Sameer Rao Sameer Rao is a Philadelphia-based freelance journalist and former City Paper intern whose works predominantly focus on music, art, theatre, comedy, education, activism, arts communities, gender, race, society, and where all of those things intersect. His writing so far has appeared in City Paper, the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, APIARY Online, and the Good Men Project. Look for upcoming pieces in CRED Magazine and WXPN's The Key.
For many artists, "art imitates life" is a badge worn with honor. But unlike the pop artist who pens a hit single about all her most break-ups, or the actor who plays an addict on screen before succumbing to real-life demons in his hotel room, Nick Offerman's badge is much more ... dignified.
"I can't hear you, let me walk away from the table saw real quick."
That's how Nick Offerman opened last week's phone interview with City Paper.
Indeed, the man known as Ron Swanson — the red meat-fueled libertarian who doles out sage advice and hard-scrabble individualism in equal measure on NBC's Parks and Recreation — is a prodigiously talented woodworker. With American Ham, a comedy show/motivational speech/rock concert/America lovefest that touches down at Philly's Tower Theater on Sept. 3, he's planning to blur the actor/character line even further.
Eschewing the traditional standup format, one effectively embraced by his Parks and Rec. co-star Aziz Ansari, Offerman will instead offer "Ten Tips for Prosperity" (exactly what it sounds like) alongside elocution on woodworking and musical theater.
In very non-Swansonian fashion however, Offerman will be clothed in fabulously-overstated Americana: "A pair of American-made blue jeans, an excellent pair of brown work boots made by hand, and I will drape my torso in the American flag." He's described himself in previous interviews as a "foul-mouthed, less-educated Garrison Keillor," but could Keillor pull off clothes like these?
In spite of (or given) this remarkable attire, Offerman promises "minor nudity." Those who have read his May interview with the Daily News, in which he confesses to having modeled in the buff for an art class while working with Malvern's People's Light and Theatre Company in the early '90s, will rejoice at this news. Unfortunately, he's unable to say precisely who's going to disrobe — him, or show-openers Nancy and Beth, a close-harmony pop duo featuring Megan Mullally (Offerman's real-life spouse, also known as Karen on Will & Grace and Chief on Childrens Hospital) and Friday Night Lights's Stephanie Hunt.
"So it might be really appetizing or horrifying, but you'll have to show up to find out," says Offerman. We'll let you decide which would be which. Either way, he has nothing but praise for his openers, describing them as "Nine to 10 times more talented" than himself and "like a really eclectic Andrew Sisters."
Offerman will perform his own self-penned songs. "They've been described as 'perfectly mediocre' and also 'terribly adequate.' I depend much more on laughter than talent," he says with a laugh.
Besides the brief forays into soft erotica, Offerman's connection to Philadelphia runs deep. His time with People's Light and Theatre yielded several close friendships in the area, including an unexpected one with theater scholar and current Villanova president Rev. Peter Donahue. "We were very close, despite his work as a Catholic priest. He was still a decent person."
Moreover, his meat-a-holic tendencies endear him to Philadelphia's unique culinary delights. "It's in my rider that wherever I'm going, we ask the stage hands what they consider to be the local meat specialty," he said before asking this reporter for his own recommendation. Upon hearing about a place that puts scrapple on burgers, Offerman declared "That just went in the file!"
Even with all of the high-octane theatrics that American Ham promises, Offerman's hopes are simple. "We have a lot fun, and you may come away with a lesson or two." If this interview is any indication, you just might come away with a lot more.
Tue., Sept. 3, 8 p.m., $34.50, with Nancy and Beth, Tower Theater, 19 S. 69th St., Upper Darby, 610-352-2887, thetowerphilly.com.