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Posted at 01:14 PM ET, 04/25/2012

Nick Offerman of ‘Parks and Recreation’ on the appeal and meme-ability of Ron Swanson


Ladies and gentlemen (but especially ladies): Ron Swanson. (NBC)

Yesterday, the Celebritology Pawnee-palooza brought you an interview with Adam Scott. Today’s piece of “Parks and Recreation” goodness, presented in the run-up to Leslie Knope’s debate against Bobby Newport on Thursday’s episode of “Parks and Rec,” is a conversation with Ron Swanson himself, Nick Offerman.

Offerman chatted with me during a visit to the set in February, before shooting a scene for the “Parks and Rec” season finale. During that conversation in Offerman’s trailer — which, unlike Scott’s, contained no weird drawings of lizard-horses or stick figures with oversized private parts — I confirmed a few things about the man behind Ron Swanson.

1. He occasionally receives phone calls from fellow funny man Will Forte.

2. He has an endearing laugh — a giggle, really — that is diametrically opposed to his mustachioed, manly man appearance. The only way to describe that laugh is that it sounds like Krusty the Clown . . . if Krusty were an 11-year-old girl.

3. He owns some actual pieces of Ron Swanson art (his wife, Megan Mullally, purchased them) and one of them is hanging in his wood shop.

Here’s a slightly abridged transcript of our conversation.

As the conversation is about to begin, Offerman is interrupted by the ringing of his cellphone. “It’s Will Forte,” he announces. Out of politeness, he does not take the call.

Offerman, referring to Forte: He is incredibly sweet. Super — like, his sense of humor: He and Fred Armisen are so crazy. They’re so out there that I really feel drawn to them.

Would you ever host “SNL”? Has that been discussed?

Offerman:Uh, it’s been discussed by my mom. Yeah, I mean that’s a crazy dream of mine. I really hope I get to do that someday.

I’ve been there a bunch and I went to see Ed Helms host at the end of last season. I think that was the last time I was there, and we were all walking to the party. I was with Maya Rudolph and Paula Pell and a couple of the other ladies, Emily [Spivey], who created “Up All Night,” and somebody said, you should host. And I was like, if you know anybody to mention that to, that would be really fun.


(CHRIS HASTON/NBC)
This show has a lot of strong characters, but there’s something about Ron Swanson that speaks to people on the Internet. You’re sort of like the fictional version of Ryan Gosling in terms of meme-ability.

Offerman giggles his signature giggle.

You know what I mean? Why do you think that is?

Offerman: I think Ryan and I have a lot in common. We both have a background in singing and dancing to pop music. Um, he was a Mouseketeer and I was a Mouseketeer wannabe.

No, I don’t know. It’s been fascinating to see the sort of Internet-scape’s reaction to Ron Swanson and it’s been incredibly gratifying. I always like to think that [‘Parks and Rec’ co-creators] Greg Daniels and Mike Schur are to blame for coming up with the perfect piece of candy that the American psyche was kind of craving. And it happened to be just a sort of normal, blue-collar, plumber-like man who likes meat and brunettes and breakfast foods and lives by a simple code.

It seems fair to describe him as conservative in some ways. But he’s embraced equally by blue and red.

Offerman: He’s pretty openly a libertarian. He talks about it a lot and I wouldn’t — I think, because certain of his leanings seems conservative, I can see where you say that but I don’t think that’s the case. He’s totally cool with conservatives and liberals as long as the government is not trying to impose anything upon him. He’s very much each to his own. Let me do whatever I want on my property.

Maybe that’s what’s appealing to people — it’s not left or right, it’s sort of down the middle. And there’s a candor to his attitude that you don’t always see politicians expressing.

Offerman: I think so. It’s hard to fathom what the attraction is when I’m the one behind the clown makeup because the TV-watching population is also generally Internet savvy, information-age kids. And I feel like something that we all suffer from is a saturation of choice. We have way too much information to look at and way too many distracting channels all around us. And I think Ron Swanson eschews all of that information so successfully that it makes him really attractive. He doesn’t even begin to understand his computer. It’s all he can do to use a cellphone. He wouldn’t begin to text or use any functions beyond that. And I think that maybe is really appealing, that this guy has maintained a simplicity of choice in his life because of his set of rules that he lives by that maybe people find heroic. If only I could have five rules to live by —

It would simplify things like a lot.

Offerman: Yeah.

We were talking about memes earlier. Is there a Ron Swanson one that’s a favorite of yours?

