Talking with Authors: Nick Offerman “Good Clean Fun”

    Nick Offerman is a bit of a conundrum. Physically he’s a man’s man; rough, gruff and ready to eat some meat. He regularly wears the scowl made famous by his “Parks and Recreation” character Ron Swanson. But, Offerman will also tell you he’s a “massive sissy” and loves the arts. And yet, this Midwest “ballerina” originally from Minooka, Illinois clearly knows his way around a woodshop, as is demonstrated in his most recent book, Good Clean Fun: Misadventures in Sawdust at Offerman Woodshop. We discuss it all in this interview with Nick Offerman.

    Buy Good Clean Fun: Misadventures in Sawdust of Offerman Woodworking

    Transcript

    Angie Weidinger:

    Welcome Goebel and Company Furniture. We’re in their woodshop. I know it’s not your wood shop in LA, but we thought the smell of sawdust would kinda set you at ease.

    Nick Offerman:

    Yes. It’s, it’s not this… I’m drooling at the square footage and the, the size of machines that have here.

    Angie Weidinger:

    How does this compare? I mean, I know in your book you have, you actually have a blueprint of your shop. I mean, does it, how does this compare?

    Nick Offerman:

    Well, uh, you know, these guys are apparently grown ups. They have a forklift, which means they’re wiser than us. Some day when I, when I herniate one more disc, then I’ll get a forklift.

    Angie Weidinger:

    So you were just heave hoeing, just pure muscle, or how are you getting stuff into your shop?

    Nick Offerman:

    You get as many hands as you need, you know? Yeah. There are slabs that used to just require my brother and I that are now a four-person slab as we age. But, I feel like, you know, I’d like to move in next door to these guys and we’d get along very well and I probably learned something every day from them.

    Angie Weidinger:

    So what’s great about your book is you have, I mean, there’s a part memoir in there, part tutorial, some pieces of wisdom from your sensei in it. But the tutorials go from a kazoo to a beautiful bed, too. I mean, it’s the whole gamut isn’t it?

    Nick Offerman:

    It is. I mean, you know, somebody working at a shop like this probably already knows everything that’s in my book. But the fun thing about woodworking books and the reason I tried to make this one fun is that I’ll read books where I already know that I can make the projects in the book, but you always pick up…we all are goofy in a slightly different ways…so, you can usually pick up at least three or four new ideas. My dad, you know, instead of using a wedge under a door, he installs hook and loops on his doors cause he’s old and he doesn’t want to bend over and mess with a wedge. So just little farmer tricks like that. Uh, I always like picking up,

    Angie Weidinger:

    Well I’ll say, I mean I am not a woodworker, but all the men in my family are, and I still enjoy the book because of the stories that are in it. With the people that you work with, what do you call them that you call them? Your, uh, teammates in sawdust.

    Nick Offerman:

    I call them a lot of things.

    Nick Offerman:

    Yeah. We generally refer to them as the elves because the world likes to think that…not even that I’m making everything at the shop, but they actually like to think that it’s my TV character making stuff at the shop, which of course is impossible. And I’m, I very openly always say, you know…I was on Stephen Colbert the other night and they say, “Nick made us these coasters.” And I said, “Actually, uh, a fellow named Chris in my shop made those.” And you know, it’s my shop with people making stuff in it. And they always cut that out because you know, it’s better showbiz. That’s the idea is we have these elves at the shop where I’m sitting here, with you in St Louis, and they’re making the stuff right now.

    Angie Weidinger:

    And when you get to meet them in the book and they have these great profiles by both you and them and they seem really like funny, witty people.

    Nick Offerman:

    They’re great. They’re hand chosen.

    Angie Weidinger:

    Very cool. So you said something just a minute ago that I wanted to ask you about. I mean, you’ve been in so many movies, so many shows, and yet I think probably most people know you is Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation, or at least that’s top of mind probably.

