night in the house. Mine is not black. I’m more of an autumn, so I go with earth tones. I’m ape shit about birthday cake, and I’m really handy with an axe. My dad taught me to use an axe, and keep it sharp and maintained, never let a spot of rust get on your axe head.

EN: I’m also guessing that he works the [indiscernible] shift just like Axe Cop?

NO: That’s right.

Sean Mulvihill: This is a question for Nick. Since you are a renowned woodworker, is there a preferred tool for law enforcement that isn’t an axe?

NO: Well, from the cannon of woodworking, it’s never a bad idea to have a small chisel secreted away, perhaps, in your boot in case you need to quickly [indiscernible] your way out through a door or window sash. And, I suppose a — they make this great Cub Scout tool that I’m crazy about. It’s a length of sharply toothed chain that you can coil it up, and put it in your back pocket. It’s like a — it’s a thin metal cable, and then it has a ring on either end, so you can wrap it around a tree, and by pulling it back and forth, you can saw through a tree. In truth, that’s the most MacGyver item in my shop, I believe.

Other than that, there are many tools in a woodworker’s tool box that can be used to bludgeon bad guys quickly to death.

Q: Before I saw this show, if I were to envision you as an animated character, I would say that it’s pretty close to Axe Cop. So, of all your great co-stars in your other past projects, who would you be most interested in seeing as an animated cop character, and what would be their weapon of choice?

NO: Gosh. It’s a hard one with a long stretch [ph]. Well, I’ve always — my favorite actor is a lady named Megan Mullally, and I’ve always thought it’d be really funny to put a mustache on her and make her a sheriff in a western. She’s got a heck of a swagger, and I suppose — she doesn’t like guns. She’s not a fan of the firearm, so I believe I’d give her the — do you remember that movie Walking Tall with Joe Don Baker from the 70’s?

He makes himself a cudgel the size of an ox’s foreleg. I’d give her something like that, perhaps a large shillelagh. She would walk softly and carry a heck of a big stick.

Q: What about you, Ethan? Any people that you look up to, or are friends with you would like to see in that kind of medium?

EN: I should have been thinking about it the whole time he was answering. I mean, I don’t know if you can — I wouldn’t have said it until I experienced it, but Ken Marino with the flute [he voices the role of “Flute Cop”] is pretty amazing. But, outside of that, man, that’s like I feel really put on the spot. I’m trying to think of—

NO: He’s got a skill [indiscernible].

EN: So many choices. Yes.  I never would have thought that “Flute Cop” would be pretty much — I mean, he’s possibly the funniest character on the show. He’s just so funny, like the delivery of those lines. It really is the team, like the way that Nick and Ken play off each other is so funny.

It really works.  I’m just going to go with that, it’s just like a cheating answer, but—it’s your turn.

NO: It’s a hometown answer.

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Q: Do you watch TV and if so, what?

NO: Gosh. Well, mine’s — now, Ethan, you start thinking now, and mine’s easy. I greatly enjoy the wealth of the menu of available television these days is just an embarrassment of riches. But from my own part, all of the very fortunate opportunities that have come my way really have killed my TV time, and the last few years it’s all I can do to watch Parks and Rec, and then Childrens Hospital, and Axe Cop, the things that my wife and I work on.

If I could take a vacation and just watch TV, I would binge watch Game of Thrones, and the show Ax Men that I’ve not — which I now realize is connected; it’s all connected.  I keep hearing about Ax Men, and I can’t begin to watch it because I know it’ll be like getting sucked into a video game, I’ll go underground for a month, and won’t come up, but it’s crazy.

I mean, all of the amount of great comedy [indiscernible] me right now, it’s astonishing.  [Indiscernible] is amazing, and Broad City, and Last Man on Earth, I catch pieces of those everywhere I can. Brooklyn Nine-Nine, forget about it.

EN: I have an obsession with shows about people who think they like almost died, but then didn’t, like I Shouldn’t Be Alive, I Survived, Surviving Evil, Locked Up Abroad, all of these reality shows, who’s just a person sitting there telling their crazy story where they had a gun pointed at their head and they got away or something. So, I don’t know why, but I’m just like obsessed with those. I watch them like any time a new one pops up on Netflix, I’m watching it.

Outside of that, I really like American Pickers, but I don’t know why. I just like old stuff. I like seeing old stuff and seeing them find it, and Better Call Saul, I like Breaking Bad, and I’m really loving — I love the new Daredevil on Netflix. It’s really awesome.

