ARUN RATH, HOST:
TV recently lost its manliest man - a small-town government employee named Ron Swanson.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PARKS AND RECREATION")
NICK OFFERMAN: (As Ron Swanson) I call this turf and turf. It's a 16-ounce T-bone and a 24-ounce porterhouse - also whisky and a cigar. I'm going to consume all of this at the same time because I am a free American.
RATH: Actor Nick Offerman's run as Ron Swanson ended with the show "Parks And Recreation" back in February. Now he's written a book called "Gumption," a set of essays about 21 Americans who've inspired him. "Gumption" is split into three categories - idealists, makers and Freemasons. Yes, Offerman says he's fascinated by the secret society.
OFFERMAN: There's a notion that, you know, they are secretly controlling the world. But the mission statement of the Masons involves treating your neighbor with generosity and...
OFFERMAN: Being benevolent, yeah. I really like that notion. And as I began looking into maybe joining up, I realized it's poignant that we don't know anything. We never hear anything about the Masons, which I think means if I were to join, I'd probably really like it. But you're sworn to secrecy, so it would ruin the subject for me if I actually joined because I couldn't talk about it.
RATH: Or maybe you have joined, and this is just a ruse you're using to throw us all off.
OFFERMAN: You could be right. We'll never know.
RATH: I want to talk about some of the characters people might be surprised to find in here. Yoko Ono is one that jumps out. And for people who just think of her as the woman who broke up the Beatles, can you explain to her why she's kind of this quintessential American artist that you celebrate.
OFFERMAN: Yeah, gladly. I mean, I was very much of that mind. And that's - I - because my wife is a really smart art collector, when we first got together, we ended up getting to meet Yoko because Yoko was a fan of "Will And Grace." And my wife Megan Mullally was on "Will And Grace." And I went in thinking, why are we going to an art show for this terrible woman who broke up the Beatles?
OFFERMAN: And almost immediately, I was so smitten with her art. It's so thoughtful and mischievous and bratty in a way but also really beautiful and curious. My favorite piece that I talk about in the book in that first show where John Lennon met her, there was a ladder that you would climb up. And at the top, there was a magnifying glass hanging from the ceiling. And you would hold the magnifying glass up to a painting on the ceiling. And in very tiny letters, it just said the word yes. That almost brought tears to my eyes. I thought, that's an affirmation and said, you know, you went to the trouble of climbing the ladder and looking at this. And the answer is yes.
And we got to go visit her at her apartment at the Dakota in New York. And only arriving there did I realize, oh, this is the sidewalk where he got shot. Oh, my gosh, she has stayed here the whole time. And I said, this lady is one of the most bad-ass, brilliant artists I've ever come across. I was, like, well, I'm going to try and tell, you know, hopefully some Ron Swanson fans that you should check out Yoko because she's actually amazing.
RATH: The last section of this book is called makers. Carol Burnett is in there. Can you explain why she is in the makers section?
OFFERMAN: Well, Carol, if anything, is a maker of mirth. Carol, for me, has just been one of the most heroic legends of comedy. And as a woman in such a great leadership position, it was easy to draw a lot of parallels between her and Amy Poehler in my own life. Women who - they're not punching anybody, or they're not fighting tooth-and-nail. They simply have the charisma to make people want to follow them. And women generally are the most powerful figures in my life. And I'm grateful for that. They're bad-asses. You know, like, if we're going into any sort of battle, I look around for the most feisty woman and say, I'm good at carrying heavy things. What can I do for you?
RATH: (Laughter). Well, speaking of gender dynamics, you know, you have this persona back from - both from, you know, Ron Swanson and on "Parks And Recreation" and also like, you know, your own kind of public persona of the manly man kind of thing. And this book might be taken as kind of a representation of that ethos in a way. I mean, you do have women in here. There is Eleanor Roosevelt, Yoko Ono and also men who were more thinkers - you know, writers and poets, as well.
OFFERMAN: Sure. Yeah, I mean, I believe I've never accused myself of being manly. But fortunately, "Parks And Rec" was so popular, and Ron Swanson really got a reaction out of people that a lot of the audience began to accuse me of being similar to Ron Swanson. And I've always attested I've had two semesters of ballet. You know, just because I can swing a hammer and I have hair on my back doesn't mean that I'm a pugilist.
And so I suppose if anything, I feel like "Gumption" - you know, it celebrates Teddy Roosevelt, but at the same time, it says some of his policies are very questionable - foreign policy and the way he felt about women and the Native Americans. He said some really questionable things. And so for me, people like Michael Pollan and Wendell Berry and Laurie Anderson, the great musician and performance artist - these great thinkers - and Yoko, you know, who have philosophy to offer us. I generally find, you know, if I'm in my wood shop doing things that people might perceive as manly alongside the three women that work in my wood shop and are doing nicer work than I am, I can have manly parts of my life, but then I can also have more sensitive parts. And it's by combining them all that I find things to be the most rewarding.
RATH: Is it now that "Parks And Recreation" has wrapped - is it weird not being Ron anymore. What's it like?
OFFERMAN: It's interesting. It's funny. I thought I would be grieving more than I am. And the reason that I'm not is because Mike Schur and Amy Poehler and other producers chose to end the show with so much integrity. So I was...
RATH: Your character gets a nice send-off.
OFFERMAN: It was so nice. I mean, I cried my eyes out. Sorry to burst anyone's bubble, but I love to cry freely, particularly if there's a whale being saved. But it made me as grateful for the ending of the show as I was for the beginning of the show and then the entire meal. But as a character actor, you know, being accused by the audience of being this guy with a mustache who, you know, is just like Ron Swanson. There's an element of being liberated as well. And I'm having a really good time, which makes me feel really lucky because if I was sitting at home and nobody would give me a job, I'd probably feel differently and say, hey, how about a "Parks And Rec" movie, guys - a reunion tour? And so I don't know if it's a stage - perhaps the denial stage of grief. But my calendar is so full of fun activities that I don't have a lot of time to sit around and mourn and the loss of "Parks And Recreation."
RATH: We'll come back when you come to anger - get to that stage.
OFFERMAN: Yes. I will.
RATH: Nick Offerman's new book is "Gumption." It is out on Tuesday - been a real pleasure speaking with you. Thank you.
OFFERMAN: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
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