    Nick Offerman:

    Yeah. He’s top two for sure. That or the George Lopez show.

    Angie Weidinger:

    Right…

    Nick Offerman:

    Which is a joke. I only did eight of those, so you do the math.

    Angie Weidinger:

    So Ron Swanson though, I mean there’s a reason that people think that you are him, because a lot of who you are went into that character, right? Including the woodworking.

    Nick Offerman:

    Uh, sure. And I portrayed him with this body and voice and so that makes sense. You know? Um…

    Angie Weidinger:

    Because there’s even the episode where you talk about the Yoda-like character, Christian Becksvoort. Who’s in your book, so there’s some parallels there.

    Nick Offerman:

    Oh yeah. I’m a real person living my complicated life. Uh, you know, Ron is a sort of super heroic comedy character written by brilliant Harvard writers. And so when people say “Oh, he’s the same as Ron Swanson,” I’m like…I wish my life were one-tenth that simple. But I’m, you know, I’m a human being and he’s like a brilliant drawing that I just got to voice. So even in the creation of him, I’m thrilled that I got to speak those lines. But, um, you know, recently there’s been a lot of talk in the election and I was getting a lot of grief from people about who the character Ron would vote for. And instead of…I would never deign to try and answer such things myself because I don’t feel like he’s my property. So I asked my boss, Mike Schur, the creator of the show, will you please write a little thing of who Ron would vote for so I can tell, you know, so I can get these people off my back. So we did it and I put it on Twitter and it angered a great many people who had claimed Ron for their own sort of ignorant and nefarious, uh, political bent. They even were simplifying a simple man. So, you know, I’ve played so many different people. I understand that people know me the most as Ron and that’s great. I mean, it’s great to have a part that is that effective.

    Angie Weidinger:

    But isn’t it frustrating? I mean, do you get tired of people? I mean, I’m sure people say, Hey, it’s Ron Swanson. I mean, does that get old?

    Nick Offerman:

    No, I mean, even people I know mistakenly call me Ron. Sometimes they’ll say, did I call you Ron five minutes ago? I say, yeah, you did. It’s okay. It’s really okay. They don’t mean anything bad by it and it’s the world telling me I got very lucky with a job.

    Angie Weidinger:

    So, let’s talk about some things that are different. I know in one of your books you say that unlike Ron Swanson, you’ve never been in a fist fight. Right? Anything else that he was like, these are very, like you said, you’re more complicated. Anything else?

    Nick Offerman:

    Ron lives by like six rules and he has always lived in one place in Indiana. And he’s never been out of Indiana except that one time he drove across the Illinois state line and got sick. He threw up and returned back, but, I’ve never done that obviously. So yeah, you know, his view of the world is incredibly myopic. I sort of grew up in that situation and I couldn’t stand it. And so that’s how I went into the arts and I ended up moving to Chicago and then Los Angeles. So my views are much more complicated. I’m down with both France and Canada. I think they’re great. Especially Canada. When I go to Canada to do like a book tour or something or a humor tour, the audience always says, “We’re sorry you hate us,” or “We love you even though you think we’re terrible.” And I always say, no, I love Canada. And I think Ron, if he ever got there and saw that it was just lakes and canoes and bears and moose, he’d be like “Perhaps I misjudged this country.” But you know, I’m also a massive sissy. I’m an artist.

    Angie Weidinger:

    You really look like a sissy. That’s exactly how I would describe you.

    Nick Offerman:

    That’s the conundrum is that I look like a sheriff or something, but I’m really a ballerina. Literally, I’m an incredibly graceful ballet dancer.

    Angie Weidinger:

    I had no idea. Complete revelation.

    Nick Offerman:

    I thought it would come across in my energy, but…

    Angie Weidinger:

    You might have to have you show off some of your skills later on.

    Nick Offerman:

    Maybe the next episode.

