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‘Office’ Actor Ed Helms Defends an ‘Obnoxious Instrument’

Larry Busacca, Getty Images

Ed Helms is best known for his outlandish, comedic behavior on NBC’s Emmy-award winning sitcom, ‘The Office,’ where he plays the role of nerdy paper salesman Andy Bernard. But when the camerars aren’t rolling, Ed works on his other talent — honing his craft as a skilled banjo player.

“I grew up in Atlanta, Ga., and there was some early exposure to it, but it’s not like it was very prevalent in my family or anything,” he tells NPR. “I also spent summers up in the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina, and [bluegrass] was always a sound that resonated for me and felt like a connection to these places that meant a lot to me. I do think people who love banjo music are cursed in some way, because most people don’t like it and it’s kind of an obnoxious instrument. But I just get a lot of joy out of it.”

Ed insists that the psychological thriller, ‘Deliverance,’ is partly to blame with people’s annoyance with the banjo. “That’s a decisive issue in the banjo community,” he tells Popeater. “It’s obviously inextricably linked the banjo with man-on-man rape, but it’s also one of the greatest bluegrass soundtracks in music history, and it did more to elevate bluegrass music in popular culture than anything else up to that point. It’s a double-edged sword, but I think the music speaks for itself. It’s something, when you get hooked on it, you can’t get enough of it.”

Ed assures that music is just a hobby for him, and his TV bosses don’t need to worry about him quitting his day job. “I get staggering stage fright when I play music,” he admits. “I don’t know what it is. I’ve done stand-up comedy for 15 years, and I can step in front of 2,000 people in a college auditorium and just chat for an hour. But if you put an instrument in my hand — a guitar or a banjo — I desperately want to share it with people, but I have some stage fright. It makes the technical act of playing difficult. That’s something I’ve always struggled with. Even at piano recitals as a kid, I would freeze up.”

The actor, who has several films to his credit already, including ‘Evan Almighty,’ ‘The Hangover‘ and ‘Cedar Rapids,’ can next be seen on the big screen when he reprises his role as Stu Price in ‘The Hangover: Part II.’ The movie is scheduled for a May release.

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