In long running sitcom Parks & Recreation, Nick Offerman satirised American manhood by playing gun-loving, wood-carving libertarian Ron Swanson. As his home country grapples with ‘incels’, tiki torch white nationalists and the #MeToo movement, Offerman’s stoic yet sensitive masculinity is more relevant than ever.
“It’s not a tough time to be a man,” Offerman tells The Adelaide Review in his trademark deadpan. “It’s just a tough time to be an asshole.
“The vast majority of us men understand that part of being a ‘man’ is having good manners, and having a good character and standing up for our principles, and that means being decent. If you are someone who likes to put your hands on people, or smell people’s hair without being invited, or compliment people’s bottoms without being invited… it’s not hard being a man, that’s hard being a scumbag.”
In the four years since Parks & Recreation’s conclusion, Offerman has continued to spread his straight-talking charm through books, live performances and shows like Fargo. But, as new audiences discover the show through streaming services, Offerman’s relationship with the character and his fans continues to evolve. “It’s the only time in my life that I’ve done a series for that length of time,” he says. “Once a week you get handed a new chapter in the life of this character, and it continues to develop year after year. While we were making the show, I guess my relationship was much more organically intimate; together we were all bubbling this stew pot and trying to keep the recipe relevant and delicious and full of savoury meat chunks.
A highlight reel of Offerman’s time with Parks & Recreation
“Then when the meal was finished, we were done cooking and had shut off the lights I was just left with the world’s interpretation of the character,” he says, serving up another one of the homely metaphors he almost exclusively speaks in (when asked about his creative and romantic partnership with wife Megan Mullally, he responds wryly, “if something’s growing in my garden it must be because of this good fertiliser and the soil we keep healthy and well-watered”). “Thankfully I’d say it’s 95 per cent just wonderful. To have a job where people approach you all over the world, and even walk up to me sometimes in tears to say, ‘We love what you’ve done’, or, ‘When my dad was sick you were a medicine’… that’s such an incredible gift to receive.”
But while Parks & Recreation lovingly satirised the contradictions and divisions of government bureaucracy and middle America, not all fans picked up on the deeper message behind Swanson’s love of hunting and suspicion of government. “That would be the other five per cent that I was talking about,” he says. “There are some very sad and angry people when they discover that Ron Swanson is not a right wing gun nut, or a fisticuffs-wielding misogynist. It’s amazing the blinders or tunnel vision people will put up to see what they want to see in their popular culture. I try to let them down as gently as possible. The thing I love about Ron is he’s kind of a successful bit of propaganda; he’s a trojan horse, a sweetheart, he’s an empathetic person disguised as a swaggering lumberjack. Once you let him into your village, he cares about everybody equally.”
Offerman has recently reunited with costar Amy Poehler for reality craft show Making It
Offerman taps into that theme of empathy and community with his current live show All Rise, which he will bring to Australia in June. “I get asked this kind of thing a lot and I try to do my best to take gender out of the conversation,” he says of the subject of toxic masculinity. “Because I don’t think it should be considered being ‘manly’ as such, in as much as it should be considered decent.
“I have two sisters who can split more firewood than I can, and beat the crap out of me. And I have guy friends here in town who could knit me the most beautiful sweater, or choreograph a beautiful ballet dance. All of these things that are [supposedly] ‘gender-related’… everyone loves to do anything, and everyone should get to. We’re breaking out of the calcified traditions that told us that was incorrect, and we’re slowly learning that everybody is the same amount of okay.
“I think people are gonna become less worried about being a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’, and hopefully people become more concerned with being a good person.”
Sunday, June 2