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Nick Offerman’s Influences: His Wife, Steve Martin, and (Actually) Nature

The droll comedian, guru of rustic manliness, on the forces that shaped him

Photo: Emily Shur

While Nick Offerman is perhaps best known for playing the immovable libertarian Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation, the Minooka, Illinois, native has spent the past few years spreading his own personal spin on steely masculinity with books such as Paddle Your Own Canoe and Good Clean Fun. Now he’s hit the road with a standup tour, Full Bush (a reference to his woolly hair, facial and otherwise), in which he delivers his wry observations in the form of folk and country songs. Ahead of his December 1 appearance at the Chicago Theatre, Offerman shares a list of his most formative inspirations.

Tom Waits

He’s one of the greatest songwriters of our age. I find his music to be incredibly moving, celebratory, and hilarious. I didn’t discover him until my late teens, but he’s a huge influence in his delivery and deadpan sense of strange humor.

'The Honeymooners'
Photo: CBS Television

Jackie Gleason

As a family, we would watch shows like The Honeymooners. Jackie Gleason felt like a family member. And if any of us had gone south a little more, lived a little more poorly, we could’ve ended up a character like that.

Megan Mullally

My wife’s like a walking Mel Brooks movie. Whatever she determines to put her hands to turns out to be a masterpiece. Sometimes they’re really accessible, and sometimes they’re delightfully weird.

'God Save the Mark' by Donald E. Westlake
Photo: Forge Books

Donald E. Westlake

He wrote hard-boiled crime novels that still had a sense of humor. I’m really drawn to characters who have been dealt a really crappy hand and survive by having a good wisecrack at every opportunity. I think I subconsciously patterned my life after that.

The Catholic Church

I was an altar boy at the Catholic church in town, so that was my first sort of accidental stage where I realized everyone could see me and, if I played my cards right, I could make them laugh.

Jeff Tweedy
Photo: Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune

Jeff Tweedy

I would hear his music and think, How can you see inside me? How did you talk to my soul in order to find the lyrics for this song? I really admire his poetry.

Paul Gleason and Jeffrey Jones

I always think of these two performances from my youth: Gleason played the principal in The Breakfast Club; Jones, the principal from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. They were so goddamn funny because they cared so much; the stakes were so high for them that they came off like the most magnificent buffoons.

Steve Martin
Photo: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times

Steve Martin

His ability to stand there with a straight face and commit to the most absurd acts inspired me to never play it too safe. I always made weird choices, and I’d say to myself, If Steve Martin can stand there with an arrow through his head, then I can certainly do this dumb idea.

Nature

People often comment that I have a calm demeanor for somebody in our business, and I think nature’s a part of that. Mother Nature reminds me that none of this matters. That in about 30 seconds on her clock I’ll be gone, and hopefully I’ll be food for trees and the world will keep turning. Whatever you’re worrying about becomes a lot smaller when you go look at a giant redwood.

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