Offerman: Gosh, it’s tough. I’m so tickled [he giggles] by so many of them. I love dancing in a funny way. So I’ve been really thrilled with the reaction to, there’s something called drunkronswanson.com.

With the tiny hat from that one episode?

Offerman: Yeah, with the pillbox hat. It’s a sort of meditative, just repeated — do you know how to pronounce gif [hard g] or gif [soft g]?

I say gif [hard g]. I think that’s right. [Reporter’s note: Actually, it is jif, although most people say gif.]

Offerman: Who knows? I always wonder. Now I’ll say gif [hard g] and I’ll be like ‘The Washington Post says gif.’ [Reporter’s note: Oops. Sorry, Nick Offerman!]

It’s just a repeated gif of that, that I’m so thrilled people think is entertaining.

But I think my answer to your question would be my favorite thing on the Internet is all of the fan art that Ron Swanson has inspired. My wife is a very high-end art collector and I’ve become the husband of a very high-end art collector so I’m a really big fan and she’s turned me on to a lot of really cool art. And there’s a lot of Ron Swanson art that’s really inspired and original. People sort of take the essence of Ron Swanson and extrapolate it in a way that, we’re like, wow, what a cool piece of art. Even just some of the portraits are bizarre in a Ralph Steadman sort of way, that we find that really inspiring, when there’s something that we do that inspires further originality. So that’s my favorite thing on the Internet is all the crazy art.

Have you ever bought a piece of Ron Swanson art, or been tempted to?

Offerman: Two pieces. My wife has — I can’t bring myself to buy a piece of art of myself. But my wife — there was this crazy little ceramic, it reminds me of that cartoon from when I was a kid called The Shmoo? Remember the Shmoo? It’s like a Shmoo Ron Swanson. It’s like this weird little globular white dude with the hair and the mustache and he’s holding a plate with like a burger, and a turkey leg in the burger. It’s just this weird little statue. She bought one of those for herself. Then she bought — I don’t know the artist’s name but there’s a great piece a guy did of Ron Swanson in that swivel desk from an episode and it’s done as thought it was on like a yellow legal tablet and it’s got a bunch of coffee stains and weird notations on it. She bought one of those.

She gave it to me for my birthday; it’s going to go up in my wood shop. I had it in my closet in my wood shop and my assistants loved it and they insisted that we hang it. I have a lot of art hanging.

You actually have a wood shop?

Offerman: I do.

And you actually do a lot of woodworking yourself?

Offerman: I do.

So when you’re doing that stuff on the show, you know what you’re talking about.

Offerman: That’s where it came from. In fact, we did an episode at my wood shop. My wood shop has been Ron’s shop. In last night’s episode that aired, there’s a shot of me canoeing on this lake and it’s a canoe that I built in real life. So they’ve taken that part of my life and weaved it in.

That worked out nicely.

Offerman: Yeah, I love it.


Offerman, Ben Schwartz as Jean-Ralphio and Rob Lowe as Chris Traeger. (NBC - TYLER GOLDEN)

I was walking around the set and looking at the various offices. Do you have suggestions about what should go in your office or do you have stories behind some of the things that are in there?

Offerman: A little bit. I brought in a few props that are in my office.

Which ones?

Offerman: The only one that’s still there, I think, is this driftwood bird that’s on my desk that my wife and I bought together and we just thought was appropriate. But really, no. Our art department and set decorators are insane geniuses. And their work goes so deep. I don’t know how they do it. They constantly astonish us. Because we’re all working so fast and furiously and we’ll be four or five days into an episode and we’ll show up at a restaurant for a meeting of the parks department and we all have a dossier. And they’ve created all of the paperwork in the dossier so if you want to, we can just open them up and read them and it all is part of the story and the scene. And they’re full of jokes. Like they’re super-funny. I don’t know how they do it.

Everywhere, all over our set, there are so many hilarious jokes. Again, Mike and Greg assembled such an incredible team of hilarious, yet nice people. It’s a really lucky situation.

When the show eventually goes off the air, is there one thing in Ron’s office that you’d say, that’s the thing I want to keep?

Offerman: The thing that comes to mind — there’s a couple of things. I would love to have the sawed-off shotgun sitting on a stand on my desk. That and there’s a land mine on my desk. And then in the corner there’s that big steel —

Yeah, I forgot where that came from.

