Nick Offerman was a serious theater actor when he was cast as meat-eating, scotch-drinking boss Ron Swanson in the hit sitcom Parks and Recreation — and now he's the nation's foremost symbol of purest manhood. Offerman has just published a book of of manly advice called Paddle Your Own Canoe, so we've invited him to play a game called "Time to take off the shirt and count the chest hairs." Three questions about extreme, masculine sports.
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where we bring on influential people and try to influence them in the wrong direction. It's called Not My Job. Nick Offerman was a serious theater actor when he was cast as meat-eating, Scotch-drinking boss Ron Swanson in the hit sitcom "Parks and Recreation." And now he is the nation's foremost symbol of purest manhood.
Nick has a book out of manly advice called "Paddle Your Own Canoe." We are delighted to have him with us. Nick Offerman, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!
NICK OFFERMAN: Thank you.
SAGAL: So I have been binging on "Parks and Rec" this week. It is hilariously funny. But if there are people who don't know who Ron Swanson is, can you describe him?
OFFERMAN: He's a man of few words. He's the director of the Department of Parks and Recreation in a small Indiana city called Pawnee. He likes breakfast food and dark-haired women, and he likes spending time by himself, out of doors.
SAGAL: Right. But that - I mean, that only scratches the surface of the wonder that is Ron Swanson. And he has become kind of a symbol to a lot of - very seriously, even though it's a very funny character, because he likes the old-fashioned values: raw meat or meat; and manly sports, and he frowns at all these things like yoga and all these other modern conveniences. He's like a man's man.
OFFERMAN: Sure. He espouses the libertarian ideals and would prepare that everyone leave him alone, and a great source of humor is that he hates the government. And so as an employee of said government, he's trying to bring it down from within.
SAGAL: Right. I'm assuming because it's such a hit and such a popular show that people assume that you, Nick Offerman, are in fact Ron Swanson.
OFFERMAN: They often do, yes, which it works well at the airport because they are generally intimidated by me and keep their distance.
SAGAL: But part of the appeal of Ron Swanson, part of his signature, is his amazingly thick head of hair and his amazingly thick and luxurious moustache, which I am told is not a computer-generated effect but is in fact your own hair.
OFFERMAN: That's correct. I come by it honest. I was brought up on a steady of diet of Illinois sweet corn, and I think that and the pork products in the tri-county area are to blame.
SAGAL: Right, so when - I mean, this isn't one of those things, oh, I'm not in makeup, no one will know who you are. When you stride through an airport, you are Ron Swanson.
OFFERMAN: It's hard to hide my particular lip broom.
SAGAL: Yeah. Now, well, you have things in common with Ron. As you just said, you grew up on a farm in northern Illinois, not far from where we are now in Chicago, and you did things like played on the football team and worked the farm and fished and hunted and killed things to eat.
OFFERMAN: We call it growing up in the Midwest.
OFFERMAN: I know how to use a hammer and make things out of wood.
SAGAL: Yeah, which I'm told you do to some great effect. You have your own workshop?
OFFERMAN: I do, yeah. We have a nice little operation, which you can look at at OffermanWoodShop.com. And we make commissioned furniture and canoes and lots of fun little gift items. We make a hell of a cribbage board.
OFFERMAN: That's right.
SAGAL: The most manly guy on television, you can order an actual piece of woodworking from him, and it's a cribbage board?
P.J. O'ROURKE: Are you saying something about cribbage?
SAGAL: Well, I hope that his cribbage board has things like spikes in it or something.
BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: Is this high-stakes cribbage?
SAGAL: Now is it true that Ron Swanson became a woodworker when they found out that you were one?
OFFERMAN: He did, yeah. The writers were putting together the show and creating - rounding out the characters. And they came over to my woodshop and said you are a very intense nerd. We would like to milk that for humor, if that's fine with you.
OFFERMAN: And I said you betcha.
SAGAL: So - and do you ever make things for the show?
OFFERMAN: Well, TV goes a lot faster than actual woodworking. So Ron generally is much, much faster at woodworking than I am. I've made a couple things that have been used on the show, namely my canoe and my canoe paddles, but usually we depend on the art department because I'm working on the show. I don't have time to be making an Irish harp.
SAGAL: I understand how that is. now there are - you've written this book, "Paddle Your Own Canoe," which is sort of advice from you, Nick, as opposed to from Ron. I've noticed, for example, that there are certain divergences from Ron's philosophy. Like you, for example, advocate the occasional eating of vegetables, which I think Ron would disagree with. So are there things that you do, Nick Offerman, that your character Ron Swanson would be ashamed of?
