Nick Offerman’s been keeping busy since his run as Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreationwrapped up a few months back. He’ll have a recurring role on Fargo's second season, he’s starring in a ribald stage show with his wife Megan Mullally called “Summer of 69: No Apostrophe” and next week, he’s publishing a book called Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers (May 26th, Dutton). The actor and woodworker talked his new book, beer, and manliness with Maxim.
You profile 21 great Americans in your new book. How hard was it to narrow down the selection to those 21?
It was quite difficult because there are so many people who inspire me in all different walks of life, so I had to just do a greatest hits mixtape. I feel like I could write a whole book about women, a whole book about civil rights, a whole book about craftspeople. Maybe we will do some sequels, but for this one I thought it would be better to give an overview where I could touch on each of those.
I also noticed that the “Makers” section was much longer than the two other (“Freemasons” and “Idealists”). Any reason why?
Those divisions are kind of arbitrary. The people who are included as makers are making things in vastly different disciplines. But there is a salient answer to your question: I think that gumption encourages and is derived from a sense of curiosity and creativity.
Did you always plan to write a book about people demonstrating gumption? Or did you start out wanting to profile a number of people you admire, and then you realized that’s what they all have in common?
Definitely the second. My editor and I came up with the idea, and then I started putting the list together and thinking about what adheres them all into one volume, and it pretty quickly became clear that the answer was gumption.
Were there some people in the book who were easier to write about and others that were more difficult? Which ones came naturally to you and which ones required more digging?
They were all pretty easy to write about. In each case, they were all personalities that were beloved to me for one or more reasons. It’s like being at a party, and someone’s said “I’ve never heard of Theodore Roosevelt” and I’m like “oh my god, let me tell you all about this beloved personage.” It was much more difficult narrowing each person down to an average of 20 pages.
You give off an aura of old-school masculinity: you’re hairy and stoic, you like beer and woodworking. You’re also rather progressive and you’ve said that you’re a feminist before. What sort of advice would you give to men who might feel like their masculinity is being threatened if they identify as feminists?
I think that the insecurities and fears that lead men to be defensive about their masculinity are antiquated. My advice would be to relax and understand that even if there are women who can chop wood or trade in the stock market more successfully than men—which there are—it doesn’t do anything. The traditional roles of men and women are becoming eroded and it’s simply okay for everyone to pitch in and do what they’re good at. I think it’s an old-fashioned ideal that the man has to be a breadwinner or the man has to be the strongest guy in the room. It doesn’t matter who the strongest people are if we all apply ourselves to the activities that we love, then we’ll prosper as a people. There’s no shame or nothing demeaning of people of either sex taking any role available.
Have you ever encountered people who are surprised that you’re more liberal than your character on Parks and Rec?
There’s a small percentage of Parks and Rec fans who mistakenly don’t understand that Ron Swanson is written for humor, so they hear the things that he says, particularly about his political leanings, and think “finally, someone who agrees with me,” not understanding that it’s meant to be funny. I am personally a fan of the libertarian philosophy, but I understand how as a program it could not survive without the nation falling into anarchy.
You mention beer quite a bit in the book, so what are your favorite beers right now?
That’s a funny question these days, because I grew up in such a desert of flavor (Minooka, Illinois) when it came to beer, and pot, and whiskey. It was simply a matter of “do we have beer or do we not?” Today we have a delicious embarrassment of riches. I’m thrilled to death that we have so many delicious choices. I’ve always been a big fan of Guinness, my brother works at a great brewery called Solemn Oath and I haven't’ had a lot of beers that can top those. I love Old Rasputin and Pliny the Elder and Lagunitas and Goose Island and Great Lakes brewing. It’s a wonderful time to be alive.
And what’s your favorite moustache grooming product?
The audience seems to have a weird fixation with my moustache, and allowing it to represent masculinity. A lot of young men will ask me “how I can achieve a moustache like yours so that I can be a man?” That’s a sad misconception. Some of us go bald, some of us hair, some of us have thick whiskers and some of us don’t. Your manliness is not determined by your physical attributes, it’s determined by your character. I have one moustache grooming technique and that is: I don’t shave. I comb the crumbs of meat out of it, but beyond that I just let Mother Nature take her course.
So what do you think makes a man?
There’s this whole unfortunately named Lumbersexual movement whereby young hipsters are taking a swing at achieving manhood by wearing flannel and growing beards. You don’t find manliness through what you wear and your appearance. It’s found in how you live your life and how you stand up for what you believe in. The definition for manliness is a true barometer for men and women alike: It has to do with character, it has nothing to do with fashion. It has to do with decency. I think that decency best achieved through gumption, seeing the work that needs to be done either in the workplace or at home or in the public square and having the temerity to take that work upon oneself.
You seem to apply the principles of gumption to both your acting and your woodworking. Would you agree?
I aspire to be accused of wielding gumption. I apply the same gumption to doing the dishes after a meal that I do to playing a scene or sanding a table top. It’s all life’s work and I’ve had the good fortune to fill my life with work that I enjoy.
Photos by Omar Vega/Invision/AP