Offerman: It’s called a Czech hedgehog. And they were on the beach at Normandy to keep the Allied tanks from driving up the beach. Ron paid, like, $16,000 to have it shipped over and he had to have the floor reinforced to have it in his office — that would be a little unwieldy. But the shotgun ... That was in the pilot. Ron has a monologue establishing who he is. He’s like, I’ve got all these weapons so if anyone comes in here to talk to me, they understand that I want to shoot them with a shotgun. So people don’t ask me a lot of questions.

That shotgun is very representative to me of Ron’s governmental policies. And I’d probably go back — right now, there’s a poster of a plate of breakfast on my wall. And it started as a poster of Bobby Knight. There’s a funny story behind that. Apparently, again in the pilot, I talk about what a hero Bobby Knight is to Ron and I end by going “Bobby Knight!” Like, he’s the man.

Much was made of the use of Bobby Knight in that way and I guess it got back to Bobby Knight and we got word that he wanted us to take the poster down. Because it was a picture of him screaming and pointing his finger

It’s a famous picture of him doing that, right?

Offerman: Right. It’s what you think of when you think of Bobby Knight. That, or throwing a chair. Either one. Yeah. And the word came that he wants us to take it down because he didn’t want to be represented as that. And we were like, it’s too late for that. That’s who you are, that’s what you’re known for. Then a couple weeks later, the word came in — “Oh no, that was a misunderstanding. He just doesn’t want to be seen in his Indiana sweater.” We were like, oh that sounds like a load of bull[expletive], Bobby. That sounds like a spin job.

In any case, we had to take it down and then this poster of this innocuous, weird brunette, this pretty brunette, holding out a plate of breakfast was the replacement. Mike and I, for weeks we were just mortified that we had to replace Bobby Knight. We were pitching all these things of what could go up there. One day I came in and he said, I found it. Then he took me into the other room and showed it to me and I just started crying and laughing so hard. Like: You did. You found it.

Where did he find it?

Offerman: It was just some random — you know how those companies exist that just have albums of generic photos that you can pay a small royalty to have?

Yes.

Offerman: One of those.

Like istock or something?

Offerman: Yeah, where it’s just you know, a basketball team, whatever you need on your card. Which, I have to say, among the many things I love about our show is Mike’s ability to mine such incredible humor from the most banal details of everyday life. That poster to me represents that perfectly. It’s just this stupid pretty girl with a plate of breakfast, but we got so much mileage out of it on the show, we created a whole thing for Ron where he loved brunettes and breakfast food. So I’d love for that poster to come home to my wood shop.

How much are you involved in the writing process in terms of suggesting things for Ron?

Offerman: Pretty minimally. We have a room full of geniuses. Mike’s cognitive capabilities are just absolutely astonishing to me. I had the great pleasure and education of writing an episode at the beginning of this calendar year, at the beginning of January. Just writing one episode was such an enormous amount of work. It was incredibly fun and gratifying, but it was really hard and lasted a long time and I just kept thinking, Mike oversees all of this as well as writes a couple himself every year. I just can’t fathom what an amazing brain he has.

So our writers are so sharp and funny and 10 steps ahead of us most times. So I have pitched things like kind of for the whole series. There were a couple of things — I kept saying, can I please have a troop of scouts? So we finally did an episode with scouts. And I also was asking to coach a basketball team, which we did. So there are things like that that I’ll throw at them that sometimes see the light of day. Our input gets a lot more substantial when we get on-set and we’re shooting — and again it’s so hard to ever find anything to even embellish on them because these guys have written such an amazing script, week in and week out. But I pick my spots and I usually bring in some nuggets where I’m like, oh, I’ve got a good one for you. So you know, probably once or twice every episode, I get in something that I’ve brought. It’s like 2 percent or something.

Is there anything you’d like Ron to do that he hasn’t gotten to do yet?

Offerman: I’m always gunning for more Ron and Tammy episodes because those have been the most fun, working with my wife. But no. I sort of learned how they operate and I have much better luck saying, like, I’d love to see Ron shoot a bow and arrow and let them come up with the story wherein it lies. Or you know, it would be really fun to — can Ron get into some sort of accident and lose all the hair on his body? Something like that, that I think would be a funny idea.

There are so many complex ingredients that go into every story arc they create, that it’s really hard for me to be like, what if Ron buys a used Toyota pickup and crashes it into the Grand Canyon?

By  |  01:14 PM ET, 04/25/2012

Tags:  Parks and Recreation

 
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