Before Nick Offerman‘s upcoming show at the Orpheum Theater this Saturday, The Badger Herald was able to get the “Parks and Recreation” star on the phone to talk about meat, wood, romance, David Letterman and the state of Wisconsin. Turns out he’s a huge Madison fan, if only because of its delectable meat and cheese dishes. Read the full interview below.
The Badger Herald: What do you like about doing live performances as opposed to TV or movies?
Nick Offerman: You know, my training and early-on days as a professional was exclusively in the live theater in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, and then in Chicago before I began to move around the country. I’ve never found a better recompense than the reaction of a live audience. There’s just a social message in being literate when you make an audience laugh or cry in person. That interchange that happens between an audience and a live performer — I just never found anything that feels better. Only a few years ago I began to tour as a humorist, and initially it was a little jarring to just show up with a guitar and a backpack. I just talk and play some songs for a couple of hours, and they call that a show, they shake my hand and say, “Thanks.” At first I thought, you know, gosh, where I come from, we build a whole set and then we rehearse it for weeks. It makes me feel a little insecure. Are you sure you’re happy with me just telling a few stories?
I grew partial to it. I love it, especially playing at colleges because I have a very vested interest in the young people of our nation. I want to pass along some of the great lessons I’ve been given to the young people so that hopefully they can save the planet from assholes like my generation.
BH: Speaking of colleges and you being a University of Illinois [Urbana-Champaign] grad, what opinions do you hold of the University of Wisconsin?
NO: I have to say I’m generally pretty ignorant of the college itself, but from what I know of the city of Madison, I’ve had to hold it in pretty high regard. Any school that would have a badger as its mascot, first of all, has to be incredibly charismatic and would score very highly in my book. But further, I thought of Madison to be one of the most decadent gardens for philosophy and thought in the country. I’m really fond of the scene in Madison. [Madisonians] seem like a group of bubbly, peaceful, artistic, vibrant people with open minds and excellent beer-cheese. And meat. Meat and whiskey.
BH: That brings up my next question. What is your favorite cut of meat and why?
NO: That’s a tough question to answer. I guess I’m not much of a connoisseur because there are not a lot of cuts of meat that you could put in front of me that are going to hurt my feelings. Any well-prepared steak makes me light up like Christmas morning. I have never met a pork chop I didn’t like. But the bratwurst, for some reason, is nearest and dearest to my heart. In part I associate it with my childhood and growing up in a farm family where we had a lot of cook-outs. For some reason the seemingly savory nostalgia that it brings me makes it the cut of meat for me.
BH: What cut of wood produces the best aroma?
NO: Gosh. I’ve worked with a lot of different kinds of cedar and it smells awfully nice when you cut it — especially, of course, aromatic cedar. But there’s a wood called Alaskan yellow cedar, which is a very popular boat-building wood. It has an incredibly intensive strength and a creamy yellow color while also being very lightweight. It also has a very consistent tight grain pattern, which makes it really a pleasure to work with. I’ve always found the smell to be incredibly appealing. It’s maybe slightly skunky. Some people find it very offensive and some people just think it smells like really good weed.
BH: If you were relegated to being able to use only one tool in your wood workshop, which tool would that be?
NO: That’s a tough question because there’s a great many machines that are invaluable and there are great many hand-tools that are invaluable as well. If I only get one tool I have to go with either a band saw — because it would provide me the most versatility — or a table saw. Those two tools would allow me to still make a great many objects. But the question, it’s like asking a golfer if they could only play with one club. What club would you pick? Well, you know, they’d probably pick something kind of in the middle, or maybe a three wood or something. But it’s kind of pointless because there are different applications for every tool in the shop.
BH: What is the best prank you’ve ever played?
NO: I’m not big on pranks because I’m pretty hardcore. I grew up with three siblings, and I had to be really careful because someone could easily lose a finger if I set my mind to it. I sort of pranked my wife romantically the other day. It was for our anniversary. She was in New York doing a Broadway play while I was filming for “Parks and Rec” in L.A. I’d see her every week or two. When we had our anniversary, I was touring. I had shows in Wyoming and Toronto. We had gone a week without seeing each other, but I found out that I had Monday off from “Parks and Rec” so I arranged to fly to New York. For TV or film, every day you receive what’s called a “call sheet.” It lists the next day’s schedule and it lists what time everybody has to show up. So I’m waiting to find out if I have to be there at 6 a.m. or at lunchtime or whatever, and I had my boss send me a fake call sheet that said I had to be there at 6 a.m. on Monday, that allowed me to show Megan and say, “I have to be there at 6 a.m. on Monday. I love you, honey, and I guess I’ll see you next weekend.” She finished her matinee on Sunday and walked into her dressing room and I was sitting at her table. It was a wonderful moment. That’s what we call a “love prank” at my house. I like to pull a prank that has a solid ending.
