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Parks and Recreation star Nick Offerman—who plays the staunchly libertarian yet surprisingly tenderhearted Ron Swanson—took his one-man show, American Ham, to colleges and small venues around the country last year. After tweaking what he calls its “cautionary tales, tunes and tips for prosperity,” Offerman is back on the road, with a stop at the Town Hall on Saturday 2. TONY caught up with the actor in his woodshop to chat about the show and how one can live prosperously.
How did the idea for American Ham come about?
I was invited to speak at some colleges, and I was very touched by that invitation. I did not want to squander the opportunity, because I had very important things that I wanted to say to the young people of our nation. That turned into a year of college and comedy-festival dates, and I’m very overjoyed that I’m able to reach people in an avenue that I’ve never dreamed I would set foot in.
You have a theater background; had you ever considered a one-man show before this opportunity?
I definitely am a theater actor, and my work always involves me playing a role sort of hiding behind a mask of some sort. I never considered doing a show that’s in my own voice, where I’m just me onstage. I’ve always greatly admired Garrison Keillor and I’ve often thought, Boy, that’d be nifty to do a show like he does. And now I feel like I’ve achieved a show that’s [like a] less good-looking, more foulmouthed, less-educated Garrison Keillor.
The meat of the piece is your ten tips for prosperous living, such as “Practice romantic love” and “Say please and thank you.” How did you come up with those?
I thought, Well, I’m not a stand-up, and I don’t have particularly pithy observations to relate to the audience—what business do you have, Nick? And I said, I’ll talk about how I might’ve gotten to this place and the means by which I have arrived, and these lessons that I’ve learned from much wiser teachers than I in my life. One of the most gratifying things I found in audience feedback from the show is when young people say, “Thank you so much, I’ve learned how to knit.” One young lady had a sort of cuss jar, but her parents had to pay into the jar when they forgot to say please and thank you. I’m starting an incredibly polite cult.
How involved is your wife, Megan Mullally, in your writing process?
When I spoke earlier about the teachers I had good fortune to study under, she is in my top 3. But when it comes to creating material, she’s sort of foremost in my mind because she’s my best friend. Whether I’m trying to be funny or touching, whether she’s standing in front of me or not, I’m trying to be funny or touching to her. I think that’s true of performers—what they’re trying to do is just win the love of their desired object.
Much more practically, for anything that we are cooking up, we love to get each other’s input, because it always makes it that much better. I’m calling to mind a particular lyric in “I Stay Offline,” where there’s a sweet verse about her; she said, “You know, I think it should be funnier, we’re sucking on each other’s tits or something,” and I said, “I love you so much,” and immediately dropped that verse in. Then I had to top it, of course, so I wrote an incredibly filthy verse and read it back to her, and she fell on the kitchen floor laughing and [I thought], By Christ, I love you even more now.
How’s your woodworking business going?
My dream is coming true. When I won my dream job as Ron Swanson, I was faced with a choice: I could shut the doors on my shop and lock it up to wait for me—but I have this beautiful shop that I built over the years and I would hate to see it quiet and empty. I set about enlisting and recruiting young geniuses, and so now we have this sort of co-op going, where they work as independent contractors under the auspices of Offerman Woodshop.
We’ve seen a softer side of Ron Swanson on Parks and Rec this season. What’s it been like playing him, but in love?
When this idea was proposed—that Ron has his first real, honest relationship in his life—I giggled like a schoolgirl, and then gasped and said, “Oh, that’s going to be scary.”
I would never have imagined Ron settling down with kids, and yet it seems possible.
Yeah, maybe. I think no one yet knows what the outcome of our relationship is going to be, but whatever it is, it will have been a very delicious journey.
Nick Offerman: American Ham happens Sat 2 at the Town Hall.