Nick Offerman, actor and humourist, All Rise
We’re all human beings, we’re always going to be flawed, we’re always going to be subject to a weaker side, so let’s all be vigilant and pay attention to everybody being treated fairly ...
When it comes to television’s pantheon of beloved on-screen characters, few have amassed as ardent a fanatical fandom as Ron Swanson. The gruff and curt public service official and part-time tenor saxophonist was one of the most popular figures in the long-running sitcom Parks and Recreation, but it’s safe to say that Ron Swanson wouldn’t be as popular as he is without the effort put in by Nick Offerman. The talented actor, writer and woodworker was chiefly responsible for bringing Ron to life on screen, and since the show’s end has continued to appear on our screens in numerous (and hilarious) guises. Although beginning his career as a theatrically trained actor, Nick’s own wry sense of humour and shameless confidence has helped cement his status as one of the world’s most popular comedic performers – a role he has taken to the next level with his own humourist stage shows. Nick will be bringing his latest show, All Rise, to QPAC for a one-night-only performance on Friday June 21. Ahead of this anticipated performance, we were lucky enough to talk to Nick about how he assembles his stage shows, his thoughts on the state of the world and his love for Australia.
First of all, are you getting excited for your tour through Australia next month for All Rise?
I really am, yeah. My wife (Will and Grace’s Megan Mullally) and I are both coming in together and we’re crazy about Australia. We’ve each done a tour there before. When Megan did her tour, she came home and literally said “We’re moving to Australia” and I said “Ok, hang on”, and then I did my tour and I totally get it. We’re crazy about it – the people are excellent. You know, it’s that thing of going to sleep over at your friend’s house – maybe their family dynamic has a dark side, but you just get to enjoy a different set of toys or marsupials. The cities are so beautiful, I’m quite taken with it.
Well if you ever decide to move down here, we’d be happy to have you and can guarantee that we’d show you a good time if you decided to move here permanently! A lot of Australian audiences would obviously be familiar with your work on screen, so for those who missed you last time when you were here about three years ago, how would you best describe the Nick Offerman live experience?
Well, it’s interesting. I’m a theatre-trained actor, and it was only six or seven years ago that I started doing this – touring as a live humourist. I feel like fans of Parks and Recreation generally get enough of the part of me that was used as Ron Swanson – and sort of taking that as a jumping-off point and then adding an actual complex human being on top of it, so that allows me to be a lot goofier and a lot more modern and fresh and complicated. The allure of Ron is that he’s so simple. I’ve had colleges invite me to perform and they say, “We don’t even care if Nick Offerman doesn’t come, we just want 90 minutes of Ron Swanson.” And when I get there, I repeat the request that’s been made and I say “Well, let me get you to think about that for a second. Because if Ron were here, he’d build a chair on stage and you’d think that was pretty hilarious for about five minutes until you realise, he’s just going to build a chair and he doesn’t care about entertaining you.” Whereas here I have written you a thoughtful and complex 90 minutes of music and light dance and some really funny songs. We’ll talk about some big issues. The show is called All Rise and it’s an attempt at a medicinal evening in the theatre – an escape from all the anger that’s going around the world. Instead of picking sides and making fun of the low-hanging fruit that’s all around us, instead I’m attempting to point the finger at all of us, it’s all of us dumb humans that have made this civilisation. It’s all of us that have gotten ourselves into this mess, so let’s have a laugh at what jackasses we all are and then talk about how we might pull ourselves up out of this mess.
It sounds incredible! And when you start turning your mind towards creating a show of this kind, do you have a process that you follow for creating a set of material – or is it something you just accumulate over time until you’ve got enough to whittle away into something that’s a little more refined and digestible for a stage show?
I have an agenda, certainly. It’s funny, when you book a tour like this, you have to book it pretty far ahead of time. And I always have a few different plates spinning in my life – I’ll be working on a TV show or writing a book, and then I book a tour and they immediately say, “Ok what’s it called and do you have a poster?” So I always come up with the title of the show and the artwork first, which is hilarious to me. I know the general gist of the show and then I engineer the show backwards to fit the title. And so then I just come up with my agenda. I’m working on a song right now called ‘The New American Dream’ that’s about consumerism and how it’s no longer enough to have a good job or have a place of your own and provide for your family – now you have to have seven TVs and four BMWs and so forth. So that’s one notion. There’s another song called ‘I’m a Sissy’ – it addresses the modern sensibility of masculinity and how old-fashioned macho people are saying that there’s an attack on masculinity, when really all they’re being asked to do is be sensitive and not put their hands on women without the woman’s consent. So, I pick my agenda and then I write songs and then come up with the talking bits to get into each subject matter.
