Rainn Wilson’s memoir captures essence of his offbeat humor

SHARE Rainn Wilson’s memoir captures essence of his offbeat humor

When Rainn Wilson started out to write his new memoir, “The Bassoon King,” there was one thing he definitely did not want to do. “I’ve read a lot of disappointing celebrity biographies,” the actor from TV’s “The Office” said in a recent call.

“At the end of the book, you don’t know anything more about the person than when you started. It’s all so superficial and safe. What’s the point? I think the reader gets so much more out of it when the writer risks so much more of himself.”

With “The Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith and Idiocy,” the New Trier High grad certainly doesn’t hold anything back. If he did, one would never know it.

He candidly writes about his early years in Seattle and the hippie parents he describes as “odd,” adding, “To call my parents odd is perhaps the biggest understatement any person could ever make. Kind of like calling Hitler mean or Warren Buffett well-off.”

The book traces his parents eventual divorce, his moving to Nicaragua and then Washington state with his father — before arriving on Chicago’s North Shore in 1982. That’s when his dad got a job at the national headquarters of the Baha’i faith, to which the family belonged — centered at the iconic Baha’i Temple in Wilmette.

It was shortly after he was enrolled at New Trier that Wilson’s life changed forever. In an acting class, he let loose, expressing “a private moment in public” as he pretended to dance to a boom box in his bedroom. In the book, Wilson said it was one of those handful of “defining moments in life” we all experience.

As for writing his autobiography at such a relatively young age (48 when he started it; he’s 49 now), Wilson said, “I did it because I already had plenty of stories to tell. … When ‘The Office’ ended, and I had a little bit of time, I thought, ‘Well, why not give it a shot?’ ”

Wilson snared a huge legion of devoted fans for his hilarious Dwight Schrute character during a nine-season run on “The Office.” He is convinced, he said in our phone chat, that virtually all good comedians come out of tough or complicated backgrounds.

“I came from a somewhat broken home and often difficult home environment,” he said. “That in itself is good fodder for comedy.

“It is hard to find truly funny people who come from a warm, loving, expressive, communicative family. I have heard they exist. I just haven’t met anyone like that.”

Furthermore, Wilson is grateful for his group of “geeky friends in high school just goofing off. … We watched ‘Saturday Night Live’ and ‘Monty Python.’ We did funny voices and funny walks, but without anyone watching us. For me is was like a wonderful petri dish of comedy — a great place to practice stuff.”

The title of “The Bassoon King” is something of a backhanded compliment to a teacher who convinced Wilson that playing the bassoon was “much cooler than playing the saxophone,” the instrument he really was hoping to learn to play.

While Wilson no longer owns a bassoon (“I guess I really should track one down, now.”), he is tickled that for one of his Chicago area appearances this week, he will be serenaded by “a bassoon choir. Can you believe that? There’s going be something like 10 kids playing the bassoon!”

That will occur during Wilson’s 7 p.m. appearance Friday, sponsored by Anderson’s Book Shop, at the Community Christian Church in Naperville. Wilson also will be at the Standard Club on Plymouth Court in Chicago on Friday, beginning at 11:30 a.m.

Before we hung up, I had to ask Wilson what most fans ask him — or tell him — about “The Office.”

The actor turned serious as he explained, “Most people do mention their favorite scenes or episodes or lines of dialogue. But the thing that means the most to me is when someone tells me, ‘My family was going through a very hard time, but we would get together once a week and watch “The Office.” That would make us laugh, and bring us back together.’

“There have been many different versions of that. Whether it’s a son who has not been talking to a father, or a sister dealing with cancer, or people just too busy to sit down — except when ‘The Office’ is on — those are the stories I love to hear. It’s those stories of how the show brought people together and made them connect.

“That’s the most gratifying thing about being an entertainer — at least for me. It’s knowing you made someone’s life just a little bit better and to be of service to them by making them laugh.”

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