***1/2 (out of four)
You don’t have to be able to properly work a table saw (I can’t) or be in the market for a custom-made chair (I’m not) to buy what “Parks and Recreation” star/woodshop owner Nick Offerman is selling in his memoir, “Paddle Your Own Canoe.”
The Minooka, Ill., native represents closed-off, meat-and-potatoes manliness as Ron Swanson on NBC’s fantastic comedy, but in reality Offerman demonstrates a more modulated and admirable concept of what it means to live well and be a man. He adores his wife (Megan Mullally), loves his family and preaches the value of separating from screens whenever possible, perhaps to craft something of your own or at least spend time with loved ones in a more productive way than mindless digital fixations usually can provide.
This funny, humble man—and fellow alum of the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, I am happy to mention—is deeply grateful for the luck that has slowly generated a lucrative life in the performing arts and a home life that fulfills him in more profound ways (and not just because of his fondness for Mullally’s boobs). Rest assured, “Paddle Your Own Canoe” isn’t 300 pages of sermonizing about how to live; Offerman writes hilariously and honestly about boyhood chores and collegiate shenanigans, Chicago theater dues-paying and sobbing “for, like, 20 minutes” when receiving the call about landing the “Parks and Rec” job.
Offerman sometimes repeats himself. He so stands behind his personal philosophies that he has a tendency to hammer them home to ensure those nails are in there. It’s not necessary; the comedian comes through loud and clear as both a devoted worker and a goofball; a reliable, upstanding citizen; and a giggly source of raunch with a weakness for penis jokes. He’s a man who discovered how to navigate the business with integrity and, after years of casting disappointments and mild promise, reaped the benefits of his principles and commitment to create a character deservedly beloved by the masses.
Many fans may want to sit down for dinner with Ron Swanson, and many may hope Offerman’s the same guy as his character. In certain ways, at least in terms of some of his eating/drinking preferences and saxophone abilities, he is, and in certain ways he’s not. Most importantly, both are good people, and in his writing the real guy offers a vivid look at how he charted the course for real happiness. It’s nothing if not inspiring.
See Offerman in person: 6:00 p.m. Friday at Music Box Theatre, presented by Unabridged Bookstore
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U
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