Nick Offerman: A funny man with a plan on ‘Parks’
By FRAZIER MOORE
At least since The Honeymooners’ Ralph Kramden, witless, blowhard husbands have made TV audiences laugh at their pretense of masculinity. Behold: Ron Swanson of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, the go-to guy for video virility.
Defiantly deadpan yet remarkably nuanced, Ron, as portrayed by Nick Offerman, is a pillar of male self-sufficiency who prizes meat, woodworking, facial hair and the least amount of government possible – which is funny since, of course, he is director of the parks department in the Indiana town of Pawnee where the 8:30 p.m. Thursday comedy is set.
This puts him in regular conflict with his underling, Leslie Knope (series star Amy Poehler), whose little-engine-that-could progressivism drives her to find new ways for the parks department to serve Pawnee citizens.
“Ron Swanson was very much designed in a two-dimensional way at the outset: Here’s our clear antagonist for this bright and shiny protagonist,” says Offerman. But quickly, in his hands, Ron gained a third dimension, emerging as a fully formed he-man.
When praised, Offerman adopts a very un-Swansonian tone of humility, diverting that praise to the writers of the show, and to his fellow players (who include Rashida Jones, Aziz Ansari, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt, Adam Scott, Reta, Jim O’Heir and Rob Lowe).
“In my cast, I’m surrounded by Michael Jordans,” he says, “and I’m happy to just be a petrified tree stump where I get a laugh because a bird lands on me and picks an insect out of my hair.
“My favorite time to wring a laugh out of the material is in silence,” he explains. “In choosing not to do something funny or mug for the camera, you can get a laugh, too.”
Viewers were reminded of Ron’s no-nonsense predilections when he announced that the Pawnee bowling alley houses his favorite restaurant, its menu featuring only a hot dog and a cheeseburger. On the same episode, he demonstrated his bowling technique, which might apply to most things he does: “Straight down the middle. No hook. No spin. No fuss. Anything more,” he sniffed, “and this becomes figure skating.”
His marriages to his two ex-wives (both named Tammy) have not been so assured, including the ex, played by his Offerman’s real-life wife, Megan Mullally, in a recurring guest role as the Pawnee Library director and temptress who Ron is helpless to resist.
In real life, Offerman has been married for a decade to Mullally, “and we’re still disgustingly affectionate and pretty crazy about each other.”
The 41-year-old Offerman was born in Joliet, Ill., and, describing himself as “a simple guy,” says he grew up well-grounded in a family of farmers, schoolteachers, firemen and nurses.
He studied drama at the University of Illinois, but found that the way to support his calling was to swing a hammer building scenery for the Chicago theater community.
After heading to Los Angeles, he was acting and doing scenery construction for a local theater company when he met Mullally, already famous for her role on the hit sitcom Will & Grace.
“If you ever are trying to win a lady over,” he advises, “letting her see you in your tool belt doesn’t hurt.”
During that period, when she was enjoying huge success and he was scrambling for roles, “Megan’s faith in me saved me from a million bouts of depression. If she thought I was good, then I didn’t care what a bunch of bankers at CBS said.
“Testing for roles,” he recalls, “I would hear, `You seem like you’re a good actor, but you’re a little scary, you talk too slow and you’re a little weird.’ But the stars aligned with Parks and Recreation: They found this guy who’s scary, who talks too slow, and he’s golden.”