Q: You’ve done stuff like Gravity Falls and The Lego Movie and Axe Cop. Which do you enjoy? Which do you prefer, voice acting or real acting?

NO: Gosh. Well, first of all, I just want to say in response to Ethan’s last answer, I thought you were being funny when you listed those shows, and then I realized you weren’t, that those must be real shows, and they [indiscernible].

EN: They are.

NO: That’s kind of amazing.  I’ll ask you about them later because I want to see a show that sounds really delicious. People living past almost dying.

I’ve heard of one where they like — they get — people get thrown in prison in Mexico and they make it back kind of show.  Is that [indiscernible]?

EN: Yes. It’d be Locked Up Abroad, it’s always a story about somebody who’d — a lot of them are smuggling, although they’ll end up trying to do some smuggling or tricked into doing a smuggling job, and they end up—they suddenly are on a trip to Rio De Janeiro or some like third world country somewhere and suddenly they’re in prison there for like years, and then they have to try to get back or get out or — it’s crazy.

NO: Yes, but I’ll sit through that. So, if I had to pick one form of acting, it would be live theater.  That’s where I started; that’s where I became a man, ordinarily so — I think I’m still finishing up that job. But, my wife also started in theater, and there’s just nothing more — there’s no greater recompense than the live audience telling you that you’re delivering the medicine, and then their response is my medicine, and for me that’s the greatest.

But, between being seen in my performance or just having my voice work, they’re pretty different. I mean, I don’t know that I could choose between them because one is more like a — doing voice work is more like recording music that people are going to listen to. You’re creating an oral experience using whatever bells and whistles you have in your voice, and you’re intending — you can shut your eyes and use your imagination and nobody’s going to see if the faces you make don’t match the voices you make. And, so that’s a lot of fun.

And, there’s an element of make believe to it, and so in The Lego Movie, for example, I was really happy to get to do this Metalbeard voice that was really strange and somewhat Anglican. I was comforted that they let me not sound like “Ron Swanson” or “Axe Cop,” so that’s a lot of fun. But, I’m a very pretty 12-year-old girl inside like anybody else, so I want people to see my cute haircut, as well.

Q: What was your reaction for Axe Cop getting a Season 2? Were you more surprised or excited?

EN: It’s probably a good combination of both of those. It’s probably hard to discern how much of each. I think, it was a process because it really did go into a limbo there where it seemed like FOX didn’t know what they were going to do with it for a while. Nobody seemed to know where it was going to go, what was going to happen, even with the whole ADHD block. And, then there started to become talk, it was like a slow boil, like it started to be a little bit of talk here of maybe FXX is going to do something or whatever.

Suddenly they’re calling me and they’re — then it just happened, suddenly really fast; they’re making more shows again, and it’s happening, they have a date. And, so yes, I think it’s actually still hitting me that it’s actually really going to — like Season 2’s actually going to happen.

So, yes I’m really excited because I think that these episodes are the best ones they’ve made so far. They’re really good.

NO: That’s good to hear.

Q: Some animated shows have the cast record altogether, and some have them, like Archer, have them record separately. Do you guys record separately or together?

NO: We generally — only in very rare instances do a couple people get together, but the nature of our show is such between the four most prevalent characters, Axe Cop and Ken Marino as “Flute Cop”, Rob Huebel as “Grey Diamond,” and the effervescent Patton Oswalt as “Sockarang,” we’re all running around like complete assholes.

Trying to find our fannies with both hands, and so it’s always — the most desperate scramble and impressive feat of every episode is simply that they manage to record each of us. I mean, I’ve done Axe Cop this year alone in London, Cape Town, South Africa, Calgary, Los Angeles and New York.

So, I cannot get those guys to travel with me, and plead as I might, so it’s — I think it’s a lot more fun — I know I’ve done some Bob’s Burgers, which I would add that to the list of the things I try not to miss. I think that’s such an excellent show, and they often have a group of actors together, and that’s a lot of fun. It’s a luxury if people’s schedules permit it, but the great thing is when you get in the room together, then you start screwing around, and you end up with an extra level of tomfoolery.

Q: You mentioned all the main players, which was Patton and Ken Marino. But are you planning, or can you tease any other guest voices that you might have on this season? Or, is that a no go?

