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“There’s only one thing I hate more than lying. Skim milk. Which is water—that’s lying about being skim milk.”
Those are the words of Ron Swanson—one of the funniest characters on television today. In real life, actor Nick Offerman appears to have the same dry humor, slow delivery, and wit as the man he’s played on NBC’s Parks and Recreation for five seasons. He’s also married to the equally hilarious Megan Mullally (who could forget Karen on Will & Grace?). These days, Mullally is one-half of the band Nancy and Beth with actress Stephanie Hunt.
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The trio is bringing the song-and-dance show to Denver in “Megan Mullally Live in Concert” on Saturday, September 7 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Stick around post-show: Mullally and Offerman will be hosting their first talkback after the Mile High City performance. I chatted with the funnyman about what audiences can expect—and got a sneak peak at the upcoming season of Parks and Rec.
5280: What are the pros and cons of touring with your wife?
Nick Offerman: This is new to us. It’s the first time either of us has done an actual tour of more than two or three or four dates. We’re quite excited because, in the past, when we’ve gone out of town to do either my “American Ham” show or her Nancy and Beth shows, we generally do it without each other. That’s a drag. We end up calling each other from across the country: “This is lame. I ate two pizzas. I wish you were here so I wouldn’t have eaten all of the 6,000-calorie meal.” We’ve been looking for a way to combine our forces and firmly insert my chocolate into her peanut butter.
5280: Why does comedy appeal to you?
I come from theater, and I sort of followed my nose, I guess. I was working as a veteran journeyman character actor in L.A. and things began to steer me toward funnier material. I’d always enjoyed performing comedies, but I learned that I wasn’t officially considered a “comedy” performer like all of the actors that trained at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre or The Second City. There’s such a vast army of performers here that come from sketch and improv. I never dreamed I would cross over to that world.
When I started working on Parks and Recreation, some colleges started inviting me to come speak. One of my favorite performers in the world is Garrison Keillor. I really love his combination of sweetness and heart with really funny comedy in a bucolic way. I’m not a clever writer of jokes like so many of my friends. Rather, I’ll tell a story about that time when I was a jackass and lit myself on fire and hopefully tickle the crowd a little bit.
5280: The show’s title includes the tagline “live in concert.” What can the audience expect?
The entrée—the meat and potatoes of the evening—is my wife’s amazing band. Megan is one half of the gorgeous duo Nancy and Beth. They’re like Debbie Reynolds and Cyd Charisse had a child with Gene Kelly, and then that child consumed some hallucinogens and performed some song and dance for folks in Denver. Then there’s the guy with a mustache who comes out from time to time and speaks too slowly and brings people’s expectations back down.
5280: Can you give our readers a sneak peak at season six of Parks and Rec?
There’s going to be a lot of good stuff. I can tell you we’ll see Ron consume at least eight pounds of something’s flesh by the time we get to Halloween. We left the last season with a cliffhanger where it seemed that Ron and his lady Diane might have gotten pregnant, and so the way that story develops has some twists and turns that should be both harrowing and delightful.
5280: The woodworking talent. The mustache. That’s you—before there was Ron Swanson. How much of the character is you in real life and how much is an act?
What [our writers] are so talented at doing is taking parts of our own personalities that are more normal—a lot of people love bacon or breakfast foods, for examples—and they say, “Let’s make that one of this guy’s superpowers. Let’s take his mustache, let’s take the fact that he talks too slow, his love of woodworking…”—and they hold a magnifying glass over it and they write it in a way that becomes incredibly funny. I’m a geeky woodworker; when people hear about it, they’re not compelled to laugh. But they write it in such a way that people say it’s hilarious. Ron is very much an amplication of a few aspects of my personality. Certainly I have to be much more of a wuss than Ron Swanson because he’s kind of a superhuman man for the ages.
5280: Your book, Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living, comes out October 1. What manly tips are in it?
It takes a look at this notion of where the hell did I come from? How did you end up with a part like Ron Swanson and how can the rest of us be that manly? Part of what I try to do is dispel the notion that I am, in fact, that manly. I come from a great small farming community in Illinois where most of the 15-year-old girls are manlier than I am. I like to remind the public I went to theater school and I’m an artist and an actor. Just because I can change a tire on my truck doesn’t mean I should be cast as John Wayne. I consider being manly to be something much different than eating meat and shooting guns, sort of more classic version of American manhood. I talk more about the ability of men and women alike to work with their hands and be loyal to their friends and their principles. I sort of reconstruct a definition of manliness—hopefully with some humor. And it’s half memoir: stories of my own foibles throughout my life that are written for humor.
5280: So what’s manliness redefined?
It’s more about what’s inside a person. Instead of the word manliness, I’d rather use words like integrity and confidence, which is something that all people can possess. In this modern age of convenience, a great many of us have become soft in a way. We’ve lost the ability to do work with our hands or get dirty or use tools. I exhort people to find a project or find a hobby and begin to reclaim their tactile tool skills, whether it’s knitting or cooking or woodworking, because I think that makes for a much more delicious life. If you get to where you’re finding all your diversions and entertainment through a screen of some sort, you’re missing out on a lot of what the world has to offer. I would suggest you go out and walk in the woods and look at some maple trees and some sycamores.
Fun Fact: Jose Mercado, one of 5280‘s Top Singles, is producing the show; thirteen years ago, he was in a play with Mullally and Offerman.
Bonus: Tickets are $45-$95, and a portion of proceeds will go toward a new scholarship (the Megan Mullally/Nick Offerman Scholarship) at the University of Colorado Denver; it will be awarded to one female and one male with financial need that intends to work in both theater and film.