Interview: Nick Offerman on writing a ‘Parks and Recreation’ script

Senior Television Writer
01.07.12 12 Comments


At NBC’s press tour party last night, I ran into Nick Offerman from “Parks and Recreation,” who mentioned that he had written an upcoming episode for the show (the 18th out of 22 for the season). Given that Offerman, like Ron Effing Swanson, seems to be superhumanly competent at everything else, the idea of him writing a script for the show intrigued me. So we talked for a few minutes about how this happened, his writing experience, his secret dreams for writing Ron Swanson, and which other character he most enjoyed writing for.
How did this come about? Did Mike (Schur) come to you? Did you go to Mike?
Mike asked me. We had lunch together this summer, and he asked me if I would like to write an episode. And as is my habit, I burst into explosive tears and said, “Absolutely, I would love to. Why in the world would you want me to write an episode?”
It was so touching. He said, “Because I love making this show with you. I could go out and get some hotshot writer from one of my Ivy League wells that I draw from, but I’d rather have a dipshit like you.” And I was very touched.
Had you written before?
Yeah, I wrote papers in high school.
But, like, plays in college or anything?
My writing experience is a lousy script in 1998 – which I still have high hopes for – and a couple of treatments I’m proud of that were both gigs that were quashed by the writers strike. I have added a lot of dialogue to the show. And my emails retain a certain notoriety for having a certain turn of phrase.
For example?
I think just my general language, Mike finds entertaining, and he thought that I could take a shot at it.
Can you give me a specific example of a line you added to the show in the past?
I often pitch things for other characters – specifically, Pratt, because I just love him and what he does. I love tossing him the ball when I can. Most obviously, what I would have added would have been my own. “Ron Fucking Swanson” was my addition. More recently, “I think you’d make a wonderful brunette. Ron Swanson.” Some of the best things come from being a brat. I said that line just to crack up Nicole Holofcener, and she said, “That’s great. Let’s put that in.” And I said, “Oh, don’t put that in. That’s no good.” But she did. She’s also a brat, it turns out.
I don’t know; I’ve probably had a line per episode. In our talking heads, a lot of us pack a lunch and try and crack the writers up.
Amy told me that for “The Fight,” you shot an hour or more of those drunken talking heads, just you guys improvising the whole way.
Amy, among her many moments of brilliance, one of them was just that: Tell everyone, “You’re shit-faced drunk on Snake Juice. Go.”
And it was your idea to put on Aubrey’s hat?
I believe it was. The great thing about having Amy or any other friend of the show as a writer, the writer acts as a producer on each episode. So when we were writing these Snake Juice solos, Amy is sitting 10 feet away at the monitor. So you’re just openly trying to crack up Amy. And that’s obviously a way to get great material.
So once you agreed to do the script, did Mike come up with ideas for you, or did you go off on your own?
No, no. Like any show, it’s wonderfully collaborative, and you have the incredible net of Mike Schur under you. Every script is an outline, and it’s broken in the writers room.
So it wasn’t just you saying, “In this episode, Ron Swanson conquers the Visigoths.”
I would love to have the opportunity to do that, and it would never make the light of day. It would probably involve inter-dimensional travel, or Ron Swanson would end up in New York in a bare knuckle brawl with Jack Donaghy, which is a secret dream of mine.
Whenever I would talk to Michael Imperioli about his “Sopranos” scripts, he said he would always go out of his way to minimize himself, and to write a lot for Paulie Walnuts, because that was his favorite character and he liked Tony Sirico. Is your episode a lot of Ron, a little Ron?
Necessarily, the amount of Ron or not was dictated by the amount that he participates in the B-story. It’s not a terribly heavy Ron episode, but it’s a very nice story. He has a romantic intrigue. But I found it was so enjoyable writing for all of these characters. I felt like I got to go over to my rich friend’s house when we were kids, when nobody was home and I would get to play with all of his toys that I always wanted to see played with. The way the stories played out, it was really fun writing in Amy’s voice, but in this episode, I think Aubrey got my Paulie Walnuts attention. I got to make her filthy and evil and everything I love to see her do.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at

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