NO: Well, one thing I love about the show, and it reminds me of Childrens Hospital, as well is that when people in our business respond to a show, it is unadulterated fun. No holds barred silliness, with no apparent rules. Actors really respond to that, and so we — I’m always, when they call me and say, oh hey we got — for every little guest spot, hey we got Giancarlo Esposito; we got Jonathan Banks.

And, I haven’t — I don’t know what the status is — I’ve not discussed with the brass what I’m allowed to spill or not, but I will — I’ll give you one small piece of information, and that is Harry Styles, to my knowledge, does not appear in Season 2.

But, if he did, he’d be an incredibly cute furry-nosed wombat with a penchant for snack cakes.  I may be overstepping my bounds here, Ethan, I apologize. By God, we’ll make that wombat sing.

Q: Can you possibly tease any sort of plot lines from Season 2?

EN: I assume we can tease bits and pieces. There are some — a trailer just came out yesterday, so there’s a lot of stuff that they’ve pulled from — I think we’ve got junior cop, the gorilla with gun fists, and the bow tie, [indiscernible].

NO: Gosh.  I can’t wait.

EN: It’s funny, there’s an episode — one episode I really like, and there’s some guest voice actors in it that are amazing that I — just like Nick, I don’t know if I’m allowed to say whose — what voices we’ve got, but we try to write an episode, and we’ve been trying since the beginning to write a “Moon Warriors” episode, and every time we write one, it changes into a different episode that’s not the “Moon Warriors.”

And, once again to try to fix the story, I called my brother to get an origin story for the Vampire Man Baby Kid, who’s the bad guy in the “Moon Warriors” story, this crazy vampire thing that’s like a man on one side, and a baby on the other side, and it kind of fades from baby to man. He is very scary looking. And, then he got such a rich back story that we ended up ditching the “Moon Warriors” again from the story because they just didn’t fit into it, and it’s just this Vampire Man Baby Kid story about his origins on the moon, and so that one’s awesome.

We got Hell Chicken. I don’t know. We got some other stuff coming up. Heaven and Hell, owls, I don’t know. Do you have anything else you want to say, Nick?

NO: No. I mean, that’s a good encapsulation and I — with a show like Axe Cop, it’s — every episode is such a bag of surprises and because there’s no real narrative through line, it seems like teasing the plot — I think it’s very appropriate to say that we will visit some new planets, as well as some locations of legend, like Heaven and Hell.

EN: The world Willy destroyed.

NO: Also, heads will be chopped.

Q: Other than walking upright, and eating coconuts, what other rabbit rules were broken by the rabbit who broke all the rules?

EN: I think that’s the two rules. He broke them.

Q: That’s all of them?

EN: I believe.

NO: It’s as simple — rodents, the rabbit — it lives by two rules.

EN: Two very important rules, though.

NO: That’s why Axe Cop was so upset. Is it that hard to follow two rules?

Q: You said that Malachai’s consulted for advice if the show kind of hits like a dead end, or it needs back stories or something. Has there ever been something that he contributed that has like totally floored you with its complexity, or just something so out of left field that you go, how did you even come up with that?

EN: Well, I think that’s the average response to Malachai, is how did you even come up with that? But, there was — my favorite memory, and I think I have told this story before, but it was one of the first times we called Malachai when we were at ADHD working on the show, actually in Season 1. He got on the phone and he was giving us — he was helping us come up with an ending, and he got going and you could hear him, like he — there was no interrupting him, he was just — you could hear him running around the room talking on the phone and the entire office, like everybody from the whole — all the different rooms at ADHD had come into the conference room, and they were listening to him on speaker.

He had no idea he was gathering this massive audience. So, by the time he got done, he probably went on for 20 minutes, just going — and then he chops at them, and he jumps up here and he goes, I have the power to make all the bad guys escape from prison, and attack you. And, then he goes down this — just on and on and on, and on, and finally super dramatic Axe Cop wins, and then he gets this like standing ovation because he doesn’t realize that now there’s a crowd around the phone listening to him.

So, that was really funny. But, generally, when Malachai gives us his ideas for the show, it’s a whole bunch of stuff that we have to sift through, and it’s way more complicated than you could put on the show. We have to figure out how to — it always helps spark something and often generates new episode ideas, too, like I think the “Grey Diamond” origin. We have an episode where we look more into “Grey Diamond,” and we got a lot of stuff from Malachai on that one, and stuff like Secret Town. There’s actually comics that I’ve drawn that are based on stuff he gave for the show that ended up not fitting into the show, so I just made into a comic. So, yes, he gives us tons of information and tons of stuff to play with when we talk to him.

