Gone are the action movie salad days when bulging muscles and the ability to arm-wrestle, pound, or simply shout someone into submission defined the ultimate aspiration of masculinity. So feel free to cut Sylvester Stallone’s picture out of your dictionary now, and replace it with Nick Offerman, a real man’s man who knows how to make you laugh with his acting and sob (from pleasure) with his cooking, dotes on his lovely and talented wife, can craft a guitar from scratch and then play a fireside song on it while his whiskey-scented beard grows robustly in the crisp mountain air.
“The key to my philosophy is that I’m never bored,” Offerman explains while taking a break from the final season of Parks and Rec to prepare for his upcoming NY Comedy Festival show, appropriately titled Full Bush. “My great dilemma is finding time to do half the stuff I want to do. It’s called living. I love being alive. I love having the great miracle of two working hands, and two working legs, and a brain, and so the possibilities of what I can do with these tools are unlimited.”
Though he can build just about anything with his rough hands, Offerman admits that his untamed beard (and the equally impressive Ron Swanson ‘stache) are thanks to Mother Nature: “I didn’t do anything. It just showed up.” He also doesn’t believe much in grooming or the abomination some call “manscaping,” but happily discussed his favorite beards from history, and explained why the next generation of “simpering fops” isn’t totally doomed.
You’ve sported everything from the clean-shaven look to, as your special suggests, Full Bush. But is there a specific beard you aspire to have one day?
Gosh, that’s a great question. At the moment we’re in the middle of shooting Parks and Recreation, so I have Ron Swanson head. And that will be the case when I perform at the Beacon. But I suppose growing up, the Grizzly Adams character, as portrayed by Dan Haggerty, was very inspirational to me. Also, I have an uncle named Uncle Terry who bears a strike resemblance to Grizzly Adams, but I think anyone from the naturalist movement; poets or anyone who sports a fulsome, untamed beard has been an inspiration to me, because everyone’s whiskers are a little different. As long as you’re growing it out, to coin a phrase, “full bush,” then it gets my seal of approval.
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Do you immediately start regrowing your beard when a show wraps?
Well traditionally in my entire career, when I have to achieve a certain look for a role, most often it’s been for a piece of theatre, and then I’m locked into that look for the length of the production, it’s a great relief upon closing to remove that mask that I’ve been cultivating for however long. And so that’s been one of the rather strange things about landing on a successful TV series —having to maintain a look over seven years has often begun to feel claustrophobic. I’m a character actor, so I like to change it up with much more frequency than every seven years. So, by and large, when the lights shut off, that’s the first thing I’ll do is shave it all off, and then generally what comes next is determined by the next acting job. When I don’t have a job lined up, then the full bush is allowed to flourish.
Does your wife prefer the full bush?
Thankfully, she really seems to enjoy when I have whiskers. I think in my natural habitat, which would be my woodshop, I would just always look like something from a Peter Jackson film with a lot of hair and beard. And my wife, although a very meticulous purveyor of taste and fashion, somehow really appreciates my wild man look, for which I’m very grateful.
Do you think a great man is made greater by great facial hair?
Well I feel like Teddy Roosevelt would not have had nearly the impact he did if he had gone clean-shaven. And of course, Rollie Fingers probably wouldn’t have had nearly the strike out count that he did had he not had that devilishly distracting handlebar mustache.
That’s true. It seems like it was his mustache that set him apart from the other players of his era rather than his actual pitching prowess.
I absolutely think that’s the case. He carried the charisma of a dominating athlete with that mustache. If he had gone without, he would have just been a handsome guy who could throw.
Will anyone ever be able to resurrect the Hitler mustache, or are we all pretty much just done with that now?
Interesting question. I suppose, like all things, the taint of that particular facial hair will probably fade as other horrors are enacted upon the human race by other terrible dictators. But the thing is, that’s possibly the ugliest way you could wear your whiskers. It’s just an incredibly stupid mustache. So that probably will also help keep it buried for longer than many other styles.
Could Hitler have ruined a good mustache? Would Rollie Fingers have been able to sport the handlebar if Hitler had worn it first?
Well Stalin had what I would consider a Tom Selleck or a Ron Swanson ‘stache, and that particular facial hairstyle has not carried the… oh I can’t think of the excellent word I’m looking for… but it doesn’t carry the bad feelings with it that the Hitler mustache did. I think if Hitler had had any sort of reasonable facial hair it would have gone unnoticed. But he chose an incredibly stupid look. His mustache was the Pharrell’s hat of mid-20th century facial hair.
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What about the rest of a man’s hair? What’s the proper response to going gray?
I’m absolutely of the opinion that whatever Mother Nature provides can’t be improved upon. I’m in my mid-40s and my beard has a lot of white in it now — my hair for some reason has not begun to show white or grey – but everybody my age, all my friends and my siblings, all have different levels of greyness in their hair, and I find it incredibly charismatic. It says to me that they have lived. It bespeaks a wisdom and an experience, and I think the modern fashion of wanting to always remain young is an incredible waste of time and energy.
What about body grooming, or “manscaping” as it’s referred?
I think that’s an abomination and an embarrassment to our species. Manscaping is like the Valentines Day of holidays. It was invented by a bunch of soft ninnies sitting around playing video games and manicuring their toenails — or I guess it would be pedicures, if my understanding of the terminology is sound — cooking up ways to sell new razor products to the unsuspecting simpering fops of our society.