OFFERMAN: Well sure. I mean first of all, in my defense, I advocate the eating of vegetables to keep the machine running healthily so that it may consume red meat for more years than if you just ate steak all the time. You want - you clean the pipes out so you can have another bratwurst.
SAGAL: Yeah, I understand.
OFFERMAN: You know, I'm - Ron is a wonderfully written comedy character. He's a bit of a superhuman. And I'm a human being. So I cry, I stumble, I mince about a lot more than Ron does.
SAGAL: You mince?
OFFERMAN: Yeah, I mince dandily about the house.
SAGAL: Do you really?
SAGAL: I mean on point do you mince, with wrists a-flapping?
OFFERMAN: You know, when I'm dusting or trying to find where I set down my needlepoint.
SAGAL: One of the very cool Ron-like things that we know you did was that you were the fight choreographer for a while at the Goodman Theater here in Chicago. You were staging fights.
OFFERMAN: I was, yeah. I worked actually at Steppenwolf. I was a fight captain once at the Goodman, and then I choreographed some stuff at the Steppenwolf. And I had my own company called "The Defiant Theater." We took pride in our stage combat, as wrought by Tex Avery(ph).
GOLDTHWAIT: I thought when you were staging fights, I didn't understand it was choreography. I actually thought you had like a fight club going in the basement of these theaters.
OFFERMAN: Sometimes it would get that way, depending on how much we employed the bong before curtain.
GOLDTHWAIT: Sure, sure.
OFFERMAN: I miss Chicago.
SAGAL: Well Nick Offerman, we're delighted to talk to you. We've asked you hear a play a game we're calling...
CARL KASELL: Time to take off the shirt and count the chest hairs.
SAGAL: So you play Ron Swanson, the manliest man on TV. But how manly are you, Nick Offerman? We have decided to test it. We're going to ask you three questions about masculine sports. Answer two of them correctly, and you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their home answering machine. Carl, who is Nick Offerman playing for?
KASELL: Nick is playing for Christopher and Meredith Levine of Providence, Rhode Island.
SAGAL: All right. Ready to play, Nick?
OFFERMAN: Oh boy, I'm ready.
SAGAL: Here's your first question. Which of these is an actual sport pursued by men who dare: A, competitive crotch kicking; B, harvest combine demolition derby; or C, flaming tether ball?
OFFERMAN: Ooh, well, depending on the region, the crotch kicking sounds tempting, I'd say especially if you get into the Southern states.
OFFERMAN: But I'd put my money on the flaming tether ball.
SAGAL: Oh, that would be fun, but no, the answer is in fact harvest combine demolition derby.
OFFERMAN: Holy cow. I'd love to see that.
O'ROURKE: Me, too.
SAGAL: They have one in Lind, Washington, every year, where they get the big combines, just like they do with the cars.
O'ROURKE: Do you know what those things cost?
SAGAL: Oh, I know.
SAGAL: OK, next question. Sometimes a real man has to relax, and real men out there relax by doing which of these: A, knocking down trees with their heads; B, punching cheetahs; C, surfing down a volcanoes?
OFFERMAN: The most relaxing of these sounds like surfing down volcanoes. That sounds perfectly feasible.
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SAGAL: And you are right, that's what they do. It's called volcano surfing. What they do is they climb up active volcanoes, and they slide down the ash-cones, not yet the lava, on plywood boards. It's great fun. All right, so you've got one for two with one to go. And if you get this one, you win for our listener.
OFFERMAN: The Levines.
SAGAL: The Lavines. An ancient game is reportedly making a comeback in Mexico. It's called Pelota Purepecha, and it's described as being like field hockey, with what major difference: A, you play against a team of bears; B, the ball is on fire; C, all players are required to get a painful body waxing at halftime.
OFFERMAN: I'm thrilled by these flaming ball sports. So I'm going to guess the ball is on fire.
SAGAL: You're exactly right, the ball is on fire.
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SAGAL: And you can see a picture of it, and it looks very challenging. Carl, how did Nick Offerman do on our quiz?
KASELL: Well, Nick had two correct answers, so he wins for Christopher and Meredith Levine.
SAGAL: Well done, Nick.
SAGAL: Nick Offerman's new book, it's a memoir and a guide to life, is called "Paddle Your Own Canoe." You can of course see him as Ron Swanson on "Parks and Rec." Nick Offerman, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!
OFFERMAN: Thank you for having me.
SAGAL: Bye-bye, Nick.
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SAGAL: In just a minute Carl is so handsome it blows your mind in our listener limerick challenge. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on air. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.