On television, Parks & Recreation‘s Nick Offerman plays a scotch-drinking badass who enjoys woodworking. In real life, Offerman also smokes pot. His book, Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living, is equal parts memoir and advice for grabbing life by the gonads. It’s funny, highly nostalgic, and will make you seriously contemplate taking up carpentry.
The first third of the book details his upbringing in rural Illinois. His account of adolescence is wistful and idyllic, yet seamlessly merges into early sexcapades. He quickly reveals himself as a paradox: a folksy stoner, a raunchy Ned Flanders. He extolls the value of hard work and manly competency, gushes over his family and boyhood friends, and also advises us to join a church to get laid: “We would participate in camp activities, like the Jesus log-roll, the Jesus potato-sack race, the Jesus hammer throw, then we’d go sixty-nine in the woods for two hours. Get saved. It’s genius.” It’s sort of like reading Garrison Keillor if he wrote for Playboy.
The meat of the book lies in Offerman’s post-collegiate years. He reveals that at the 1997 Abbie Hoffman Died for Our Sins Theater Festival he dressed up like a clown and drank a goblet of his own urine on stage. I read this and thought, Why did you keep yammering on about childhood on a farm when we could be reading about your theater debauchery?! But the forbidden chalice is just the beginning. We learn about Offerman’s jail experience for shoplifting eight Ronnie Milsap cassettes as part of a prank. Dumped by his college heart throb, Offerman donned a disguise and surprised her on a Caribbean island, only to be rebuked, then laid.
Towards the end Offerman finally reaches Los Angeles and enters a prolonged uphill battle in show business. Throughout the book Offerman is relentlessly and obscenely cheerful. In his Los Angeles years we are briefly treated to a glimpse of a struggling actor who is poor, depressed, and drinking. Confronted with an uncaring industry, Offerman pressed on, supplementing his income as a carpenter. (He still owns and runs a woodshop today, and is a woodworking authority in trade magazines.)
To Offerman the apex of his life is not career triumphs but the courtship of his wife, Megan Mullally. He references his wife throughout the book, but when the narration catches up to her his affection is childish but touching. Offerman is a man in love, and keeps alive the kind of sloppy and perverse middle school crush which life systematically beats out of most of us at some point. It’s beautiful.
I found myself often wanting Offerman to reveal some trick he employed to achieve success as an actor. The epiphany came towards the end of the book, when I realized that Offerman had been explaining his system the entire time: that you should strive to have a full and happy life beyond the confines of your career. Being happy at home and capable of supporting himself outside of acting lead to a kind of zen. Rather than being frustrated by the machinations of Hollywood overlords, he sallies forth into auditions telling himself, “I can’t make this corporation more artistic so I’ll just have fun here and do my best.”
Be warned: Offerman’s writing style is unpolished and bro-heavy. He often uses bold and ALL CAPS to drive home a point, and reads like a frat boy with a heady vocabulary. It is my personal opinion that Offerman stared down his editor with steely resolve, resiting any attempt to normalize his use of the English language. While this often made me wince, I plan to steal some of his phrases, like “For a single-malt scotch, Lagavulin will never disappoint. It’s practically furry.”
Paddle Your Own Canoe is a little slapdash, but it’s fun, it’s visceral, and I learned things. When I finished the tome I had to take a long walk to soak everything in. We should all be so lucky to one day drink with this man, or at least purchase a table from him.
WRITTEN BY: Nick Offerman
RELEASE: October 2, 2013
Andrew Heaton is a writer and standup comedian who lives in New York but owns one square foot of a Scottish distillery. He draws cartoons and rants at www.MightyHeaton.com.