Nick Offerman: Ron Swanson would hate CES (Q&A)

CNET talks to the "Parks and Rec" star about being a craftsman in a world of social media distraction and increasing automation.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
4 min read
Watch this: Noted everyman Nick Offerman warms up the CNET stage with a personalized greeting

Nick Offerman is an avid wood worker, a noted whiskey drinker, an actor and one of the least likely people to show up at the world's biggest technology show. But show up he did.

Known to fans of the TV series "Parks and Recreation" as the gruff but lovable Ron Swanson, Offerman was at CES in Las Vegas to promote the launch of a "device like no other" -- greeting cards from American Greetings. Offerman wanted to endorse the message that cards are the best way to deliver a truly heartfelt sentiment.

"It's much easier to whip out a text or SMS, which is something I saw on a button once," said Offerman at the launch. "It will give a momentary burst of pleasure, but it is just one of many messages they will read through."

CNET caught up with the actor following the event to discuss burning questions we had about tech, "Parks and Rec" and whether he will ever release his own Offerman furniture line. The following is an edited Q&A.

Q: How does a woodworker like yourself feel about the encroachment of technology and automation on traditional craftsmanship?
Offerman: I'm lucky enough to have grown up working hard with my hands, and I know that it's not a hardship. It's a great privilege, and my life is always happiest when I have good hard work to do.

The thought of having all my work done for me is really depressing. I can tell you immediately I would go straight to the pub and become a terrible drunk. For the sake of my own sobriety, I hope that the robots will at least stay out of my woodshop.

Would you ever embrace 3D printing or will you always do woodworking with your hands?
Offerman: So far that's been the dynamic of my shop. It's me and six other woodworkers and that's our thing -- we make things out of wood for you with our hands. And say, if you want a picture of your dog engraved on the bottom of your coffee table, we turn to a local friend who has a CNC machine or a 3D printer or a laser cutter because those things have incredibly valuable properties.

But I think as long as we can we'll keep them out of our own shop because it's not for us. That doesn't mean I look down on them or don't value them, because I look up to them and do value them. It's just not part of our vibe.

How do you feel about the connections and distractions of technology? Do they interfere with you work?
Offerman: My wife and I stayed off social media as a rule for many years. Then when I started touring as a humorist and started writing books, my friend Aziz [Ansari] suggested that using Twitter is a good way to let people know you're coming to town and sell tickets or to let people know you have a book available. I have found Twitter to be very useful to that end.

I never feel like I have to keep up with the whole thing. When I get to my shop I like to turn my phone on airplane mode and leave it in the kitchen. But it's an important ongoing balance to create, because again it can affect your productivity. If you become less productive at whatever you're doing, you become more depressed, you drink more whiskey -- that's unhealthy -- then your wife dislikes you and you are forced to sleep in a small makeshift lean-to on the side of a hill in Los Angeles.


Duke Silver? Never met him.


What would Ron Swanson think of CES?
Offerman: I think simply his first impulse would be to destroy the entire city, because he's human and that's a human weakness. When you see something abhorrent and terrifying, you want to demolish it.

But then he would say: "No, that would be inappropriate." So he would drive straight out of town and go camping by the Hoover Dam. He would go tour the Hoover Dam and appreciate the incredible mosaic murals on top of the Hoover Dam that were created by the WPA and have a lot of very esoteric mythology going on. I think there's a lot of freemasonry mythos inlaid into some of the solar system diagrams on top of the Hoover Dam. That's what Ron Swanson would think of CES.

Although there is an astonishing burger truck on the way out, so he might stop there.

Do people ask you to answer questions as Ron Swanson a lot?
Offerman: They do, but they do so less and less. I do generally appreciate being asked to answer on his behalf because that's appropriate. People often ask me to do something as Ron Swanson, and I don't do that because he's not entirely mine. Not only do I think it would be presumptuous on my part, but I don't write him by myself. In fact, I depend on much smarter people than myself to write Ron. It would also, I believe, be illegal because he's not my property.

CNET's holding a big party tonight. Do you think Duke Silver would come and play?
Offerman: That I can't speak to. You would have to get in touch with his people. I've actually never seen him play. I've gone to see him five times and every time I was in the bathroom while he performed, so I've never actually met the guy. But I believe he can blow like a motherfucker.

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