Nick Offerman: American ham

Many of us know Nick Offerman as the straightforward, bacon-eating, curmudgeon, Ron Swanson, of NBC’s Parks and Recreation. He’s made quite a name for himself there playing the role of a strictly anti-government parks worker to deadpan perfection. Reaching the heights of pop cultural iconography, his Swansonisms sprawl across the internets and he’s won the masses over with his affectless stoicism, the charm of one eyebrow raised ever so slightly. But like his lovely wife before him, Megan Mullally, who played the fantabulously drevil (drunk and evil) Karen Walker on Will and Grace, it’s become easy to equate the actor with their most famous role. Though Swanson and Offerman do share a lot in common (meat hankerings, saxophone playing, finely groomed mustaches) there are many faces to Offerman that you may not have seen yet.

Having read a number of Offerman interviews and articles, I knew that he was a legit farm boy who then studied stage acting and excelled not only at his theatrical craft, but also in the crafting of sets and costumes. Though he has lots of Hollywood experience, he also feels at home performing Kabuki theater and abstract postmodernist plays. He makes silly music videos with his wife and runs a serious carpentry business where he builds beautiful furniture and seaworthy canoes. Quite a talented grab bag, this fella. That being said, I wasn’t exactly sure what I’d signed up for by purchasing a ticket to American Ham, Offerman’s one-man show.

Well, last Friday night I plopped myself down in my folding chair in the Royal Oak theater — close enough to be giddy, far away enough that I couldn’t easily storm the stage (you’re welcome, Nick). No opening act, no announcer, no muss no fuss, Nick Offerman sauntered on stage with that trademarked direct stare and downturned grumpy cat mouth. Shirtless, wearing jeans and a guitar strapped to his bod, he made his way to the mic, offered a brisk hello and promptly put on a denim stars and stripes shirt. Our semi-nudity for the night complete, he got down to business.

The next couple hours consisted of spoken word and sometimes musical didacticism — a fine marriage of honesty, humor, and personal philosophy. Like the traveling Chatauqua shows of the early 21st century, his show is a kind of educational entertainment for adults. Though he begins by espousing Biblical teachings the ilk of “Do unto others,” he also heartily deconstructs “The Good Book” claiming that The Hobbit is also a good book that is far more consistent. (Offerman knows a lot about elves and wizards and things — a fun nerd surprise). He unpacks the importance of engaging in romantic love, no matter what your sexual preference, and exposes the ridiculous sexism of the Bible’s male writers who helped solidify a culture of woman fear and woman hating. I liked this part a lot. Any man who reminds his peers that menstruation is not disgusting or unclean gets a high-five from this gal. Beyond this, he discusses the value of “please and thank you,” the power of hard work, and good drugs (used responsibly, of course). He urged us be in nature, avoid the pitfalls of the mirror (our flaws are not as awful as advertisers claim), and he strongly suggested that we pick up a hobby, develop a discipline, find passion for a craft and the honing of it. Oh, and always carry a handkerchief to wipe a sweaty brow, politely blow one’s nose, or apply a tourniquet to a bleeding neighbor’s flesh wound.

Offerman is clearly a man who delights in words, multisyllable ones and curse words alike. He takes pleasure in speaking slowly and picking the appropriate term for the situation, likes the feel of a complex notion taking shape on his tongue. But perhaps best of all, his calm, measured lecturing is easily broken by a mischievous giggle that bubbles up out from under his mustache at odd intervals. The crowd could not help but burst into laughter in response every time.

Was there some Ron Swanson in there? Definitely, but not too much. American Ham was very much about balance. It showed me that Nick Offerman has delighted in being both a stalwart American man — a quiet, tree-hewing, meat-grilling sort, but also the gentle idiot, the ham who plays and wants to be seen playing, the kind of man who hand-makes cards for his “sweet stack of curves” wife along with the dorkiest loving song about how hard he’s gonna do her. Likewise, though his show takes us back in time to a simpler, plainer form of entertainment, it is good and hearty fare. See the show, go outside, make a craft. Those Ron Swanson gifs will still be there when you get back, and if Offerman is right, they’ll be all the sweeter once you’ve earned them.

Ana Holguin writes PopHeart for The Idler.

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