Manly Skills, Podcast, Projects

The Art of Manliness Podcast #38: An Interview With Nick Offerman (AKA Ron Swanson)

If you’ve been following the site, you know Kate and I are big fans of NBC’s Parks and Recreation. We’re especially fans of the character Ron Swanson on the show. Ron Swanson is the head of the Pawnee Parks and Rec Dept. in Indiana. He’s a conservative libertarian who loves woodworking, breakfast foods, hunting, and fishing, and he keeps a sawed off shotgun in his desk. His Pyramid of Greatness is pure awesome.

While Ron’s idiosyncrasies bring humor to the show (as all the characters’ quirks do), his manly ways aren’t mocked for laughs in the way of other tv shows. The show has a sort of sweet, good-natured tone, which is why we like it.

What’s interesting is that the actor behind the character, Nick Offerman, is pretty manly in real life, too. Nick’s real passion is woodworking; he runs his own woodshop–the Offerman Shop–where he builds tables, chairs, canoes, paddles and more. You can watch Nick talk about planking a canoe in this video:

A few weeks ago I got on the phone with Mr. Offerman to discuss what makes Ron Swanson so manly, and the greatness of mustaches and woodworking.

Listen to the Podcast!

Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another episode of ‘The Art of Manliness’ podcast. Well this week’s edition is quite a treat for us. I sat down with actor Nick Offerman who plays the manliest character on TV right now, Ron Effing Swanson from NBC’s Parks and Recreation.

During our interview Nick and I discussed, what makes Ron so manly mustaches in Nick’s true passionate life woodworking.

Well Nick welcome to the show we really appreciate taking the time to speak to us.

Nick: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Brett McKay: So Nick I know a lot of our readers and listeners are a big fans of Parks and Recreation and your character Ron Swanson you play on the show. For those who haven’t seen the show, could you kind of describe Ron Swanson and why art of manliness readers would be interested in him?

Nick: Well, Ron Swanson is the director of Parks and Recreation department in a small Midwestern town and he is an American man who has remained refreshingly unaffected by the information age, though he lives a very simple life without the confusion of choice provided by the internet and social networking and cellphones and all of that. So let us throwback to a more of a Little House on the Prairie character.

Brett McKay: Yeah definitely. I mean he’s got the mustache, he is really into freedom and liberty and self-reliance and that I think a lot of American men are attracted to. And I think a lot of people know men like Ron Swanson, that’s what I have encountered when I talk to people. They go, I know a guy like that; it’s like my grandpa or like my uncle who lives out in Montana.

Nick: Yeah I think it’s something that – I think Ron’s ideals are something that most suburban or urbanized people in this country can only dream of because we are sort of necessarily required to inspire our businesses, to take part in all of the modern technologies that Ron eschews.

Brett McKay: Yes, so do you think that’s wide, there is the appeal for him because I mean since the show started a few year ago, the show has developed a really great following, but Ron Swanson has kind of becomes as almost cult hero, I mean there is Tumblr blogs dedicated to Cats that look like Ron Swanson. I’ve seen like these magnificent oil paintings of the character Ron Swanson, I mean do you think that that’s the appeal like people wish they can get back to that.

Nick: I think so, I mean it’s hard for me to say being behind the incline and make up myself exactly what it is that – if I had to guess it would be that, that Ron sort of represents what we all idealize as a simpler time when I mean I myself don’t do Facebook or Twitter. I never have and it’s all I can do just to keep up with my email inbox and drives me crazy that we are now that the part of me that wishes I could be more like Ron is the part that has to answer 80 emails a day. I was talking to my wife about it saying, what in the day of the telephone answering machine what would you think if you came home everyday and you had 80 messages, you had to listen to and attend to. And it’s something that I feel enslaved by or certainly caged by my obligation to the information age. And so I longed for the freedom of Ron Swanson can shrug and say, I care nothing for any messages on my computer.

Brett McKay: So you know, Ron is known for his kind of iconic mustache, is that something you keep when you are not shooting or is that just for the show?

Nick: Throughout my career I have had every possible iteration of facial hair and head hair. I’ve done Mr. T a full on Mr. T as well as an albino Mr. T. I love everything from shaved head to long hair. I love everything from huge full beard to you know mutton chops to clean shaving. And so over the years I have sported the mustache for different roles. It is especially effective of course for cop or sheriff. And you know for years I would be told by casting directors when you arrive at your sheriff years you are going to do very well. And so it was sort of one of the tools in my arsenal, one of the weapons I had at my disposal and when my Chair and I began talking about Ron that was kind of the first really the first decision we made was, well this guy has ridiculous kick-ass beefy mustache.

Brett McKay: That’s awesome. And what does your wife think of the mustache, is she a fan or she’s like yea.

