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One-Manly Show: Nick Offerman Talks Acting, Woodworking, and Bear Fights

If you're like me, you probably remember Nick Offerman best as the environmental activist from a 1999 episode of The West Wing, during which he tried to convince Allison Janney that the government should fund a highway just for wolves.

But nowadays, many people know him best as "Ron Swanson," the woodworking, government-hating government employee on Parks & Recreation. He doesn't seem to mind if you confuse him with his onscreen alter-ego, as he acknowledges some similarities, and he's just so grateful to have such a sweet gig (for the record, he called it a "job," not a "gig").

Brought up in Illinois, Offerman studied acting in college and helped found the Defiant Theatre, a company based in Chicago. He also acted in productions at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre before moving to Los Angeles to pursue screen-acting. For years he scored smallish parts in television and movies and along the way met his wife, Megan Mullally. Finally, in 2009, he landed the role of Ron in the then-new comedy Parks & Recreation. Since then his name-recognition's been on the rise.

He doesn't seem like an actor over the phone, even though he's an award-winning stage performer and experienced on screens big and small.

He seems more like a gruff Americana poet, perhaps someone like his hero, Wendell Berry.

SF Weekly: Hi, Mr. Offerman, how's it going?

Nick Offerman: Good. That's my dad; please call me Nick.

Ok, Nick.

And what's your last name?

Mutert.

Hi, Miss Mutert.

Oh, hi.

(Muffled).

What?

Oh nothing, I was just laughing.

Okay. Well I wanted to talk to you about your upcoming appearances in San Francisco. Why a tour, why now?

Last year I was invited to speak at some colleges and I said, "By God, there are some things I'd like to say to the young people." So I wrote this show, it includes my ten tips for prosperity, and it went over pretty well. So I ended up touring to a few dozen colleges, and that's moved on to legit theaters, and it's really been a lot of fun. And I'm premiering this film, Somebody Up There Likes Me, and in each city I'm going to do an event for the premiere. So I've combined the two, so one night I'll be performing with my wife [Megan Mullally]'s band, Nancy & Beth, they will be opening for me, and it's the most astonishing piece of entertainment you could ever hope to see. And then the next night I'll be opening the movie at the Roxie.

What can we expect from the one-man show?

It's a collection of cautionary tales, some mediocre songs from my own pen, with a dash of minor nudity.

Minor nudity?

That's correct.

What instrument do you play?

I play the guitar. I've been playing for years, and I've recently achieved the level of "intermediate."

That sounds worthwhile. So let's talk a little about your character, Ron Swanson. More than just about any character in recent history, your character Ron is based on your life: woodworking, a general love of meats, and your wife, Megan Mullally, plays your ex-wife. What are we to make of this impulse to connect the man to the character?

I think people always want to do that with really well-written characters. It's mainly a testament to our brilliant writers that they were able to create really a pretty cartoony character like Ron and lead people to think that he bears resemblance to the actor, or vice versa. You know, I do love woodworking, I am a simple man who can use a shovel, but I'm also an actor, I do live in a world. If anybody actually consumed one-fourth of the amount of cholesterol that Ron does, they'd keel over before they finish the meal.

Good, I'm glad to hear you say that, I worry sometimes.

I share the love of meat and scotch, but I don't share his digestive system, which is apparently superhuman.

Speaking of superhuman, the superhuman aspects of Swanson resemble another mustachioed gentleman, Chuck Norris. Have you heard this before?

No, I've actually never heard that, people don't bring up Chuck Norris too much with me. But I think that the more comfortable our society gets, the more it craves a simple man who can get things done. I'm a big fan of feminism, and I appreciate the much greater equality our society has achieved, but in the instance that your party runs into a grizzly bear, you need somebody, either a man or woman, to take care of business. So there's a place for the Cro-Magnon in all of us. I'm glad to see people responding.

Do you know what to do if you run into a grizzly bear?

I'm given to understand that you make yourself as large as possible, put your arms over your head, and walk away, don't run, and make a lot of noise. That's the safety tip. I'm not sure if I would do that, or at least try one solid punch on the nose.

Really?

Well yeah, that would be dissuading to a bear. Nobody likes a bop on the nose.

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