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Nick Offerman On Masculinity, Megan Mullally And Not Being Ron Swanson

Nick Offerman on stage.

Nick Offerman on stage. Michael Gomez

Nick Offerman is a comedian, actor, musician and woodworker — but he is not Ron Swanson from “Parks and Recreation.”

“I am working with the same toolbox,” he says, “but he's much more brilliantly written than I am, unfortunately.”

Offerman makes the distinction between himself and the character clear in his song “I Am Not Ron Swanson.”

He writes his own lyrics but the music for most of his songs is written by composer Mark Rivers, who writes the best joke in every song, Offerman says.

The actor does acknowledge his similarities to the mustached parks director he played on screen, like a love of scotch.

Offerman is releasing a collaboration with Lagavulin Whiskey this fall. The reserved Ron Swanson was brought to tears when he traveled to the Lagavulin distillery in Scotland during season six of the show.

Right now, Offerman is on the road for his latest comedy tour, “All Rise.”

He says tries to avoid obvious political jokes in his set but that goal hasn’t stopped him from slipping in some commentary.

“It's hard to get around when there's low hanging fruit on the ground,” he says. “Sometimes you step on it.”

Interview Highlights

On how “All Rise” pokes fun at masculinity

“Ron Swanson, my character from 'Parks and Rec,' was considered very masculine. I'm often accused of masculinity. And, you know, I was born looking like this and I sound like this. You know, I did not cultivate [this]. I don't go to the gym. I'm not chasing masculinity. And so it's always seemed a little strange to me as a mincing theater artist to be accused of being manly. I am pretty handy at splitting firewood or changing a tire, but so are the women in my family. And so I use it as an opportunity to encourage people to try and loosen their ideas about genderizing everything. I know ladies that are great woodworkers and I know men that make an amazing quiche and everything across every spectrum in between.”

On how his wife — fellow actor and comedian Megan Mullally — influences his comedy

“She's actually directing this comedy show, so she directly influences it by me saying, 'Honey, please come see my show and tell me what to cut and what to improve.' ...We're just collaborators. I mean, we love to see each other work. And then we love knowing one another's strengths and weaknesses. We then love to say, 'Hey, you're doing that funny voice. You don't have to do that when you're playing that one bit.' That's how she directly affects it. She indirectly affects it because I think I'm usually trying to make someone laugh when I'm chasing comedy. Either it's Megan or my best friend or like my siblings or my cousin growing up. But these days, you know, last 20 years, it's usually Megan. Like if I was to do something right now to try and make you laugh, I'm really trying to make her laugh. You know, it's that toolset. And so she is not only my wife and my best friend, but she's my teacher in a lot of ways, she's also just a comedy legend. She's like a walking Mel Brooks movie. And so it's, you know, it'd be silly and masculine of me to not take advantage of the fact that my wife is a champion in the very sport that I try to excel at.”

On what it means to be a man

“To me, it means standing up for one's principles first and foremost. It means being true to your word and having good manners and pursuing decency. It doesn't mean, you know, getting in a fistfight or any of the habits that are associated with misogyny. I think good manners and the sensitivity to show one's emotions are something that's much more manly and require more bravery than acts of violence or feats of physical strength.”

Nick Offerman on stage.

Photo Credit: Michael Gomez

On avoiding the ‘low hanging fruit’ of the current political climate in his show

“I feel like the national mood and really the global mood in the places I've been touring is that things are dire, things are fraught, and we're all worried. I'm worried and I'm astonished at the misbehavior of our supposed leaders. And so the last thing I want to do is remind the audience of that situation. And so I try to instead poke fun at what it is about humanity that has gotten us in this trouble without actually focusing on the specific trouble.”

“The gun thing is baffling to me. In my show, I simply say I personally would be terrified of having a gun because I, like everyone else in the world, am stupid. I don't need a gun. I also don't need a chainsaw in around the house. So don't give me one that my kid can maybe play with. Those things are dangerous.”

On talking about gun control in his show

“The gun thing is baffling to me. In my show, I simply say I personally would be terrified of having a gun because I, like everyone else in the world, am stupid. I don't need a gun. I also don't need a chainsaw in around the house. So don't give me one that my kid can maybe play with. Those things are dangerous.”

On people coming to his show and expecting Ron Swanson

“I think there is a small percentage of the audience that sadly is not very good at watching television. I've had people get quite angry with me when they come to learn that Parks and Rec was not a documentary. And I try to be gentle with them because I want them to hear what I have to say. And I am interested and respectful of what they have to say. But yeah, it's a funny thing when people see a cleverly written comedy character and are somehow able to extrapolate real-life personal heroism from that.”

On what he and Mullally are watching

“My wife is an incredible creative director in our household. And she does the picking for almost everything in our lives. And it's great. It takes so much off my plate. I don't have to keep up with anything. I say, 'What are we watching now?' She says, 'This show called 'Fleabag.'' Both 'Fleabag' and 'Succession,' we were on this board, because of her acumen, like a year before the world was like, 'Hey, this is amazing.'”

On whether he enjoyed going to college in host Jeremy Hobson’s hometown of Champaign-Urbana, Ill.

“Oh, sure. I mean, I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s in small-town Illinois and it was very much a cultural vacuum. And when I got to Champaign-Urbana, to my first college town, it blew my mind. It was so incredibly formative, quite specifically the theater department, the facility called the Krannert Center. But then even more specifically, there was a teacher named Shōzō Satō, who taught this whole program of Japanese arts. And he created this thing called Japan House, which you have still there. You can learn tea ceremony and Zen meditation in a Japanese garden-like setting. So it's like a park with a bridge over a pond. And that's just one of the jewels of this great university [University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign]. That was incredibly eye-opening to me to say, 'Oh, wow, culture is everywhere.’

“It's got a charming fecundity. But I just had an amazing time … Whatever success that I've had has a lot to do with what I learned in that town and the time I had there.”

Emiko Tamagawa produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Kathleen McKennaAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on November 4, 2019.