LOS ANGELES – Fans of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” know Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson, but his very funny new memoir, “Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living” (Dutton, $26.95), will allow readers to get to know the comedian behind the mustache. In the book, Offerman reveals he is a former student of kabuki fight theater, a guitarist, a woodworker, former set designer and that, as a break dancer(!), he went by the name Tick Tock. He writes of wooing actress Megan Mullally, who is now his wife. We caught up with Offerman over the phone.
You’re a man with many talents, and you wear many hats. How was your experience wearing the author hat for the first time, writing your memoir?
It’s been incredibly surreal and gratifying. I suppose I never really dreamed I would write a book. I’ve often enjoyed writing funny things in a much shorter form for my friends, for my loved ones, for school, and then eventually for magazines and whatnot. But to receive a 350-page hardcover, filled with words completely from me, was really a bizarre feeling.
In your memoir you share values and principles that you strive to live by, but you also mention the importance of the teachers you’ve come across. What is the best piece of advice you were given by someone else that stuck with you?
The short answer is the simple lesson from my mom and dad to work hard and be honest – and if you do those two things, nobody can ever hold any power over you. You might be making a meager living or a healthier living, but you’ll have your best chance at remaining happy because you’re doing the best you can, and that’s all that can ever be asked of any man or woman.
The slightly more involved answer would be the lesson from my sensei, Shozo Sato, who taught me kabuki theater. One of his lessons was to always maintain the attitude of a student. The older I get and the more I approach what might be called mastery or competence in any of my given professions, the more I understand what he meant. Because as you rise in levels of achievement, it’s easy to grow more and more presumptuous in terms of a feeling that you deserve accolades. It’s easy to grow smug and bitter, thinking, “I’ve achieved this long-term life goal. That means I’m done learning. When will they throw me a parade?” And suddenly you’re bitter and angry, saying, “Don’t you all realize I’m the master of sweeping the floor?”
If you maintain the attitude of a student, you know you’ll never achieve the perfect floor sweeping. There will always be improvements you can make, and that just makes life a lot more enjoyable, I find. There’s something to shoot for productively every day.
Many of your fans can’t – or won’t – separate Nick Offerman the person from Ron Swanson the character. When you’re creating something like a memoir, does that get frustrating?
It’s amusing when people ask me questions as though I’m Ron Swanson. It would be like people asking Dan Castellaneta questions as though he were Homer Simpson. ... They think that I’m inhabiting Ron, instead of Ron being drawn by brilliant, hilarious comedy writers. The other day I had an experience at the venerable Eagle Rock restaurant the Oinkster. They are doing me the great honor of creating a burger around some of the flavors in my own carriage. We did this burger-tasting event, and some of the employees there I saw were visibly disappointed that I couldn’t eat like Ron Swanson.
Ultimately, it’s amusing when people try to dress me up as Ron. But when you think about it, it’s one of the most sublime problems a boy could ever wish for. People sometimes ask me, “Aren’t you afraid you’ll never get cast again after being so defined in the role of Ron Swanson?” And I say, if that’s the trade-off for the greatest role anyone has ever had – I never could have fathomed a part as good as Ron Swanson.