Gumption. Nick Offerman has it.
Is it the result of his homespun voice? The bizarre diversity of talents he possesses?
Whatever it is, Offerman explores the concept in his new book, “Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers,” which hit shelves on Tuesday. He writes a comedic compendium of individuals he believes have shaped this nation through their sheer determination. The book’s cover showcases a modified version of Mount Rushmore in which Yoko Ono and Willie Nelson join George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt — all four of whom earn chapters in the book.
He’ll discuss “Gumption” Thursday during an appearance at Unity Temple on the Plaza.
The book presents only one of many projects the “Parks and Recreation” star has embarked on since the NBC series ended in February after seven seasons.
In addition to his customary slate of movies, TV guest shots, live theater and talk show appearances, the 44-year-old star also enjoys a reputation as a master woodworker. He runs his own shop in Glendale, Calif., that specializes in building fine furniture and custom items such as canoes. (Not coincidentally, his previous best-selling book was titled “Paddle Your Own Canoe.”)
Calling from Los Angeles, where he is getting ready to star in a show called “Summer of 69: No Apostrophe” with his wife, Emmy winner Megan Mullally of “Will & Grace” fame, Offerman spoke to The Star about his seemingly endless string of demanding endeavors.
“I’m on a low-grade exhaustion at all times,” he says. “It seems to render me witty.”
Q: Do having gumption and being a troublemaker go hand in hand?
A: I feel like having gumption causes you to take the road less traveled and to take action against the status quo. So gumption can cause you to be labeled a troublemaker more than turn you into an actual maker of mischief.
When writing about these individuals did you notice any consistent patterns of behavior they shared?
They all were voracious readers. That’s true from George Washington all the way up through Laurie Anderson, George Saunders and Jeff Tweedy. Everybody was crazy for books. And nobody likes an eBook. They’re all devoted to the artifact of the good-old-fashioned paper book.
What’s been the chapter that’s gotten the most feedback?
People are very surprised by the Conan O’Brien chapter. He, of course, is hilarious, winning and intelligent. But when I interviewed him — and I’ve known him for a long time — even I was taken aback by his sagacity. There were a few questions I lobbed him, thinking, ‘This is gonna be rich.’ Instead of being funny, he answered me with wisdom. At one point, I was like, “Conan, you’re blowing my mind!”
Now that playing Ron Swanson on “Parks and Recreation” has officially ended, do you have more time in the day for personal pursuits?
No. I kidded myself that I would. I am apparently the luckiest bastard in town because I keep jamming my calendar with things that are great fun but also qualify as work. Right now I’m on my way to the woodshop to do some administrating with my woodworkers — which is a job. But it’s like going to Disneyland for me. And I just finished a 23-city tour with my wife of a comedy show that was just the two of us. It felt like a road trip around the country because we drove ourselves. It felt like we booked ourselves a vacation, and all we have to do is this super-fun show every night. And they’re paying us. In order to take time off, Megan and I have promised each other August and September. It’s iron-clad. Nothing can touch those two months. We’ll throw our computers in the ocean. We’ll go to the woods. We’ll take naps.
Can you describe your latest woodworking project?
I just built a three-legged stool for this documentary about Wendell Berry that I’m a co-producer on. Before that I built a ukulele as part of my slow matriculation to eventually building guitars. I read three textbooks and talked to some luthiers, then said, “You know what? I better try a ukulele first.”
You arrived at “Jimmy Fallon” recently on crutches. Did you make them?
No. Frankly, it’s really hard to even find wooden crutches. ( Offerman injured his knee during a live performance while on tour.) Everybody’s gone aluminum — which is the sad state of our country. Crutches are hopefully a temporary item for anybody, so who wants to spend an extra $17 when you can get the (crappy) ones from China? That drives me crazy. I said, “If you can’t get me wooden crutches, then I’m going to hop.” The wonderful concierge at the Four Seasons in St. Louis, Missouri, found me a nice pair of wooden crutches. I talked to my shop about whether we should make wooden crutches. We voted it down because it’s not the kind of thing you can gift someone. “Hey, just in case you snap an ankle, here’s some fine walnut crutches.”
As a craftsman, what lessons about woodworking can also be applied to comedy?
Your tools must be kept sharp. Your fundamentals must be maintained. And patience is an important attribute of both disciplines. You can’t buy a nice set of chisels and think you’re going to cut a successful set of bev tails the first go-round. The same is true with entertaining an audience. You have to learn what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes you’re working in cherry or Kansas City, sometimes you’re working in maple or Seattle.
What’s the key to an effective mustache?
Kansas City has three hometown comedians of note: Jason Sudeikis, Paul Rudd and Rob Riggle. You’ve worked with all three. Do you have any juicy stories about working with these dudes?
Well, it was revealed in the “21 Jump Street” movies that Riggle has a vagina — I should clarify his character in the movie does. I think they ended up cutting the rather upsetting biological shots of that orifice from the movie, but I think it’s going to be a special feature on the DVD. He’s hilarious. Paul is an absolute sweetheart. When a guy that cute will return my calls, I understand how he’s the king of every prom. And Jason is in the Amy Poehler drawer: someone who’s kind of a hero to me for so many years, that then when I got to stick my finger in his ear (in “We’re the Millers”) — both on and off-camera — it was a dream come true. He’s a hyper-intelligent, insanely talented funny man. Those “SNL” thoroughbreds, it’s like landing Michael Jordan on your team.
Is there another celebrity couple that is as hilarious to be around as you and Megan?
Mr. and Mrs. Donald Trump are pretty entertaining — generally from a little bit of distance. There are certain couples that we love because they’re not ‘on’ all the time. People often ask us, “Do you guys like doing Ron and Karen around the house?” We say, “Do you like laying blacktop around the house?” No, we generally do that at work. That’s our job, our vocation. Then we come home and we’re Nick and Megan. “Hey honey, do you want me to bring you some mustard?” We’re boring and loving. We do crack each other up, but it’s in the subtle ways that hopefully every couple cracks each other up.
What’s the best description you’ve heard about your speaking voice?
“I’m glad people tend to like it. But I can’t say I’ve heard a particularly pleasing description per se. I do enjoy when people impersonate me because they slow down 35 percent and over-enunciate everything. I find that very flattering and humorous. I can usually do an impression of people doing me better than they can do me.
What’s the weirdest fact on your résumé?
I’m embarrassed to tell you that I haven’t seen my résumé in many years. When you start getting work because casting people know who you are, I haven’t needed to update my résumé. But I used to get a kick out of Special Skills. I always would include that I was a Midwestern Master of the Shovel on my résumé. There’s no hyperbole in that claim.
Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”
Nick Offerman will be in conversation with Vivien Jennings of Rainy Day Books at 7 p.m. Thursday at Unity Temple on the Plaza, 707 W. 47th St. Admission is $26.95 and includes one ticket to the event and an autographed hardcover copy of Offerman’s “Gumption.” More info at RainyDayBooks.com.