Nick Offerman at Mill City Nights: "Paddle your own canoe"
Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation
In 2009, the world was introduced to a man. Well, actually, that man had actually been in acting and comedy for some time. Scratch that. In 2009, the world was introduced to a mustache.
As Ron Swanson on NBC's Parks and Recreation, Nick Offerman has brought his deadpan machismo to the masses for five years. With his American Ham tour he is breaking out of his TV role with an evening full of anecdotes, music, and intimate details concerning his wife, actress Megan Mullally.
Last night's two very sold-out sets at Mill City Nights weren't just standup performances, though. The show is a musical-comedy production with songs peppered throughout to emphasize the 10 key points in Offerman's routine. The musical numbers were performed solely by the man himself with an acoustic guitar, demonstrating that his range extends beyond comedy.
The crowd was mostly seated for the 10 p.m. show, with mixed quality standing-only sight lines in the upper level. The audience was varied in age, and more than a few embarrassing mustaches were spotted. While Mill City Nights is far from a perfect comedy venue, it was adequate despite some distracting noises from the bar upstairs.
Offerman's humor comes through in his anecdotal delivery. He uses himself as the key to any joke, punctuating tales with references to his family, to growing up, and to his Parks and Recreation stars. The set contained a number of lewd jokes, and more than a few zingers thrown at Christianity. However, its core message concerned serious matters befitting of his Ron Swanson character: paddle your canoe and live life instead of leisurely playing a digital version of it. (A line from one of his songs: "I choose not to malign/ I stay offline.")
While his Ron Swanson character is a clear reference point in the act, the American Ham tour brings a more humble, affectionate persona. Onstage he spoke of Minnesota, but not in a pejorative tone. "My people are people of lakes and corn," he noted, citing his rural upbringing in Illinois. From the start, Offerman's awkward laugh -- more of a giggle, really -- reduced the audience to laughter nearly as often as his punchlines. His laugh helps to break down his macho façade, and gives him a more humble presence. The humility was all the more public when he admitted during his recap that he'd missed an entire piece of his 10-count list, #7, quickly adding it before finishing up.
Scattered throughout the set were a handful of Tolkien references, some drug allusions, a fascination with statistics, and barbs at Christianity. For the most part, Offerman's humor is good-natured, poking fun at things but without mean spirit.
Another key variation between the performer and his TV role is lewdness. During the night Offerman mixed in jokes about oral and anal sex, giving his set a definite R-rating complete with gestures, audience discussion, seedy details, and some terms you may need to google later.
As a whole the crowd was responsive, though folks were a little slow to warm up from the chill outside. Jokes were met with laughter, but many early allusions took a moment to settle in, including a reference to Tom Waits's "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis." Later in the set, the crowd reacted quickly in approval of basically all of his commentary -- be it political, religious, or otherwise.
The balancing act between his familiar character and his stage presence was well done. A clear division was drawn, yet there were numerous overlaps and acknowledgements throughout, including ending on a solo rendition of "5,000 Candles in the Wind," a dedication to Parks and Recreation's one and only Li'l Sebastian, "his horsiest friend."
Critic's bias: He may have convinced me to build my own fence this spring instead of hiring someone to do it for me.
Random notebook dump: A drunken heckler was removed late in the set. From my location, she could not be heard, but the venue was quick to address the situation upon Offerman's comments.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Minneapolis & St. Paul and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.