Arts & Culture » Culture

‘Parks and Rec’ star Nick Offerman on his latest comedy tour, the joy of ill-conceived advertisements, and why he won’t dare speak on behalf of Ron Swanson



For the record, comedian, actor, woodworker, and five-time author Nick Offerman is not Ron Swanson, which is actually really very great news because if he were Ron Swanson, he would probably be dead and then who the hell would Megan Mullally enlist as her burly touring roadie?

The 49-year-old performer and husband to Mullally recently wrote a song, directly titled "I'm not Ron Swanson," detailing all of the many ways he is not like the mustachioed, meat-obsessed, Scotch-soaked, Libertarian-leaning deadpan curmudgeon Offerman so masterfully possessed on NBC's Parks and Recreation for seven seasons, which came to an end in 2015.

"He can eat a big-ass steak for every single meal/ cuz his colon is fictitious while mine is all too real/ and his Scotch intake would be my liver's doom/ cuz mine is controlled by nature and his by the whims of the writer's room." 

Though Swanson and his fatty, sodium-encrusted, yogurt- and celery-resisting heart has been off the air for nearly five years, he lives on through fan idolatry and the cultural zeitgeist that has propped the fictional director of Pawnee, Indiana's Parks and Recreation Department atop a pedestal of greatness. Though Offerman's song serves as a playful tool to help fans grapple with Swanson the character versus Offerman the man, when it comes to brass tacks, the two have some glaring similarities. Both love woodworking, passionate women, and know their way around a saxophone. (And no, that's not some weird euphemism for something other than a saxophone.)

When we speak with Offerman, he's parked outside of a studio preparing to lend his voice to a collection of Wendell Berry essays ahead of his return to Detroit's Fillmore. Offerman discusses his love-making schedule, life after Ron, and why the wholesome act of physically making something might just be the key to saving the planet.

Metro Times: You're in the thick of the All Rise tour, which marks your third comedy tour. What can people expect?

Nick Offerman: It's my best piece of writing of all the comedy touring I've done. I think I've done the best job of creating an irresistible pizza for the audience. But unbeknownst to them, it's chock full of broccoli. I don't have the talent of my friends that are great stand-up comics, I'm not a joke machine. So I really take this platform seriously where I get to talk to 2,000-3,000 people every night, and I try to fashion my material so that it helps rather than hinders the social ills we're facing right now.

MT: A handful of comedians and performers we've talked to recently have billed their stage shows as being a respite from the current political fuckery we find ourselves inundated with on a daily basis. Do you touch on the social and political ills directly, or does your show put a bit of distance between the audience and the headlines?

Offerman: The title of the show is a direct reference to the trouble that we've gotten ourselves into. We're all in this together, and that's why it's called "All Rise" instead of "Republicans, please get your head out of your rear ends." It's easy to track where our racism and our homophobia and our toxic masculinity comes from. It's upsettingly ignorant for people to deny that it exists. And so I encourage people not only to own it and face it, but then say, "OK, look, we've come a long way, but we obviously have a ways to go and how can we do that?" And, "Oh, here's a funny song about Brett Kavanaugh called 'I Like Beer.'"

MT: Your wife, Megan, who we had the pleasure of talking with last year, had about a decade on you in terms of navigating the fame and public recognition that comes with playing an iconic sitcom character, as she has with Karen Walker on Will & Grace. What do you think you've taught one another in terms of each other's careers?

Offerman: As to what anything Megan might've learned from me, you would have to ask her, and I think that you wouldn't have to set too much time aside for that conversation. But from where I stand, I'm 49, she just turned 61, and I came into it as her adoring disciple. When we got together, she had already learned so many of life's lessons in general, but also specifically to our careers. It's pretty impossibly uncanny that the two people that live under our roof were both on NBC's best Thursday night comedy. I mean same night, same time slot. And we're both sort of the outlier character in some weird way. I couldn't have seen it coming, but Megan's life path literally became, unwittingly, my Obi-Wan Kenobi. I continue to this day to ask for her advice. I mean, she directed this comedy show. It's the first time I've done that because I knew this was going to be my best piece of writing, and so I wanted to throw everything that I could at it. And I said, "Can I please get your editing brain and your panache and your sensibility on this show?" And so she really helped me shape it and cut away the fat.

Megan Mullally and Offerman on the set of Parks and Recreation in 2011. - NBC
  • NBC
  • Megan Mullally and Offerman on the set of Parks and Recreation in 2011.

MT: So basically, you guys are the definition of relationship goals.

Offerman: It's one of the great things when people ask, "What's the secret?" I say, Well, I can only speak from my subjective point of view, but if you can swallow your ego and any sensibility, you know, all that old-fashioned bullshit, like any kind of gender roles, and just say, this is my roommate, this is my best friend who I'm in love with, and we make sweet love once a year in the summer if I've been good.

