O Come, All Ye Faithful, to the Church of Nick Offerman

Nick Offerman: 'I always thought of San Francisco much more than anywhere else.' (Courtesy Live Nation)

Nick Offerman doesn’t need to be pressed too hard to say that he loves the Bay Area.

“When I was growing up in a small town in Illinois, when I thought of California, I always thought of San Francisco much more than anywhere else,” says Offerman. “I've shot films up there. I have had a lot of rich cultural experiences, between seeing theater and restaurants and other happenings.”

Those “other happenings” include the 49-year-old actor, standup comedian and television cult hero returning to the Bay Area, time and again, to perform. Offerman's newest live show All Rise, pitched as an evening “that will compel you to chuckle whilst enjoining you to brandish a better side of humanity,” roars into to town for two nights of standup and music at the Masonic in San Francisco (Oct. 10) and Mountain Winery in Saratoga (Oct. 11).

It’s appropriate that Offerman describes All Rise as “a proper revival,” given his distinctly preacher-like way of talking—which may come as a surprise to those who only know his role as the perpetually intransigent curmudgeon Ron Swanson in NBC’s Parks and Recreation. Ahead of his Bay Area shows—directed by his comic collaborator, wife Megan Mullally, and which promise to take on the “ideals of the Illuminati”—we chatted by phone about the limits of political comedy, his wife’s brain, the philosophy of woodworking and more.

Offerman on All Rise’s “origin story,” involving San Francisco’s Masonic Auditorium:

“I stumbled in there one night in the early 1970s and found a secret entrance to an Illuminati chamber of secrets. It was mainly a set of library books. There's a lot of Robert Anton Wilson on the shelf and a six-pack of beer sitting in ice. And that's where I began learning the secrets, which I impart to my audience.”

Offerman on creating a political show at a highly political time:

“We live in a democracy where we get to pick what happens. And here we are, in a situation where every single person is shaking their fists at someone else saying, ‘I am terribly unhappy with the state of affairs.’ And I said, ‘Well, that's funny. We are one dumb population.’ And so that's where I started… our ability to not pay attention to a lot of heavy truths, but instead allow ourselves to be distracted by advertising and shopping.”

Offerman on self-awareness:

“Whenever I get into an admonishing frame of mind, I think ‘I was brought up well,’ because it occurs to me to look in the mirror first. So if I'm going to scold anybody, I try to include myself in that group.”

Offerman on the limits of political comedy:

“It’s always important to realize as an artist… nobody is going to come sit in a theater with me for an hour and a half and leave the theater changed. … A racist is not going to turn around and say, ‘Oh my God, I can't believe I've been so wrong all these years.’ And instead, I just feel like open-minded humanity has been trending across our history towards decency. And if I take a step back and just look at my lifetime, it's easy to then become more optimistic.”

Offerman on his immense dancing talent:

“People are perhaps unaware that my greatest talent is my graceful and elegant dance moves. There are a few moments of dancing in the show… My wife, the entertainment and beauty legend, Megan Mullally, is directing this show, and so we keep playing with the amount of panache that we think the audience can handle.”

Offerman on how climate change might fix corruption:

“Any organization that contains a bunch of people, whether it be an organized religion or a government, eventually is going to be corrupted. Because that's human nature. No matter how altruistic the beginnings may be, eventually you are going to get some people in charge that say, ‘Hey, I can rig the system so that my family gets more apples than those other bastards.’

“And we're slowly figuring out how to keep that from happening. I think it's going to take a long time because there's a lot of people, and a lot of them like apples. But I think that the emergency that we've found ourselves in with Mother Nature and with the dire future of climate change will help things along considerably. People won’t be able to go shopping for brightly-colored tennis shoes quite as easily as they could 10 years ago.”

Nick Offerman with wife Megan Mullally.
Nick Offerman with wife Megan Mullally.

Offerman on being one half of an iconic working marriage with Megan Mullally:

“I kind of feel like we're pretty anomalous in our ability to collaborate and really value each other in a way; there's something about our particular recipe that allows us to love working together. I feel like the main pitfall in this situation usually is that there's a sense of competition, but Megan and I are different enough. I call us a bunny and a hog, where our strengths don't cross over each other enough that we feel the need to elbow one another out of the way.”

Offerman on bucking comic stereotypes of henpecked husbands and nagging wives:

“The trope that you have cited is mired in misogyny… As we continue to break down those old fashioned patriarchal norms, I think we'll see more and more relationships openly saying, ‘Hey, we're both smart, charismatic and flawed, farting human beings and we've agreed on a partnership and we happen to have the ingredients to have a happy sexual life, professional life, domestic life. And you too can find that for yourself.’ So anytime we can, we can help break down old-fashioned, limiting norms, we are grateful to be part of a movement in the right direction.”

Offerman on why audiences still love Ron Swanson:

“I have been asked this before, and my first answer is don't ask the clown behind the makeup why the children are crying. I'm just clowning. But… Ron lives very simply. In a way, he embodies some of the ideals that I also pursue in my life: an old-fashioned sensibility, that we don't need all the myriad choices that we're given these days, whether it's in information or consumable goods. You can have a very happy and fulfilling life with a very simple set of life rules, and with a very simple set of skills. And I think people find that appealing. I think that we are in this morass of too much choice and too much information and we want a sort of parental figure to come along and say, ‘Look, here are the six rules you should live by’... And I think that Ron definitely pushes that button.”

“Because of streaming, young people especially are just discovering [Parks and Recreation]... they're still really reacting positively and loving the show and the iconic characters. I think [the writers] crafted something that is much more: it's good art, which means it transcends its period, and it's about relationships. But in the larger sense, I think Parks and Recreation is also a show about ethics; it's saying ‘How can people of all walks of life get along and survive while having to deal with the banality of making rules, and following rules, and actually getting all the paperwork done to turn a big pit into a city park?’ So I feel like it still flies.”

Offerman on being a famous woodworker:

“I will immodestly say that I'm pretty handy. In the theater, we say a person like that is ‘good with props.’… I was brought up in a family where we were taught to use implements, and that's one of the reasons I encourage people to do, to make things, because it carries over. If you become good with a sewing needle or you become good with a hammer and chisel, it carries over into so many parts of your life.”

Offerman on what he can't do with his hands:

“I'm terrible at drawing. With a pencil, or painting, or at rendering images that are recognizable as remotely useful or beautiful in any way. My biggest failing is I suck at drawing.”

Offerman on Lagavulin releasing a Offerman Edition scotch with his face on the bottle:

“It's unbelievable. And it's one of the many sources of bounty that Parks and Recreation has added to my life [Offerman began formally promoting Lagavulin after his character Ron Swanson expressed his love for the brand in the show.] And I'll tell you what, it keeps me minding my manners. When you keep winning the lottery every three to four months, you say, ‘Holy cow, I don't know. I don't know what I did right. But man, I'm going to double down my efforts not to be any more of a jackass than I am already.’”

 

Nick Offerman performs Oct. 10 at the Masonic in San Francisco and Oct. 11 at Mountain Winery in Saratoga. Details here and here.

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