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The hilarious Nick Offerman on acting, the pandemic, and hiking ‘on purpose’
Christopher Booker: As was the case for so many of us, life slowed down for Nick Offerman when the pandemic arrived.
Nick Offerman: When it went down I never got too freaked out because my life always shifts. I keep shifting hats.
Christopher Booker: An actor, a comedian, a carpenter, a furniture maker, a competition reality show host, Offerman's version of shape-shifting is an overlapping affair. One day may be spent in his woodshop, and the next playing the ornery Ron Swanson on the TV show "Parks and Recreation."
Parks and Recreation Clip: I like saying no, it lowers their enthusiasm.
Christopher Booker: But Offerman has also written 5 books. His latest "Where The Deer and Antelope Play" was written during the slow days of the pandemic. Part travelogue, but more meditation on our relationship to the natural world, the book reflects on Offerman's time spent outdoors.
It opens with his pre-pandemic trip to Glacier National Park with Jeff Tweedy, the frontman of the band Wilco and acclaimed author George Saunders, continues with a trip to the UK to visit author and farmer James Rebanks and ends with him and his wife, actress Megan Mullally, on a road trip across a shut-down America - hauling a 30-foot Airstream trailer.
Nick Offerman: Our lives underwent a profound change where we were able to say, let's take two months on the road and a lot of it will involve some state parks, some national parks, some more, some more 'on purpose hiking,' which is a I was like, 'That's my new thing, on purpose hiking.' I've bought a couple of specialized garments. I guess I'm a hiker.
Christopher Booker: Do you have the sticks, yet?
Nick Offerman: You know, it's in part three of the book. A surprise character talks me into the sticks so soon as my knees start complaining enough. I'll come around.
Christopher Booker: Stick time.
Nick Offerman: Yeah.
Christopher Booker: Offerman and I did some 'on-purpose' hiking near the set of an Amazon miniseries he was filming.
So when you're out in production, are you seeking out like, 'Oh, I need to go and spend an hour or two outside?'
Nick Offerman: Well, you know, one of the great things about modern technology, no matter where I am in a city or the country, if I have time off, whether it's a weekend or a week or an afternoon, I can pull out my smartphone and look at the map and it shows me green places When I was younger, I would Google the phrase best cheeseburger in Pittsburgh or best barbecue in any given place. And then I would hike to that place and eat a lot of meat.
Christopher Booker: On the surface, there is some overlap between Offerman's love of meat, whiskey, and woodworking and the fictitious Ron Swanson, the character he played for 7 seasons on NBC's 'Parks and Recreation.'
Parks and Recreation Clip: You've accidentally given me the food that my food eats.
Chef: Salad is traditionally first course at a wedding.
Ron Swanson: Is a gerbil marrying a rabbit?
Christopher Booker: Swanson was the uber-manly, Libertarian boss of Pawnee, Indiana's Parks and Rec Department. Distrustful of government, while being fiercely protective of his loyal staff.
Nick Offerman: I do consider myself a bit of a Trojan horse. Inexplicably, there's a there's a portion of the Parks and Recreation audience that didn't quite comprehend the sense of humor around Ron, and instead they were like, finally, we're represented like, finally, a heroic figure.
Christopher Booker: This is the trick that is Nick Offerman. In the American consciousness he is both the artist and the everyman, a beloved character but also an author wrestling with our strained relationship with the environment.
Nick Offerman: I don't know how we are taking care of or how we are getting along with Mother Nature and we need to pay attention to that, which has become strikingly clear in the time of climate change. I'm not a scientist or a scholar, I'm a dancing jackass. You know, that makes canoes. Who who has a book deal. And I was like, Well, I'm going to do my best to sort of, you know, use whatever charisma I can find in in my life to try and communicate this to my readership.
Christopher Booker: And the "this" is how we can reconnect our lives to the world we live in, a theme pulled from his friend, novelist, poet, and farmer Wendell Berry. For decades, Berry has written about the decline of rural communities, and how large agribusiness has separated us from where our food comes from, and the land that must be cultivated and cared for.
Nick Offerman: I told Wendell Berry many years ago, if I could just get a job communicating his writing to people, I'd be happy with that career. And it's working out so here comes some more: He writes really wonderfully from his purview on his Kentucky farm, seeing society go faster and faster and think that's better, time-saving devices, et cetera. And he says, So what are you? You know, what did that buy? it's so true what he says: there's actually more in an acre of land to fill your lifetime. If you just stop and actually look at it.
Christopher Booker: As he writes, these were the ideas running through his mind as he hiked in the mountains of Montana just before the pandemic with Jeff Tweedy and George Saunders. A trio Offerman describes as a quote 'bromance' - with a shared artistic vision.
Nick Offerman: It's really we're all three on this lifelong project of how can we help? How can, how can we use our art, our gifts, whatever they may be to get more people to care about other people?
Christopher Booker: Offerman says for his part, that means embracing his many shapes, and doing it with as even a keel as possible.
Nick Offerman: I'm grateful that I'm simple. I'm able to. I have a steady demeanor that comes, I think, from my farming family that I'm able to not get it and I'm able to avoid panic and say, OK, the house is on fire. There's three exits. Everybody get the, you know, get the grab the Scotch. You grab the jar of change and make sure we have a deck of cards and we'll be all set. And that's my saving graces. I can say, OK, I-- I, I'll never, you know, I can't remotely begin to fix any of this stuff. I can do my part, write this book or take part in a TV show that has as a good-hearted message of love or empathy or whatever. And that I can do that.
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