I guess the reason people enjoy our creative work is because we're unfettered by convention. People seem to really respond to that. And I guess we kind of do that in our lives, as well, where we don't worry about traditional husband and wife roles. If anybody's going to cook in my house, it's me. I run the kitchen, and I'm the one who's going to get upset if you put the spatula in the wrong drawer.

MT: What will always be funny to you?

Offerman: Megan Mullally is funny no matter what. The deadpan is what I think is so hilarious. ... The music and the enthusiasm that are used in advertising campaigns ... throughout the history of advertising [are] often so ill-conceived. And so when a commercial [comes on] with this really kick-ass rock song for erectile dysfunction medicine, one of us will start straight-face dancing to the commercial as though we're really swept up in the fervor.

MT: You've signed on to star in an Alex Garland-written FX limited series called Devs, due out next year. Do you find that you're consciously seeking roles that are far removed from Ron and Parks and Rec?

Offerman: Well, because I have the good fortune of being able to write books and tour as a comedian, and I work in my wood shop, I suddenly don't feel any desperation to just take acting jobs because they're good jobs. And so my deal with my agents is if I can say no to an offer, I will. And amazingly, I now say no to, like, 98% of stuff, much of which is perfectly good, solid, like the lead of a TV series or a film job. But it's like, this would require four months of my life and it's just a Western. It's good people, but there's nothing about it that feels like it's moving us forward. And so that cleared a bunch of daylight in my calendar acting wise, and then the thing came in from Alex Garland and he wanted to meet me. And I'm a huge fan of Ex Machina and Annihilation, and so suddenly this script that he wrote for this eight-episode series for FX fell into my lap. And I said, Oh, my God, I have to do this. This is what I've been waiting for. I can't say no to this.

MT: Good thing you said no to that Western ...

Offerman: Yeah, I've been doing that for many years now. I mean, I was doing it even before Parks and Rec and when I got that job, Megan said succinctly, You could tell that they were putting together a cast of unknowns around Amy [Poehler] and if I had done a bunch of the stuff that I ended up not doing prior to Parks and Rec, then I wouldn't have gotten the job of a lifetime. The results continue to reinforce our household technique of following our gut.

MT: You're also co-host with Amy on one of the most wholesome damn shows on television, NBC's Making It, where folks compete through a series of crafting challenges. As a woodworker and maker yourself, why is it important for people to step away from their screens and work with their hands?

Offerman: I encourage everyone to figure out what they're good at making and make as much of it as they can because we all are born with the ability to make something; it might be a lasagna, it might be dining tables, it might be wrought-iron fences. Making things is an important part of good citizenship because it makes you aware of the relationships around you. It makes you care about your loved ones, your neighbors, your community. And that expands out.

Also when you make things, you have a tactile connection to the world that corporate industrialism wants to erase. They want you to live in a pod and order everything as a smoothie that you get delivered. You know, like in the movie Wall-E, where everything's on a screen and you don't have to worry about the world outside. Well, that's why we're in such trouble with climate change ... because we've quit paying attention to what we're doing to the planet, saying, OK, that's cool, but here's the results. Here's some fires and some flooding and some hurricanes and so forth. So, I love the show, it's so good-hearted and it's so positive, but it also is incredibly important social messaging. It's for our own good that we should make things.

MT: You inhabited Ron Swanson for seven seasons, and he was nothing if not opinionated. Do you have any inkling as to who you think Ron might vote for from the current roster of presidential candidates?

Offerman: I'm not going to be so presumptuous as to answer that because I would send the question to Mike Schur, the head writer and creator [of Parks and Rec], and I actually did that during the last election and he wrote a really funny thing about how Ron would go hide in his cabin because he would despise Trump specifically because, in his own Swansonian way, Trump left the world of business for politics, which is the stupidest choice a human could make. So regardless of Trump's incredibly shameful, embarrassing morality, it's the fact that he chose to become a politician that Ron would have no patience for.

But he also would not want to vote for Hillary, a career politician. So Mike wrote this thing where, eventually, Leslie Knope finds him in the cabin and convinces him that if he doesn't vote, that's basically giving a vote to whoever the bad guy is. Ron is a decent person. People want to cling to these hot-button issues, whether it's that Ron is a libertarian or he's a Second Amendment guy. It's like, yeah, he's for all of that, but he's also decent. So I'm sure Leslie would convince Ron into voting for somebody who is taking care of the people as much as possible.

Nick Offerman will perform at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 21 at the Fillmore; 2115 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-961-5451; Tickets are $59.50+.

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