Nick Offerman believes America can still be saved. He tells Karl Puschmann how
There are few actors as strongly associated with a character as Nick Offerman is with Ron Swanson.
For seven seasons of the wonderful sitcom Parks and Recreation, the very personable Offerman portrayed the extremely gruff, mustachioed director of the Parks and Recreation department in the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana.
In a show of breakout stars - I'm talking Amy Poehler, Rashida Jones, Aubrey Plaza, Aziz Ansari and Chris Pratt - Offerman instead became its breakout character. Fans blurred the line between actor and role to an almost wilful degree.
"You might as well ask the clown from behind his makeup why the children are crying," Offerman says as way of explaining the whys and hows of why this happened.
This, as fans of the show will instantly recognise, is a very Ron Swanson thing to say. It's also true that in conversation he talks with that same purpose in a measured and reasoned tone.
"The appealing thing about Ron Swanson is that he wields very simple life wisdom. He lives by a set of rules and those rules are few," Offerman continues. "In this day and age of unlimited choice and unlimited information we all crave a parental figure to say in a simple and loving way, 'Look, you can do three things today: you can build a table, you can shoot a deer or you can catch a fish. Pick now.' I think we all crave that sensibility from days gone by."
It's fair to say that Offerman embodies this sensibility. The creators of Parks and Rec lifted many of Swanson's popular characteristics straight from the actor and humorist, such as his speech patterns and language, his mastery of carpentry, a love for barbecued meats washed down with a glass of single malt whisky.
The writers, whom Offerman refers to as "geniuses" during our chat, worked to make Swanson the ultimate man's man. They were so successful in this pursuit that Offerman himself is now regularly held up as the ultimate example of man's man manliness. He's unfazed and humoured by this but, fittingly, has his own interpretation of what it is that makes a man
"There's a percentage of my audience that wants to cling to an old-fashioned John Wayne sense of machismo. The type of man who never shows his emotions and settles his debts with a knuckle sandwich," he says. "I'm quite the opposite of that and I think Ron Swanson would feel the same."
"It's a mistake to miss the fact that he's a staunch feminist and he's all for everybody's rights. Everybody who has their heart in the right place deserves a fair shake and I feel the same way," Offerman answers. "What people want to call 'manliness' . . . I try to take the gender out of it. I say, 'Have good manners. Have a staunch character. Stand up for your beliefs. Tell the truth. Have some principles.' And that's really true of people of all genders in my life. The secret to a modern sense of manliness is to invite everyone into that definition."
This secret and more will be discussed in his new show, All Rise, which he performs in Auckland next weekend. Its lofty name and judicial associations are a misdirection to the audience.
"That's the opening salvo, 'everybody please enter the courtroom of this theatre'," he explains. "But then I flip All Rise on its head so what it really is, is an admonishment to all of us to be better than we have been. That's the true meaning of All Rise. Let's remember our human mission and rise above this vapid consumerism we dwell in now."
So even though he describes the political situation in America as "pretty bleak" and acknowledges that a 90-minute set making fun of "these criminals running our country would be low hanging fruit", he believes that people need a break from that chaos.
"We're all fascinated with what's going to happen but I feel the audience would prefer a diversion from that reality. A respite if you will. And so All Rise takes a step back from the situation to examine all of us together, all of us human monkeys and how we have got ourselves into the mess that we're in."
It's certainly an ambitious goal to squeeze all that into an hour and a half.
"I may not cover quite everything," Offerman says, chuckling. "But that's the sensibility. To say, hey, you know what, if we're going to find our way out of this mess it's going to be together, not apart. Instead of looking at our political differences let's look at our human similarities and shake hands and have a beer and get to work."
Under the ferociously split ideologies dividing America, achieving that kind of unity sounds like a bit of a pipe dream.
"I'm an optimist," he replies. "But I do think we're going to come out of this greatly improved. We're going to go through a lot of pain and a lot of people are going through the worst kind of pain – being thrown in cages, being discriminated against, being banned from the country, being thrown in prison, being shot by the police . . . you name it."
He sighs at the thought, pauses briefly and then delivers the kind of metaphor that Ron Swanson's room of genius writers would've sweated for.
"I feel that in the epidermis of America, the Trumps are huge massive whiteheads that have developed. These infirmities are rising into view and they will be summarily popped. One way or another. We've been reminded by them that we need to pay better attention to our complexion if we want it to be creamy and pleasing."
Who: Actor and humorist Nick Offerman
What: Performing his new live show All Rise
When: Next Saturday at Auckland's Town Hall