So we can assume the full bush on your face is matched by a just as grand, if not more so, full bush below the chin?
It really doesn’t get into a thicketed growth until you get into the bottom 16 inches of my ursine torso, but then it’s bristling, matted thicket that is kept at a quite swampy climate.
Do you have any facial hair tips for someone starting from scratch.
Ah… Nope. [Laughs.]
Because you’ve basically had a beard since you were 9?
I have the good fortune of a thick head of hair and a set of facial whiskers that grow in a thick and robust fashion. It’s like investing your money in devices to enlarge your genitalia. It’s just a fallacy, which if you spell that right could be a pretty decent pun. But, you know, people ask me that a lot: “How do I grow a mustache? What are your tips?” I didn’t do anything. It just showed up. The tip is don’t shave, see what happens, and if it’s not cutting the mustard, make another choice.
Are men of this generation doomed to be ninnies? Are there masculine things we can be doing so that Adam Carolla’s prophecy about how In 50 Years We’ll All Be Chicks doesn’t come true?
Well gosh, I always find it amusing to be labeled as a man because I feel like as big of a wuss as the next guy. I think that’s human nature, you know. We all feel cold and insecure to some level or other. But I feel like in general, I’d say we’re lucky, especially in this country, that we were able to grow up in such a soft, luxurious way. So many of us have never known cold or hunger properly. And that’s great and I would never wish that on people, but it allows us to grow up without understanding the impulse of getting outside and getting busy. So I’d just always encourage people to find ways to get their hands dirty, make something with their hands, get out in the woods, experience the elements. A day is so much more delicious if you’re walking up a mountain and it’s cold, there are so many benefits that you’re reaping, not the least of which is that later on you’re going to be by a fire drinking whiskey and it’s going to be so much more warming and benevolent than if you had just sat around all day watching ESPN.
But I don’t assume you have tips for how to do that, either.
Yeah, I mean, part of the key to my philosophy is that I’m never bored. I’m always astonished when people say “I’m bored, there’s nothing to do.” My great dilemma in life is finding time to do half the stuff I want to do. It’s called living. I love being alive. I love having the great miracle of two working hands, and two working legs, and a brain, and so the possibilities of what I can do with these tools are unlimited. I choose to make things out of wood, I choose to act like a clown for an audience, and make them laugh or cry, when I can I love to cook meat on my grill and watch people sob with pleasure as they taste of it. I love to play music and paddle my canoe and go for hikes in the woods. There’s not enough days in the year to do half of all the things I want to do, and I’m confused that everyone doesn’t understand all the incredible life options available to them, especially in this country. We’re generally not in a position where we’re not sure if we’ll have clean water for our family this week. We have so many luxuries that we take for granted, and I try to understand that and say, well then by god I’m not going to sit around and be bored. I’m going to go check out those Teddy Roosevelt quotes at the natural history museum.
If you had those extra days on the calendar is there a dream project to tackle?
Well left to my own devices I would build my wife and I an enormous log and stone lodge, and it would be amazing to live in if it were the 19th century and I was Jack London and we were just out hunting all day. But we live in urban centers. I do hope to build us a vacation home some day with that description, but the obstacle is that she built our dream house, and she creates such a work of art out of a home, so I would be a terrible asshole if I said, “Well couldn’t I make us a log cabin instead?” But if I can do that as a getaway that will work out well.
But more specific to your question, my dream project is always just what my next work working project is. I’m spoiled in that I don’t have to make kitchen cabinets to afford my shop, so I can choose what I want to make next. I’m working slowly and delightfully toward building acoustic guitars. I started this summer with my first ukulele out of mahogany, and I talk about it in “Full Bush” and I play a song or two on it. It’s probably going to take me some years to get to a handful of guitars. I figure I’ll make a couple really shitty ones and work out the kinks and make my mistakes, and then eventually make one that won’t be embarrassing to play in front of people.
Is it a joy to see your work in someone else’s hands, are you almost jealous that they own something you spent so much time working on?
There’s a little bit of both. I felt it the most poignantly when I’ve made furniture for people, and I make just what I think is a beautiful example of a dining table or just a stool. I fall in love with each piece. That’s kind of the point of it. Whether you’re commissioning a picture frame or a huge walnut slab dining table, I’m going to make the most amazing version of that that I can, and naturally by the time I’m finished with it I’m completely besotted by it. So there’s always a great deal of separation emotion that goes along with delivering to the client. But generally, people who choose to pay the extra expense for the heirloom quality of handmade goods usually do a very satisfying job of receiving those goods. They admire the craftsmanship; they look underneath the table and say, “Wow, look at the joinery. How did you do that? There’re no nails in this whole goddamn thing. I love this and I hope my great grandkids will love this. That makes it feel a lot better.
Are you ever going to combine your passion for wood working with your passion for entertaining the masses?
Actually I’m thinking about dabbling into the realm of reality TV. I’m tossing around ideas for a show about making things. A show about hand crafts to try and help replace the notion of that dad or mom or shop teacher that so many of our American population have grown up without. I’ll say “I can’t believe you don’t know the difference between a Phillips and a standard head screwdriver,” and they say, “No one ever told me.” Well you’re right. I mean, I guess I’ll try to find a platform from which I can tell everybody what a goddamn Phillips Screwdriver looks like.