Nick: Fortunately she is a big fan of my weirdness, my whisker weirdness. She not only is a big fan of the mustache but no matter what strange thing I do to my head, she usually comes down in favor of it.

Brett McKay: You are a lucky man because I know a lot of guys wish they could grow a mustache but usually their wives, wife says no. So Ron Swanson is going to be like I don’t care what my wife says.

Nick: Exactly, I mean, I think it’s a shame, I know a lot of people in that predicament and I say to both of them, I think it’s a shame that you are so close-minded whatever it is, you know, you are locked into whether it’s your image of yourself or your husband or if it’s some sort of hygienic, sometimes women are like, no, that’s growth I don’t want a bunch of crumbs or I don’t know but I, you know, I tell people it’s a really eye-opening experience at least try it. My daddy grew up whole beard and he was crazy about it. He used to like it.

Brett McKay: So how similar is Ron Swanson to you because I’ve heard Jim O’Heir who plays Jerry on the show, he’s quoted saying is that you are as manly or manlier as Ron Swanson and it sounds like you kind of have a very similar, your approach to technology is kind of Ron Swanson Esq. is there any other things you’ve infused in Ron Swanson that comes from your just personality and character?

Nick: Well, first of all, I should say that Jim O’Heir was speaking erroneously to Nick, to me has been trying to avoid the glaring fact that he is very similar to Jerry Gergich, roundly detested on the set of our show and it could not be more than eyor.

Now regarding the comment about me, you know, it’s funny to me and I think kind of sad that manliness has become sort of this niche conversation much like you know, gourmet versus or custom made selvedge denim jeans, you know, it sort of speaks to me about how soft our society has gotten that someone would want to interview me about how manly I am. And I think it’s because I grew up, like the man I grew up amongst, I am the sissy in my family, you know, I am the artist, my dad and my uncles and my grandfathers are farmers and firemen and these guys, these guys could crash the tractor into a canyon and pull up their pickup truck and rebuild the tractor into a combine and then drive it into a field and harvest enough grain to feed a small city and then drink a case of beer. And these guys are like superheroes of manliness compared to me. But I just happen to ventured into the big city, you know, into a field that’s made up mostly of sort of simpering Shakespeare acolytes among which I count myself, I mean I enjoy putting on a pair of tights as much as man you know.

Brett McKay: And the codpiece, right.

Nick: Right.

Brett McKay: Of course. But there is I think one of things that I learned watching this show, there was an episode where Ron built a canoe, just like the night before and he gave it a gift to somebody, but you are actually a woodworker. I mean that’s one of your, I guess a hobby or it’s almost like a, I think a second career for you, is that right?

Nick: It is, yeah. I mean, I actually I am on the cover of the current Fine Woodworking magazine on the stands right now which is one of the, probably one of the proudest achievement I’ll ever come up with it.

That episode you are referring to was actually shot in my shop and those were my canoes that I have built, there were two of my canoes in that episode. Yeah, that’s you know, again I grew up using tools, I framed houses one summer. I spent a lot of my career building sceneries as a supplement to my acting income and so you know, it’s not something… I also spent a couple of summers blacktopping roads and driveways, parking lot. So which are you know, in hindsight those are all things you might consider manly but I wasn’t trying to…I wasn’t setting out to lay the ground work for Ron Swanson or to try and become a guy who could grow a good mustache.

Brett McKay: Yeah, you are just trying to pay the bills.

Nick: Right. And my woodworking is sort of, is a sort of speaks to this conversation in that. When I got to Los Angeles and I saw, you know, your average actors off in a very sad personality because of they are so narcissistic and the business is so brutal and you know, the actor has a little power over their career path that is just incredibly emasculating. And I got to Los Angeles and I saw all those folks around me suffering, suffering terrible neurotic lives where everyday was you know, of what will become of me, what am I thinking, should I move back to Kansas city, you know, take that accounting position at my uncle’s firm. And so when I sort of saw that my reaction was to make sure that I kept building things out of wood while I was auditioning and trying to get acting work so that I could just simply hold my head up around my family when I went home for Christmas.

Brett McKay: Yeah I guess it’s kind of a therapeutic thing for you then in lot of cases?

Nick: Absolutely.

Brett McKay: And is there a website you have for your work, your shop, when you have these really fantastic pieces, very beautiful, is there a particular kind of project you would like to work on, I mean, is there a piece you like to make all the time for people.

Nick: I mean, I have made a lot of dining tables that are just one slab of a tree in the style of a guy named George Nakashima. But you know, I really just love making things out of wood, I mean, I’ve made two canoes, I’ll probably make a couple oceans kayaks. I have some ukuleles coming up which I am making in preparation to then try some acoustic guitars.

