The former “Parks and Recreation” star talks
By Nick Krewen
Special to the Star
Hey, Parks And Recreation fans: Ron Swanson is headlining at Casino Rama this Saturday.
Actually, it’s not the deadpan Swanson who is appearing, but the comedic actor who portrayed him for seven memorable seasons on NBC, Nick Offerman.
Curiously, do fans of the show ever confuse him with his character? “It’s interesting,” said Offerman, 52, late last week over the line from a Toronto hotel. “There’s a whole spectrum of audience responses, which is just one of the most wonderful problems I can wish on a person.
“If you participate in a show that has as much popularity as Parks and Recreation, the responses run the gamut from conventional people with good reading comprehension who understand that I’m an actor playing a role, and they’re able to comprehend that difference.
“And then there’s all kinds of mixtures to the other end of the spectrum where I’ve had people get into arguments with me, insisting that I was Ron Swanson and that I just happened along until somebody wrote a show where I could insert myself. I said, ‘no, there are writers – it’s a totally pretend show’ – and sometimes people have stormed out on me insisting that I was some sort of hilarious libertarian.
“I try to be gentle with all of them because I’m also stupid on a daily basis . I hope that people will be generous with me when I’m confused. But like I said, it’s a very nice problem to have.”
In truth, the well-spoken Offerman is a multi-hyphenate talent whose range extends far beyond acting. Although he’s won recent praise for his performance as Bill in The Last Of Us, and has starred in TV episodes of Fargo, Pam & Tommy and A League Of Their Own, he’s also a New York Times best-selling author currently working on his sixth book.
He has also done voiceover work for animated projects like The Lego Movie, Hotel Transylvania 2 and Ice Age: Collision Course and – perhaps most surprisingly, at least to those who haven’t seen him co-host Making It with fellow Parks and Recreation actor Amy Poehler – a professional woodworker and proprietor of L.A.-based “charismatic” Offerman Woodshop, making and selling furniture and other related-and-wood-designed items.
“It is one of my many endeavours,” Offerman admitted. “I often liken myself to a circus act where I’m keeping 17 plates spinning at one time.”
And what exactly is a “charismatic” woodshop?
“A charismatic wood shop, in my estimation, is one that values the skills of hand work and respects the materials that we use: the gorgeous and invaluable wood that Mother Nature has provided us,” he responded. “We take that wood and turn it into useful implements, many of which you can cut your meat on, or rest your beer upon.”
Offerman said woodworking has given him a stability and gratification over the years, allowing him to make ends meet during the initial lean years of endeavouring to become a thespian.
“It gives me satisfaction of a few different stripes,” Offerman explained. “At first, it allowed me, regardless of what my life’s dreams were, to immediately start earning a healthy wage as a carpenter, using my tools.”
Offerman, who was born in Joliet, Illinois and raised in nearby Minooka, first used his carpentry skills to frame houses and save money to enroll in theatre school.
“Then while in theatre school, I got paid to build scenery, which carried me in to my 20s and Chicago, where I probably made more of my living building scenery than I did as an actor,” he continued.
“So, on the most basic level, it was incredibly supportive and healthy. But as I began to get more work as an actor and writer, it has remained as a sort of an elemental connective tissue between me and my family, who are all farmers and live lives of service: my Dad’s the mayor of our town; we have nurses and teachers and librarians and paramedics… so, I really admire my family and their ability to be self-sufficient through the things they can do with their hands, including produce a living from the Earth itself.
“Even though I’m a clown skipping about the place and making people laugh and cry for my wages, my woodworking really allows me to still feel connected to my family. And I can still achieve something substantial and tangible.”
Offerman wouldn’t have it any other way.
“There’s something wonderful about making people laugh and creating a medicine between performer and audience, but at the same time, there’s also something inescapably satisfying about building a table and a stool and then pulling the stool up to the table and eating a perfectly cooked ribeye.”
Offerman has also built his own canoes and ukuleles: learning the former from a Peterborough, Ontario business called Bear Mountain Boats and veteran canoe builder Ted Moores.
“This is a Canadian interview so it’s high time we brought it around to canoes,” Offerman joked. “I learned to build canoes from the local masters. In Peterborough, it was through my relationship with them and their wonderful book Canoe Craft, that I first learned to build canoes and continue to promote them. Ted Moores basically occupies the contemporary section of the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough.
“It’s funny – when you reach a certain point in rectilinear woodworking, meaning all of the rectangles and 45-degree angles that tools are set up to execute, you wonder, ‘okay, what’s next?’
“One way or another, you look to organic forms. You look to curves – and that usually means watercraft or musical instruments. Both fascinate me equally.”
Married to fellow Emmy-winning actor Megan Mullally (Karen Walker on 11 seasons of Will & Grace,) Offerman says it’s good having a spouse that understands the nature of the beast in their particular profession.
“One of the fun things – and frustrating things – about our lives, for my wife Megan and myself – is, at the moment, we don’t know what the hell we’re doing after June of this year,” Offerman explained. “We hopefully will get some work. If not, maybe we’ll go drive our Airstream around, but you never know if we’re going to be dancing like clowns or we’re going to be performing in something dramatic. That is the joy and the thrill – and also the frustration – of working as an actor.
“I think we’re very grateful that we’re both in the business and we can be very understanding to all of the absolutely cockamamie life practices that the performing arts can bring. We often repeat the refrain around our house, ‘Hi diddley dee, an actor’s life for me.'”
And the one thing he doesn’t do?
Stand-up comedy…which is why he prefers to be called “a humourist.”
“I don’t write jokes,” he said, adding that it will be a bit more of a mixed bag when he steps onto the Casino Rama stage on Saturday night.
“I feel like the moniker of ‘humourist’ allows me to speak more slowly than your conventional comedians. I tell stories and I play songs on the guitar. People generally seem to laugh and they usually let me finish, which I take as a great compliment.”