    Angie Weidinger:

    There you go. Stay tuned. You talk about Illinois, which is where you’re from, which is the great state just across the river from here. How’s it feel to be back in the Midwest? You drove yourself to this interview. Most people have someone else drive them. You drove yourself and…

    Nick Offerman:

    Yeah, I like driving and having someone drive you cost money also. But I also…it’s not really a secret, but my major weakness is I have terrible motion sickness. So I actually really always prefer to drive, cause even if I ride in the passenger seat, I get carsick. So, so that’s, I’m also a weakling, unlike Ron.

    Angie Weidinger:

    We’re learning so many things about you.

    Nick Offerman:

    It feels wonderful, especially because it’s October 20th and I started this book tour in Boston, in New York, and I was all excited. I brought my warm clothes and being from Illinois, I love a brisk fall and living in LA, you never get that. And so, um, it’s very unseasonably warm, which must have to do with that Chinese hoax, uh, global warming thing somehow. I don’t know if they’re using blow dryers or what, but it was super warm, which was a bummer. Uh, so finally I got to St Louis and it was chilly and I was thrilled to pieces.

    Angie Weidinger:

    I’m glad we could provide that for you.

    Nick Offerman:

    Yeah, it’s good to be home.

    Angie Weidinger:

    Is there something about being in the Midwest that puts you at ease? I know you’ve been an, like you’ve said, you’ve lived in so many places, visited so many places, but is there something about coming back to the Midwest?

    Nick Offerman: Absolutely. Yeah. I’ve done a lot of work in the Midwest and in my career and really, you walk out of the airport and just the humidity hits you and if it’s warm out then it’s a bummer when the humidity hits you. But even so, it still feels like coming home.

    Angie Weidinger:

    Really, the humidity makes that so?

    Nick Offerman:

    Yeah. I mean that’s what you smell the first, like when you walk out of O’Hare in Chicago, it’s an ugly airport driveway like any city, but the air, you’re like, ah, I know where I’m at. And it’s near the north shore neighborhood, so the air also tastes expensive. You can tell there’s a Saks Fifth Avenue within seven miles.

    Angie Weidinger:

    Okay. Let’s talk about why you wrote this book. So I heard somewhere or read somewhere that woodworking is what kind of centers you, it gets your head turned back straight I think is what you said. And you were actually traveling a lot and doing a lot of work. I think you were doing a stage show with your wife, right? And you wanted to get back to the wood shop, is that right?

    Nick Offerman:

    I mean, in the last two years, we have spent four or five months touring a show together. I’ve spent a few months touring by myself, both doing comedy. And I did a play in Boston for three months. Last year she was working in London and South Africa and I was working in Calgary and Atlanta and touring the country. But we have a rule that when we’re never apart for longer than two weeks, which meant I was commuting quite arduously. And so we’re having a good time. We’re having a lot of fun doing these great jobs. But after a few years of that, we began to say, people would say, where do you guys live? And we’d say, well, we own property in Los Angeles, but we apparently live here in Budapest. And so, not only was I missing the shop, I was just missing being at home. I had the champagne problem that my career had gotten good enough…it’s a weird conundrum cause you’re taking jobs that you could never imagine saying no to. And then after eight of those, you think, “Oh, I’m going to have to start saying no to these offers I can’t refuse if I want to see my home and my friends and my family.” And part of that, we’d go back and forth to LA. It’s not like we’re gone for three solid years, and I always get to, you know…Megan gets mad cause we get home and she just wants to chill out. But it’s the first morning I’m up at five and like get to the shop and make sure everybody’s taking good care of my chisels. And sometimes I get to be there for a few weeks and do some work. Sometimes I’m there for a couple of days and so I just administer. I’m the administrator.