And I think I don’t think I’ll ever become you know, a canoe shop or a guitar shop. I think I like making a couple versions of something until unlike okay, that is a kick-ass table, that is a awesome cabin, that is a canoe that I can keep the rest of my life. And then I sort of keep when I look for what’s next. I like keeping it fresh. I have a couple helpers at my shop and they are the same way but they also, they kind of head up the operation where somebody wants us to reproduce the table or something, they jump in and keep their hands dirty.

Brett McKay: So your shop is a commercial shop, it’s not just something in your house, it’s like an actual working shop.

Nick: It is, yeah. And we are actually coincidentally just yesterday we put up, we finally got my website re-upped after a few years of dormancy so it’s now – there is now some little items you can get on the website, you are getting a lot of client traffic and so you know, you just they is still not…if there is a t-shirt and a cap, you know, because of lot of fans were coming and saying, hey I live in Ohio, is there anything I can buy from this shop that’s not a $500 foot stool. And so we had a lot of that kind of traffic, so we put a few things up, like, yeah

Brett McKay: So what’s the address for your webpage, for your shop so people can go and check it out?

Nick: So it’s offermanwoodshop.com.

Brett McKay: Alright, I’ll make sure to put that on LinkedIn post so people can check that out. One of the things, woodworking seem like a really involved trade, so I mean, how do you balance that with your acting career, I mean, is it like you only can, do you keep doing it year round or is there seasons where you are just acting then you are doing, in your other times you are doing just woodworking.

Nick: Well it used to be, I used to get less acting works so I spend a lot more time woodworking and last few years my shop time has been cut into considerably by Parks and Recreation but even so acting is not the most grueling schedule on the planet even when we are going for feed on the show, I’ll have a week off every month or two and you know, I get days off when I am not in the story that we are shooting that day. But I still get into the shop with some frequency and you know, I definitely I am doing less work now but I am looking forward to, to continuing to work with my hands during my downtime.

Brett McKay: Definitely. So Nick last question, I know a lot of guys like have like the – like woodworking is like their fantasy hobby, it’s like, oh I wish I had a food shop in my garage and I would build a table out of a slab of wood. But I think a lot of guys don’t take it on because they just seem kind of intimated by it. Do you have any suggestions for those guys who want to get started but don’t know how?

Nick: Yeah, I mean, I was looking enough to have a really firm foundation in tool skills, when I began what I would call fine woodworking. I had several years of being a professional scenery and prop builder under my belt. But regardless in general, I think the best advice I could give anybody is to start subscribing to fine woodworking magazine, that’s what I did when I got hooked on actual like fine woodworking, that magazine was just my grad school and my PhD program.

It’s really incredible and I am not affiliated with it I mean, I just had an article published in it but I am simply a huge disciple of the magazine and the thing you’ll discover is, there is stuff in there for woodworkers on every level and there is all kinds of different things you can try and tackle that don’t take up as much room or don’t take as much of an initial outlay financially. You know, you can get a little small lathes and just turn like anything from pens to lamps, the candle stick, bowls. There are certain things that take up less space if you find something you can specialize in.

But you know, it’s like anything that requires a little bit of gumption you just have to get off your ass and try, the most important thing. I mean, I still make mistake all the time and I read a quote that fine woodworking masters let’s say, you know, the greater your mastery celebrated, it just means that you are that much better at covering up your mistakes.

And it’s really true, like, I read an article on fine woodworking many years and the article was, ‘How to cover up your dovetail that you screwed up’. And I said, oh, you can screw them up and you could cover them up. Well then I you know, I was intuitively scared to try a dovetails. But once I read that article I was like, oh, now I have permission as I can mess it up. I made a really beautiful shaker blanket chest with a ton of dovetails in it. And you know, I probably messed up 5% of them that no one will ever know.

Brett McKay: Very cool. So just get out there and try it then.

Nick: Yeah, get off your ass. I mean that’s I think. I think that’s what the kind of people who admire Ron Swanson I think that’s what they are craving to hear is get off your ass, put down video games controller and go look at a tree. Get a shovel and dig a hole, you will be amazed with the power you can wield.

Brett McKay: Well this is some wise words and wise advice from you and from the life of Ron Swanson. Well Nick I know you are busy, thank you so much for taking the time. It’s been a pleasure.

Nick: Oh, my pleasure. Good luck with everything. And I’ll see you around campus.

Brett McKay: Our guest today was actor Nick Offerman. Nick plays Ron Swanson in NBC’s Parks and Recreation. And you can catch Parks and Rec Thursday nights on NBC. And to find out more about Nick’s woodworking, you can check his website @ offermanwoodshop.com. Well that wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice make sure to check out the art of manliness website @ artofmanliness.com and until next time, stay manly.


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