"I don't like to call myself a stand-up, because I have friends that are such great stand-ups, and I don't write jokes," said actor Nick Offerman, who showcases his talents this weekend with a show dubbed "American Ham" at Largo at the Coronet. "I suppose it's splitting hairs, but I feel more like a humorist, because my show is anecdotal."
Billed as an evening of "songs and woodworking tips with minor nudity," the show promises to show many sides of Offerman's comedy, which lately is best known in his portrayal of the meat-eating libertarian Ron Swanson on NBC's "Parks and Recreation."
Offerman got his start in the Chicago theater scene, then segued into improv at New York's Upright Citizens Brigade, an incubator of comic talents that includes his "Parks and Recreation" castmate Amy Poehler. Before landing the sitcom, Offerman appeared in "24," "The George Lopez Show" and "Childrens Hospital," and lately his film career has taken off with roles in recently released comedies "Casa de Mi Padre" and "21 Jump Street."
Offerman developed "American Ham" after being invited to appear at colleges around the country. "Rather than just grace them with my presence and incredible face, I thought I would go through the trouble of writing some material," he said dryly. Offerman then developed the show at Largo, which has long been an incubator for comedy and musical talents.
"Getting to perform at Largo is a dream come true for me," said Offerman. "I've seen so many people I've admired there."
After Saturday's performance, the show continues at universities around the country before swinging back to Largo next month. Plans are also coming together for "American Ham" to tour larger theaters in the fall, including a stop at UCLA's Royce Hall on Sept. 29.
"American Ham" opens with a musical performance by actress-musician Stephanie Hunt, who appeared on TV's "Friday Night Lights" as a part of the fictional garage band Crucifictorious. Offerman's wife, actress Megan Mullally, will also perform, and the show closes with the "entrée of ham" in Offerman, who will offer "Ten Tips for Prosperity" and some original songs.
"It feels strange coming from a theater background to have no set, costume or props. It's just me and a guitar," said Offerman. "I'm honestly quite surprised that people find the show entertaining."
" 'American Ham' is a perfect reflection of Nick," said Mullally. "Funny, sweet, contemplative, irreverent, fearless, philosophical — and very good in bed," she added playfully.
The overlap between Nick Offerman and Ron Swanson (who has garnered a die-hard, bacon-wrapped turkey leg-eating fan base) in some ways has grown more blurry as "Parks and Recreation" has progressed. Offerman conducts a side business as a wood craftsman, a detail which was integrated into Swanson's character, and Mullally was cast in a recurring role as Swanson's volatile second ex-wife Tammy.
Given that much of today's entertainment features the plights of technologically dependent and often neurotic urbanites, a character such as Ron Swanson — huntsman, avid red-meat lover and man of few words — stands out.
"I find it astonishing that myself and Ron Swanson have been getting a lot of attention for being incredibly macho or manly," Offerman said. "I think it's not as much masculinity as it is capability and having practical skills.... There are millions of 13-year-old girls across the country who can do everything that Ron Swanson can, they're just nowhere near the cities or suburbs.
"My mom and dad grew up on farms two miles from each other, and my two uncles are still farmers," Offerman said. "But the bigger the city you live in, the more you need to rely on others to do things for you, because you don't necessarily have the space to run a self-sustaining operation."
In addition to his onscreen role as Swanson, Offerman's turn in "American Ham" is a window into a simpler version of existence.
"People seem to be responding to a lack of cynicism in my general character," Offerman said. "I'd like to pass along my philosophy to the youth, which I hide within the comedy — ideas about how one chooses to spend one's time, encouragement to get outside and not just live inside your screens.... Things like that."