Nick Offerman is probably best known for playing Ron Swanson on the NBC comedy, “Parks and Recreation.” Since the show wrapped in early 2015 he’s been doing a lot of woodworking, film acting, and musing about agriculture. Oh, and stand-up, which is what brings him to Louisville this weekend. He spoke with WFPL’s Kate Howard about what people can expect from the show — and a little bit of everything else.
On how he’s not Ron Swanson
“I suppose in the fact that I’m a fully rounded complex and flawed human being, and Ron Swanson is a much simpler, necessarily less faceted cartoon superhero. He’s also a much faster woodworker than I am. When you have to actually do the sanding and finishing yourself, it takes a lot longer than when comedy writers have you doing it. But I suppose Ron and I both speak slowly, we both have a pretty good set of whiskers, and we’re both very attracted to women who look like my wife.”
On people being in love with his marriage to Megan Mullally
“It’s hard to identify the public’s notion of our relationship with our actual marriage, because when we get home, we’re just two people trying to live together — even though one is a beautiful, tiny genius and the other one is a large, lumbering farm animal at times. We’re just two people in a relationship. And so I think when people say, ‘oh, it’s so fantastic, we love your marriage, you guys have stayed together this whole time,’ I just always think, ‘well gosh. It seems like we should be setting a higher bar for our marriages than merely staying together.’ But I guess that’s Hollywood.”
On Wendell Berry
“I grew up in a really charismatic sort of salt of the earth family in a small town in Illinois called Minooka, and as soon as I first started reading Wendell Berry’s work, I just saw my family in his work: hard-working rural people who understand the value of a garden and understand the similarity between a garden and a community. And it just really spoke to me.
“And my business is to find good writing and communicate it to an audience, so I immediately began writing letters to Wendell, and that struck up a relationship that developed over the years until I finally got involved with the documentary, “Look & See,” which was made by Laura Dunn, and she did such a beautiful job.
“And so, both Wendell Berry’s work and Kentucky just really moved me because it reminds me of where I come from. And as I go forward in my career, spreading my own message, I find that to be an incredible foundation. And Kentucky herself reminds me of Illinois, except just better looking.”
On sexual harassment and making comedy safer for women
“I think it’s very encouraging that, at long last, this social malaise, this deeply-ingrained human problem, is finally seeing the light of day and being exposed. And it’s funny, it points out some political divides too, because it seems like all of the Republicans who are in the same boat are sticking to the old hypocrisy, but the more liberal people that are being called to the carpet are at least copping to it and issuing heartfelt apologies, which is the first huge step in moving forward.
“And I feel like if it’s coming out in this way in our industry, then gosh, it must be happening everywhere. But I think it’s a deeply-rooted human problem. And so I think it’s up to all of us, regardless of what business the perpetrators are in, to call it what it is, and recognize it, and shine a light on it, so that the victims can no longer feel terrified of coming forward, and we can heal this rift. We can teach the predators that it’s not OK to behave that way, so that one day perhaps everyone can feel safe at work.”
On using current events as standup material — or not
“This show, I’ve been working on for a few years. And when the campaigns and election happened, I sat down and took several deep breaths, because it’s been so upsetting. It’s been such an embarrassment to American decency, what’s been going on in our political landscape. So it was hard to think about anything funny for a while.
“And then when I came back around to it I said, ‘well you know what I’m not gonna do is get on stage and gripe about politics,’ because something that I think we’re all absolutely sick of is reading these incredible stories day in and day out. Just one after the other. The folks in charge embarrass themselves overseas. Then they come home and embarrass themselves here. They do it in the White House, they do it in the cabinet, they do it Puerto Rico, and then they go golfing. So all day long it’s just a litany of ‘guess what they did today.’
“And so I determined instead of adding to that incredible flow of unfortunate news, this show has a lot more hope and love in it, and it’s hopefully a delicious respite from all of the anger and fist shaking that’s going on in our country.”
On his current show
“It’s a lot of fun. The title of the show is “Full Bush,” and that describes a philosophy, a way of life involving a few different disciplines. It’s an encouragement to the audience to shake hands with their neighbors and remember that we’re all in this together. I always call on people to find what they’re good at making with their hands and get to making it, because that’s so strengthening for community.
“I play my usual brand of dumb and funny songs, which people seem to really enjoy, including a song entitled, ‘I’m Not Ron Swanson,’ which hopefully should put that topic to bed. I made a ukulele and I play a song about my ukulele. So it’s a lot of laughs and some thoughts about how we can become more like the fox and less like the sheep.”
On playing a character so iconic you have to write a song about how you’re not that character
“I have to say, I’m pretty grateful. When a television character works well, as I feel like Ron Swanson has worked very well, that can sometimes be detrimental to your future employment opportunities because people have a hard time seeing you as anything but that character.
“But for whatever reason, my particular path in the zeitgeist has allowed me to get more film work. I guess more film than TV stuff. I’ve been kind of avoiding television series because Parks & Recreation was such an incredible season in my life. I said, ‘I’m just gonna stay away from that for several years,’ because I think anything I threw myself into would probably be a disappointment, so I’ll wait until I feel ready again.
“But I’ve gotten some really nice film roles. I even did do a TV show — the second season of Fargo, which is a really great show. So I feel like it seems like I’m gonna sneak on by, continuing to work as a character actor even though I was lucky enough to play a very effective television character.”
“That’s a funny thing about the audience. They sort of lay claim to you as your character. They see you in public and say, ‘why didn’t you comb your hair the same way as how I like it?’ And you say, ‘well, I wish you’d think about that a second.’ But you can’t please all the people all the time. I just follow my gut. And as long as my wife likes my haircut, then I feel like I’m doing pretty well.”
On the Louisville Palace
“A couple years ago my wife and I played at the Palace theater where I’m playing this weekend, and I’m so charmed by that theater. To visit a state that I find so beautiful in an agricultural sense, and then be able to visit such an incredible center of culture as the Palace theater in Louisville is just one of the great gifts of what I get to do.
“And so I’m jealous of Louisville that they have that theater and I hope that even if people can’t catch my show this weekend, I hope they’re aware of it and continue to give it their support. Because that’s the kind of place where we learn about one another, and it’s very important to get out and see live performances rather than stay home isolated with your screens. I believe that that isolation is thrilling to the people selling us their products, but it’s not healthy for a community.”
On…oh, did you think he was done talking about Wendell Berry?
“Anybody that wants to talk about Kentucky and the Wendell Berry body of work, I’ll stay on the phone all day. I’m tickled pink that I have been able to befriend the Berry family.
“Wendell’s daughter is running an outfit in New Castle called the Berry Center, which is devoted to re-educating small farmers and asking the important questions about how we can return to an agricultural system where our small farmers can afford to farm, and how our country can turn its gaze back on the profit of the land rather than the profit of the industrial overlords. I’m donating the entire take of my show this weekend to the Berry Center.
“It’s funny, when you start talking about gardening and farming, a lot of people, their eyes will glaze over and they’ll say, ‘well, that’s not a topic I’m interested in.’ They’ve forgotten that if you like eating food, then it’s something you should take an interest in.”