BH: You’re quite the romantic. What is the best way to woo a classy lady? How do you do it?
NO: I would say that sincerity is the most important ingredient, and humor. I think [humor] is right up there. I don’t know. I landed the finest woman in our century, and I didn’t have any grand design in wooing her. It kind of happened organically. We became really good friends first. I think any attempt to woo her would’ve scared her off somehow, so we became really good friends. We were in the theater together, and she saw how I was. By being myself — I think that was the best strategy. I also built the set for the play we were doing, and so if you can let the object of your affection see you in a tool belt, it works.
BH: Was there a moment you can point to when you were like, “Holy shit, I’m going to marry this woman?”
NO: There was, actually. We had been dating for some months, and I was working a job of hanging lights for Disney Corporation. I was driving up to a town called Valencia where they had a campus. I was driving up to work through mountains on this freeway, and I remember exactly the spot where I was. I was listening to some Neil Young, I believe “Cowgirl in the Sand,” and it just struck me. That very notion of, “Holy shit, I’m going to marry Megan.” I was initially mad about it because I would’ve liked to have been given some choice in the matter. But no, literally life sort of grabbed me by the short hairs and was like, “Hey check it out, this is your play.” Ultimately, I was grateful — it wasn’t a decision that I made.
BH: You’ve been on almost every late night talk show there is. Do you have a favorite one that you like to make appearances on?
NO: That’s tough because they’re all a little bit different. Letterman comes to mind because he’s the most venerated and he’s the closest thing I’ll have to sitting with Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.” Growing up in my little farm town, we didn’t get a lot of entertainment and certainly nothing like it is today where you have the whole world on the Internet and 200 TV channels. We had three TV channels and “The Tonight Show” was just the thing you watched if you had any aspirations if going into show business. Getting on “The Tonight Show” or “Saturday Night Live” were kind of singular dreams that everybody shared. When Letterman started, I used to watch him with my grandfather, and we thought he was so funny. Eventually when I got on Letterman I felt like that was a realization of a lifelong dream. My grandpa is dead, but I wish he could see me on Letterman’s couch. He’s a legend — I think he’s so funny. Making Dave laugh is one of the greatest pleasures in my life. Having said that, I love Conan to death. I would go on his show any chance I could get. Same goes for Jimmy Fallon and Seth Myers and Jimmy Kimmel. They’re all an absolute gas. It’s tricky. But it’s like a homecoming band. It’s a special occasion, and it’s been a big part of my career being able to make people giggle with those guys.
BH: Who is the funniest person you’ve worked with off-screen?
NO: Naturally the funniest person off-screen is probably also one of funniest people who’s on-screen. I feel like Fred Armisen comes to mind. He is just always incredibly puckish and full of mischief. He is such a sweetheart and so goddamn funny. Out of everyone I know he is the one most frequently trying to make everyone laugh, which he is also incredibly good at. I guess off the top of my head I’d say Fred.
BH: Who is the manliest figure in the history of the world?
NO: People always accuse me of being manly. I think they’re wrong. I’d have to say my father Frederick James Offerman is the manliest figure in the history of the world.
BH: Tupac or Biggie?
NO: Are those brands of toothpaste? Is that a snack food of some sort?
I’m greatly looking forward to coming to Madison though. It’s one of my all-time favorite cities. It’s the only place where you can get a Bratwurst in the form of a burger, and to me, there is no finer comestible than a deep-fried cheese curd. I like to “hug-before-punch.” I’m a peaceful man, but I’ll fistfight anyone who doesn’t agree with that comment.
Nick Offerman (a.k.a. Ron Swanson) talks meat, cheese, Wisconsin before Saturday Orpheum showActor, comedian and woodworker Nick Offerman is coming to Madison this weekend for comedy, but he’ll stay for the beer and cheese. Read…