Ron Swanson comes to Paso: ‘Parks and Rec’ star talks comedy, canoes before one-man show

These days, it seems, Nick Offerman is everywhere.

“There are more T-shirts with my face on them — and coffee cups and embroidered pillows and beach towels” than ever before, the “Parks and Recreation” star mused. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen.”

And his influence isn’t limited to Etsy.

Just this summer, animator Joaquin Baldwin delighted Twitter by casting Offerman as “every character” in the upcoming movie musical “Cats.” Elsewhere on social media, a deepfake version of the opening credits of classic sitcom “Full House” — with Offerman’s face swapped for the faces of the cast members — went viral.

“Full House needed more mustaches,” the video’s creator, Dr. Fakenstein, tweeted by way of explanation. (A clearly amused Offerman replied on Twitter, “Dear Dr. Fakenstein, thank you for my career peak.”)

Offerman, of course, is best known for his role as Ron Swanson, the mustachioed, meat-loving parks director on “Parks and Rec.” (With his love of whiskey, breakfast foods and finely crafted furniture, Ron is “apparently well-suited for gifs and memes,” Offerman noted.)

But the actor is also an accomplished author, humorist and woodworker with a Netflix special (“American Ham”), a reality TV show (“Making It,” with “Parks and Rec” co-star Amy Poehler) and four New York Times best-selling books, including “Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living,” to his credit. He’s currently touring with his third stand-up show, “All Rise,” advertised as “an evening of deliberative talking and light dance.”

“I’m just happy anybody will pay attention to me,” joked Offerman, whose screen credits include “Fargo,” “The Founder” and “Hearts Beat Loud.”

We recently talked to Offerman about comedy, canoes and his marriage to “Will & Grace” star Megan Mullaley. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Q: When and why did you start performing stand-up comedy?

A: It happened quite by accident. I’m a theater actor from Chicago theater. Then I started getting work in films, and I moved to Los Angeles and became better known as a TV and film actor.

It was only during “Parks and Recreation” that some colleges began to mistakenly invite me to perform my stand-up for their students.

At first I demurred and said, “Oh no, I don’t do that. I’m a theater actor, thank you.” And then I said, “Well, wait a second. I would love to get on a stage and talk to 2,000 college kids.”

I think the third invite I said, “Yes, Ohio State, I will come perform my stand-up for you.” And then I sat down and furiously started writing (chuckles) what became my first show, “American Ham.”

I already was kind of playing stupid-funny songs that I wrote for Megan on my guitar, so I naturally folded that into the recipe. And I found that I just loved doing it, and the audiences seemed to get a real kick out of it.

Nick Offerman portrait 2
Nick Offerman poses for a portrait to promote the film “Hearts Beat Loud” at the Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival in 2018 in Park City, Utah. Taylor Jewell Invision/Associated Press

Q: What do you love most about doing stand-up?

A: In a business that is controlled by huge corporate interests, the studios and the networks that produce TV and film, you’ve got a lot of masters to answer to. The freedom that I’m afforded when writing and touring my material as a solo performer is really addictive.

I don’t have to run my material by anybody except the audience. It’s an opportunity to see the country as well as the world and to speak my mind and get paid to do it.

Q: You don’t just aim to entertain. You’re also trying to drop some knowledge on your audience.

A: You’re never going to turn somebody around with a night of laughing in the theater, but I always say I try to sneak as much broccoli as possible into the delicious pizza that I’m serving. ...

That’s always my jumping off point. My life is filled with creative endeavors and at the root of all of them is the notion of “How can I continue improving myself, and by example suggest to others ways in which we might all rise together?”

Q: What’s the inspiration behind your one-man show, “All Rise”?

A: When I started writing this show, (I realized) the easiest thing to do would be to go on stage and just read the newspaper. There’s so much political low-hanging fruit it’s an embarrassment of riches if you’re trying to make fun of buffoonery.

My feeling is that would be a very partisan show that would not help the situation. It would only add fuel to the fire. ...