Is this the show that’s followed on from the one that you brought to Australia in 2016 or was there a show that you put together in between that we haven’t seen?
Well coincidentally – I didn’t design it this way at all for any reason but just timing-wise – Australia was the beginning of my last tour called Full Bush and then this tour is the beginning of my new tour. Now going forward, I’m just not going to ever be able to start a tour without going to Australia, I guess.
With a gap of about three years, obviously a lot has happened around the world, but what’s been the biggest change that’s occurred between these visits that might play a role in these shows or your career in general so far?
Well, obviously the thing that has happened to America and England – and now Australia a couple of days ago – these surprise elections where we say, “Oh gosh, there’s a large group of people that are thinking very differently from the forward-thinking people.” And this is intense and dangerous and pretty terrifying, and it’s turned the world of entertainment on its head. To be honest, I didn’t know I was going to do another tour, and I just felt like – well, of the things I have to offer – I feel like if I can tour around and try to express these ideas of empathy and work ethic and respect and good manners, and make people laugh while doing it, I can’t think of a better contribution that I could make right now. And so the whole inception of the show comes from wanting to remind the people of the earth that we need to treat each other with respect and that everybody deserves the same rights, and so forth.
Obviously that’s the key thing you hope people take away from the show, but for everyone that’s in this time period and they’re a bit confused about what they can do specifically in terms of environmental change or societal change, is there one thing you’d point to that people could start with that would make people’s lives around them a lot better?
Well, that’s a great question. There’s a hackneyed saying, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’ – I pay attention to the people whose lives I can affect. And maybe you don’t have 12 people working for you, maybe you just have a job and some neighbours, but whoever it is – just examine your input, so maybe this means paying attention to your neighbour and saying hello and trying to make them smile or helping them carry their groceries, it can be tiny gestures. So that’s the micro – it’s paying attention to your immediate community, which consumerism is in direct opposition to. Consumerism wants us to buy everything until we have bought a castle and a pod so that we never have to see any people and we just order everything in our lives from the computer. In the macro sense, it’s paying attention to what all of your politicians are doing. I mean, I’m absolutely guilty of having sleepwalked through my 20s and some of my 30s where we had a couple of war criminals, but then we voted them out and it seemed like the boat was staying afloat. Then suddenly we just realised what the foxes have been doing in the hen house while we assumed everything was ok. I’d encourage everybody to pay attention, know exactly what’s going on and vote. Because when that happens, the decent side always wins. When everybody pays attention and votes with their heart, decency wins out. So those are the sorts of things I focus on, because we’re all a mess. We’re all human beings, we’re always going to be flawed, we’re always going to be subject to a weaker side, so let’s all be vigilant and pay attention to everybody being treated fairly.
In terms of the body of work that you put together – be it acting, writing or these stage shows – what’s your process in terms of mindfully adjusting the brain each time to take on each new guise when it’s time to try a new project?
Well I’m pretty spoilt. In the years leading up to Parks and Recreation, it was a mixed bag. I would work pretty consistently as a supporting actor and sometimes it would be good stuff, sometimes it would be not-so-good stuff – and when the writing is not so good, then your job is much harder because you’re all working together to try fix the clanky writing. But since Parks and Recreation, my cache was jacked up a few notches – very fortuitously – and so now if I choose to work on something it’s because I think the writing is really good. And so, I just dig deeply into the writing and if there are holes or voids or questions, together with the other actors, with the director and on my own, I try to answer those questions. But it’s all about ‘If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage’ and I’ll never tire of trumpeting the writers I work with because they’re the geniuses. I mean, I’m lucky that I can deliver their dialogue audibly and legibly, but if it wasn’t for their great writing, I’d be a woodworker.