NO: The kid’s a goddamn gold mine. He’s something else.

Q: And, then Nick, I actually had a somewhat random question to ask you. Your mustache has kind of become like a pop culture icon in and of itself, and I remember watching an interview where you said it’s not about having a mustache or not having it, it’s the journey that it takes to grow one. Is there a favorite part of that journey for you?

NO: No. I mean, the topic of my mustache is a rather insipid one that I’m very grateful that really as a result of the great writing of Parks and Recreation, somehow my mustache came out on top, and my mustache is actually represented by CAA, and I have to be careful what I say on its behalf. But, I’m lucky I guess that I — my hair and whiskers, and also all of my fingernails and toenails continue to grow in a way that is useful and pleasing to me. I hope that continues, but I — when people ask me about it, I do my best to give them something they can write in their journal. And, so to specifically answer your question, I enjoy the entire journey equally.

You know what I enjoy? People say, do you have any tips on growing a mustache like that? I say, yes, there’s one important tip, don’t shave, and that is my favorite part of the journey is I hate shaving. I like to let Mother Nature’s ribbons be unfurled for all the world to see, and so that’s key that I don’t have to shave, scrape my precious soft skin with a sharp piece of steel.

Q: Well, thank you very much.

NO: You’re welcome. Oh, I’ll go on. I’m just getting started.

Q: Well, I’m sure you get asked about it all of the time, but I know that one had been particularly burning at me for a while because I’m a huge fan of yours. So yes, I’m sure you get asked about it, like you said pretty much every time you have an interview.

NO: Well, it’s a funny thing and it’s a — the fact that anyone would ask me about anything reminds me that I’m a very lucky boy with a very lucky job, and so I’m game to have fun with my mustache, as much as the next super cop.

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[Executive Producer] Hend Baghdady: Hi, guys. Thanks so much for your time today. Hi, Nick, and—

NO: Hi, Hend.

HB: Ethan, nice to talk to you guys, and hear you talking. We have so many guest stars because honestly, people come to us and flock to want to participate in the show, and on this season we have people like Sam Elliott, playing “Axe Cop’s” dad, and Kristen Schaal, I’ll surprise you with who she plays, and Clancy Brown and Jack McBrayer, Maria Bamford, Lake Bell, Richard Riehle, June Squibb, Tyler The Creator from Odd Future is making an appearance, Jewel — you remember Jewel, guys? And, Jonathan Banks, and Michael Chiklis, James Adomian, Alfred Molina, and many, many more have joined us to make this run of ten.

NO: I remember Jewel.

HB: You remember Jewel. I mean, in what part she plays?

NO: Yes.

HB: But, we recorded that almost a year ago, it was a long, long time.  But she sings for us, and it’s wonderful.

NO: Hey, Hend, I was going to mention to you just a minute ago, would you be willing to repeat the story of when we all met Malachai, and he tried to have you fired?

HB: Yes. Well, I am a girl and according to Axe Cop, which is really Malachai, girls are on the dumb list, and very stupid, and we were working out of the house at that point. It was in the very, very early stages, and we were all having lunch on a picnic table in the back, and I can’t remember what question was asked, but somebody asked him a question. And, he said, it’s a secret, and I think Nick was like, well, this is a safe place, these are all of the people that work on the show. And, he goes, I will whisper it to you, but she has to leave, she is fired.  And, I had to get up and leave the picnic table.

EN: He made it — or was it — no, it was just you, and it was one other person, I forgot his name.

HB: Todd, maybe?

EN: You guys were together, and he made you guys leave and he wanted —

HB: We left. And, then there was another time where we were actually watching the show at a conference, and he was on the panel and he gave us notes on the final cut to change it back because we had rewritten part of the story that he pitched us on the phone.

And then when I said that this is the final one if it’s airing, like we had to make this change, and he fired me and quit the show. Pretty amazing.

EN: Which makes him sound like super bratty, but he’s actually like —

HB: He’s not — I think it’s just because I’m a girl. I’m a dumb girl.

NO: By the way, everybody, Hend is the super hero of the show. She does — she is the glue and the creative headquarters and makes the whole thing happen. I’m one of her clowns, and I’m grateful to be so, but she works her fingers to the bone, and should be touted.

HB: Oh, thank you. That’s very, very sweet. My pleasure, but yes, I just wanted to let you guys know about the talent, and we’re really so excited to get going with the second round and hopefully we’ll be making many more soon.

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