Nick Offerman: Amy Poehler is a ‘legend of comedy’

The Parks and Recreation star on the unexpected advantages of being the only guy at the audition who looked like he could carry a bale of hay

I grew up with my three siblings in a farm family in Illinois. My mom and dad are storybook parents and, looking back on it, I had an idyllic childhood. It was a very frugal environment; we provided a lot of things for ourselves. We did a lot of fishing, we built things, we all sewed and cooked. In a farm community you learn the importance of stepping up, whether it’s to drive somewhere or chop firewood or make the dinner. And that is a big part of your sense of self-worth. I was aware there were kids in town who had this incredible, perfect white bread, so beautiful they called it Wonderbread. And I had this thick rich mottled homemade bread on the farm. But as I grew older I realised our homemade bread was vastly superior. Now I wouldn’t change my childhood for the world.

I didn’t know much about career opportunities beyond my town so I had the freedom of just focusing on the most important matter at hand. Which was getting kissed as much as possible. Was I successful? Trying to maintain some semblance of humility… let’s throw it out the window – yes, I was pretty accomplished at getting kissed. But I was brought up in a very polite and decent household. Even then, though we didn’t really talk about the notion of consent, I was laughably polite in my dogged pursuit of learning the ways of the bedroom. There was a lot more please and thank you than the object of my affection would probably have preferred.

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2010 With co-star Chris Pratt in the hit comedy Parks and Recreation. Photo: Paul Drinkwater/Nbc-Tv/Kobal/Shutterstock

I think if you met the teenage me now you’d think I was a pretty swell 16-year-old. I understood the system pretty quickly. I was charming, I was smart, I was hard-working, I was a leading student, I was a leading athlete. On the surface I was a model citizen. Then at night I’d slip out and try some light vandalism or smoke cigars with my friends. My parents taught us about the importance of sharing and being kind and telling the truth. So the only way I could rebel was to try out lying and stealing. I saw TV shows with kids living in the fast lane and I had this ignorant side of me that wanted to try driving a Corvette with ladies in bikinis, or being intoxicated and ending up in a music video. I tried that stuff out until I realised my parents had it right from the start.

I grew up in a bit of a cultural vacuum. We didn’t even have cable TV. I had no access to any kind of counter-culture. I was always in school plays and I loved goofing around, trying to make people laugh. But it never occurred to me that could be a career. Then one day I happened to be at the best college in Illinois – I’d just driven my girlfriend for an audition – and while milling about in the hallway I met two theatre students. They explained that you could get a degree in theatre, then go to Chicago and be paid to act in plays. I was like, are you kidding me?! I’d heard of Broadway and I knew in England they put on Shakespeare plays but that was about it. So I decided there and then that’s what I was going to try and do. 

The big break of my life was meeting my wife, [Will and Grace star] Megan Mullally. The love of my life. She turned me around and gave me a huge leap ahead in terms of growing up, and that made everything much happier. My most obvious big showbiz career break was Parks and Recreation. I got the part of Ron Swanson when I was 37. I already knew [co-star] Amy Poehler – we’d met at a house party years before, and we’d made friends. We immediately knew we were the same kind of clown and we could have some mischief together. I looked up to her as a legend of comedy and I never dreamed I would end up having such a powerful working relationship with her.

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2017 With wife Megan Mullally at the Los Angeles premiere of The Hero. Photo: Invision/AP/Shutterstock

I met Chris Pratt many years ago, at a house party. We got to talking and I said, you seem really smart and funny and you’re just an Adonis. If things go right for you, you’re going to be a big movie star. Some people just have it. He’s a sweetheart. I’m just surprised it took as long as it did. He was always very good-looking but his slobbish inner Andy is very powerful. He was in better shape when we started the show, but he and I both gleefully put on weight. It was really fun, literally fleshing out our midwestern lifestyles. Then the Marvel universe came calling and it was, ‘So here’s your personal trainer and here’s your insane diet.’ That’s part of the deal, so they can make money from lingering over your delicious abdominal muscles. 

When the writing is great, as it was on Parks, you just get it. You immediately know, I’m going to destroy with this material. We did seven years, 125 episodes, so of course our characters developed over that span. But we knew from the start that Ron would have a substantial moustache. That was the first thing we agreed on. I felt he would be very rural, looking like he’d just come in from driving a
pick-up truck. Thankfully the great brains driving that show knew that no, he would be overweight and wearing dumpy, affordable department store tweeds. I then knew if I ever tried anything on and it looked remotely stylish or cute, we had to get rid of it. My wife has the most refined sense of taste – she has shown such patience and tolerance over two decades of me looking appalling. When I look back at the pictures now I say, you let me get in our bed every night looking like this. You are a saint, woman. 

What would surprise the teenage me most would be learning that the person my parents taught me to be would be an asset in my showbiz career. In my early years I was subliminally ashamed of my rural roots, a hayseed farm kid among cool, flash, city kids. Then at some point in my twenties I realised I needed to stand apart from the others, be the only guy at the audition who looked like he could carry a bale of hay. And that farming work ethic that had me always show up for a job on time, treat people with manners… that gave me a reputation that got me a lot more bookings. 

If I really wanted to show off to the 16-year-old Nick I’d show him my first handmade canoe. If could go back to any point in my life and have it again, I’d be paddling my canoe with my wife on this idyllic river in California that I’m not going to name cos I don’t want anyone to come looking for me. Being with the love of my life, soaking in the beauty of nature, in a canoe that I’ve made – enjoying the adventure and then the calm, the silence, seeing a deer or a fox come to the river bank and sip from the water; that’s me at my happiest.

Nick Offerman’s All Rise UK tour starts in Edinburgh on August 24.