    Nick Offerman:

    I have such a great crew because…with modern technology, they’re sending me pictures today of this big table we’re doing and I couldn’t wait to see it when it got oil on it and finally did today. And so they’re very good about keeping me involved, even when I’m dancing around the country. But, it’s not a cognitive thing. Like I need this percentage of woodshop, this percentage of theater, and so on. I naturally became an adult performing and working in a shop and I can tell when my hands start getting too soft, I’m like, “Oh Geez, I’m going to turn into some sort of [inaudible] if I don’t get back my hammer.

    Angie Weidinger: S

    o you get updates from them all the time?

    Nick Offerman:

    And sometimes it’s just, I mean we’re a family. So sometimes they just send me funny pictures, and I have to bug them where I’m like, “Have you cut all that joinery yet? Can I please see it so that I can give you a grade?”

    Angie Weidinger:

    Okay. So you spoke about when you get back home, and I know you’ve talked about how you guys are kind of not the typical Hollywood couple red carpets, glitz, all those things like you really like to your, you guys are home bodies, right? Um, read a good book? Do you like reading good books? While you’re traveling? I mean, this is a show about books. What, what are you reading right now?

    Nick Offerman:

    I’m just finishing her great book that you guys would love. It’s called American Canopy by Eric Rutkow. It’s a history of our country by forest. I would fault him…history for him begins when the Europeans get here. Which, I would remind him that there were a few things going on before we came. But it’s quite fascinating and I’m relatively familiar with how we have voraciously raped this continent of it’s old growth forest. But, getting the play by play was quite fascinating and very humanizing. I mean, my whole life when I see the lumber giant Weyerhaeuser on trains and ships and, you know, stacks of lumber, I’ve always felt a similar emotion to seeing McDonald’s or Monsanto, you know, like this is a corporate giant that’s responsible for denuding a lot of our continent. But when you read the story of Frederick Weyerhaeuser and how he started actually in Wisconsin, and he became very slowly, I mean he was an immigrant who started working at a sawmill. Then he ended up…he was just smart. He was a great businessman. He bought the sawmill and then he got all the other sawmill operators to start working together in a bit of a union of which she was the president and he just kept growing. And it’s interesting to see those stories humanized. That’s a great book. Before that I read a great book by Robert Penn called The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees. I read a lot of nonfiction because I’m always getting ready for my next book. My wife reads a ton of great fiction. We just read George Saunders new novel, just coming out in February, called Lincoln in the Bardo and I think it’s going to explode the planet.

    Nick Offerman:

    It’s a crazy masterpiece. I’m a massive fan of his and I’ve also become buddies with him, which was a good fortune for me. I’m telling you, he’s created a new form of novel. Part of it reads a little like a play, but then part of it, it’s a very clever new form of a novel and it’s so imaginative. His short stories always are incredibly funny, but then beautifully humanistic and empathetic. My wife and I both were astonished by it.

    Angie Weidinger:

    Those are great recommendations. Thanks you.

    Nick Offerman:

    Yeah and full disclosure, I’m on the audio book.

    Angie Weidinger:

    That’s why you read it. That’s why you got the earlier release. I was wondering what that connection was.

    Nick Offerman:

    The actors in the audio book aren’t getting to read it, actually. He sent me one because we’re friends and I only learned when I did the audio book, they said “It’s nice to talk to you about this cause nobody’s getting to read it yet.” I don’t know why they’re not letting people read it. I didn’t realize that I was special until then.

    Angie Weidinger:

    I want to ask you something that I started to ask at the beginning, and that was…I don’t do woodworking, and yet I enjoyed this book in that you talk a lot about finding something that you can make with your hands. And even if I don’t go into woodworking, that message rings true. And those stories that you have in your book with all the different artisans that you feature, talk about why that’s so important. Even talking about how if we each went home and made something, how much stronger our neighborhoods would be.