We the people are supposedly getting to pick how things go in this country, and look what we’ve done. (laughs) We fell into this mess where every single person is irate, shaking their fist at somebody else. That seems worthy of mockery.

Instead of trying to pick sides, I’m poking fun at all of us.

Q: What message are you trying to get across?

A: A lot of my messaging is delivered into a mirror. It’s (talking) to me and all of my fellow humans, saying, “What sort of tribalistic habits, what ruts are we in that we’re still trying to work ourselves out of?” Is it considering people “other” than us because of their race or their nationality or their gender?

We all have a tendency as a human tribe to have a hive mind, and if you live in a community you’re like, ‘OK, how do we keep all those apples for our town and keep those bastards from over the hill from getting our apples?”

That’s how animals behave. But unfortunately we have consciousness and consciences.

We have to ... take care of our own community while respecting the rights of everybody in the place to their share of the apples.

Nick Offerman ESPYS
Nick Offerman presents the award for best moment at the ESPYS at the Microsoft Theater in 2017 in Los Angeles. Chris Pizzello Invision/Associated Press

Q: You’re the founder of Offerman Woodshop in Los Angeles. Have you ever thought about incorporating woodworking into your stand-up show?

A: The problem with woodworking is it takes a long time. It’s also the reason I don’t have a woodworking TV show. I once worked on a home design show called “Mix It Up” (on We TV). ... I learned in that experience never to try to combine a television shooting schedule with building furniture — because they want everything done 10 times faster than you should be doing it if you’re doing it right.

I do have a couple of ideas about how to turn a woodworking project into a touring show. It would be a lot of fun. But the downside is it would require a lot of production. ... Why don’t I just come make you laugh and we’ll call it a day?

Q: What’s the best thing you’ve ever made with our own hands?

A: I have three answers to that question. … The first is my first ukulele, which is good enough that it sounds like a ukulele. I wrote a song about making it that I played in my last tour, ‘Full Bush.’ The other thing is my first 18-foot wooden canoe. Her name is Huckleberry.

Paddling that canoe in the New York harbor or across a Northern California river and playing a song for an audience and making them laugh on a ukulele I’ve built, they both feel similarly Godlike. There’s a sense of wizardry, too. Through studying the practices of men and women for centuries before me, I am able to traverse water safely or please you with the melody of this stringed vessel. It makes my buttons burst with pride at that sensibility. Wow, I took a piece of a tree, and now I’m singing a song.

But the best thing I’ve made, about 18 years ago, was a small, hand-sized, heart-shaped hinge-box made of black walnut that housed the ring with which I proposed to my wife in a garden in England. Of all my woodworking projects, it’s not the most impressive but it has certainly paid me the greatest dividends.

Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally Emmys
Nick Offerman, left, and Megan Mullally arrive at the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards in 2015 at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Dan Steinberg Invision for the Television Academy/Associated Press

Q: You’ve gone on tour with your wife. Would you ever do that again?

A: We absolutely will do it again. We’re so lucky that we’re able to fill our calendars with jobs that we love that generally pay us. The dilemma in our lives is finding time off, or just finding a nap.

I love writing and touring stand-up material. Megan loves touring with her band Nancy and Beth, which I think may be the greatest content to come out of our household across the years.

It’s quite joyous getting to do these things, but the one bummer about touring without each other is we miss each other. We did one tour together called “Summer of 69, No Apostrophe” and that was a blast. We’re going to do it again.

One way or another, we try to stick our chocolate into each other’s peanut butter.

We’re aware of how lucky we are. The majority of married couples revile the idea of going to work with their spouse but, to quote Paul Newman, it just so happens that we love each other.

Nick Offerman

8 p.m. Saturday

Vina Robles Amphitheatre, 3800 Mill Road, Paso Robles

$41.75 to $61.75

805-286-3680 or

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Entertainment editor Sarah Linn writes about all things fun, including movies, television, the performing arts, the visual arts and the best places to eat and drink in San Luis Obispo County. A graduate of Oregon State University, she has worked for The Tribune in San Luis Obispo for more than a decade and has earned multiple California journalism awards.