    Nick Offerman:

    Like if you asked that question to Ron Swanson, he’d have three sentences that would be really true and incredibly funny. But that’s the differences. Everything is much more complicated in real life. And I grew up in this very simple, frugal salt of the Earth family where we made a lot of stuff, because that’s how my folks grew up, but also because we didn’t have a lot of money. I suppose they were making cognitive choices to issue the corporate consumerism that was just starting to really creep in my childhood in the seventies and eighties. And then by the time I got into college and young adulthood, this shift happened where everyone around me could just go shopping for shoes all the time. I always found it so strange that my peers in the 90s would collect like different colors of tennis shoes. At the time I found it upsetting, but now I just find it curious that our society and the world is trying to ape us as quickly as possible because we sell them the idea that it’s better. We have this notion, and Wendell Berry talks about it and I’ll just paraphrase him cause I can’t beat it. He says that since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve been sold this bill of goods, which there’s something better for us where we’re not. And that’s why all the young people leave the farms now and the small farm has all but died, and it’s because we’re sold this notion that we shouldn’t have to stay in St Louis and make furniture out of pieces of trees. You should go to New York City and work and strike it rich somehow so you can put your feet up on a piece of furniture somebody else had to sweat to make. It all started with like selling women cigarettes and vacuum cleaners, because when the Industrial Revolution happened this guy named Edward Bernays kind of invented modern advertising. And there’s all this great documentation about how they said, “We have to figure out, because of factories, we can now make way more stuff than we need, which is great, but how can we these suckers to buy it?” And so they created all of these slogans. And the first big test was an Easter parade where the tobacco lobby hired this guy and he took pictures of these women smoking at a parade, which was absolutely verboten. And he put it in the paper and said, “These women light up their torches of freedom in the Easter parade.” And he knew that by making it patriotic then people couldn’t dispute it. But all the women saw it and all he meant for them to see was that they had a Phallus of their own. It was a very liberating moment in advertising…the power of the Phallus for women. Like you too can wield a dick if you smoked cigarettes. And he’s pretty open about that’s what he was going for. And it worked like crazy. Like women’s tobacco sales went through the roof and here we are. And it’s very complicated because I hate to just like bad mouth Ikea or catalog furniture, but at the same time I think, as somebody who likes the planet, I don’t like a furniture company whose stuff is crappy and is more in the world of fashion.

    Nick Offerman:

    One thing that killed me was like, “Spring is just around the corner. Do you have your Spring silverware set ready?” I just thought, well that’s terrible that you’re suckering people into buying more than one set of silverware. I don’t care how much silverware you have, it’s because so much of that stuff ends up in a landfill and we’ve been taught that shopping is something to do like walking in a park or reading a book. Like what should we do this weekend? Well, we could shop. And when you say that you’re, what you’re determining is we could spend our hard earned money on something we don’t need. When we decide to go shopping, we don’t even know what we’re going to purchase. And that’s a place where Ron and I can stand on the same small piece of real estate and say, that just seems really silly.

    Nick Offerman:

    So, that’s what it’s all about for me is recognizing the value in my own childhood and just encouraging people for many reasons to make things for themselves. The time that it occupies keeps you from shopping or from other foibles. For me, I’m not in danger of shopping…and don’t get me wrong, I will sit on a Red Wing work boot website all, all day. I’m as human as anybody. So when I say these things, it’s to me as much as everybody else, if not more, because I also love to get drunk. When I was younger, I lost a couple of weeks to video games and thankfully it happened in a concentrated way where I was able to say that was terrible. I’ve nothing to show for these two weeks. It was incredibly enjoyable. And at the end of it, the score doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. It was just another form of masturbation, a dry sort of masturbation. I have become a bit of an evangelist for it and it’s my method for keeping us healthy and keeping us from becoming China, I suppose.

     

    Related Posts

    Things to do in St. Louis

    Sign Up
    HEC-TV NewsLetter

    Playing Now

    • 16:00 | I Love Jazz
    • 17:00 | A History of American Indian Achievement
    • 17:30 | A History of Jewish Achievement
    • 18:00 | A History of Women's Achievement in America
    • 18:30 | Science Presented by HEC Media