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Nick Offerman, American ham hero

Nick Offerman is the articulate American man. The character he most famously portrays — department head Ron Swanson of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” — is a representation of that American man, an outdoorsy, red-meat, red-blooded champion of individual liberty. Where Ron Swanson’s qualities are written to produce a comedic effect, the real-life Offerman, no less passionate in any of these traits, can use them as tools of eloquence. He isn’t just a concept of hypermasculinity or patriotism, he’s the thinking man as well.

Offerman delivers in full regalia. (Vicki Wang / Staff Photographer)
Offerman delivers in full regalia. (Vicki Wang / Staff Photographer)

“I wrote this show called ‘American Ham’ in which I detail 10 tips for prosperity, which are the chunks of broccoli in the meal — then I try to build a delicious pizza around it, so that the audience would stay for the pizza and unwittingly consume a bunch of broccoli,” Offerman said in an interview with The Signal. “And as you know, cruciferous vegetables are good for your circulatory system.”

Offerman, deciding he had “something to say to the young people in America,” left his established niche of theater and character acting in order to deliver a message — an American message, nonetheless, that dismantled our convictions and rebuilt them with a handsome mustache on top. So stopping at the College, Offerman headlined CUB’s spring Comedy Show on Friday, Feb. 7, with opener Andy Haynes giving a blistering opening act before passing the mic.

Students familiar with Ron Swanson recognized Offerman’s talents immediately. The character and the actor behind him appeared to be so seamlessly blurred that the two were at times indistinguishable. Rule number four requested we eat red meat, Ron’s culinary trademark. Nearly every point made an impassioned appeal to woodworking, a discipline of Offerman’s on-and-off the show, and an appreciation for hard work. Sometimes deadpan and always direct, Offerman’s performance meshed the dynamic of a theater actor with Swanson’s comedic qualities, combining to create a stage presence as funny as it was thespian.

What many didn’t expect was how unrestrained Offerman could be — and not just swaggering on stage without a shirt.

“Rule number eight,” Offerman said, “is to maintain a relationship with Jesus … if it is getting you sex.”

Dominating his tips to prosperity was a discussion of sex and religion, an edgy cocktail to serve. During rule number eight, Offerman dove into his teenage ploy to feign a born-again Christian attitude, all to sleep with a high-school crush.

“The two key ingredients are Christian guilt and sinful anticipation,” Offerman said.

Offerman’s follow-up rule: “Use intoxicants (responsibility),” in which he strung up his guitar to perform Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel,” only this time christened as “Jesus Take the Weed.”

Yet, all at once, Offerman was feeding a broccoli-laden lecture to an audience eating from the palm of his hand. Beyond the chuckles and hilarious vulgarity, Offerman stressed the socially-conscious values he personally believes in, from a respect for marriage equality to the fundamental need to develop a personal hobby or discipline.

“When you can make something with your hands, it’s not nerdy, it’s actually super-sexy,” Offerman said in rule number five. “Who would you rather be attracted to? Someone who can text fast, or someone who knit the dress that she’s wearing?”

Offerman is keenly aware of the cultural environment circulating around America. Times are changing. Some traditions hang proudly, while others resist modernity. As much as Offerman and Ron Swanson seem to be one in the same, it was not Swanson’s ideology that delivered the message on stage — that was entirely Offerman and his system of values, sorting through the principles we should keep and the ones to be discarded.

His individuality also came as a surprise to those who see so much mystique behind Offerman’s on-screen demeanor. Offerman admitted to sharing certain characteristics of Swanson’s lovable all-American zeal, but there’s again a difference between the character and the man behind him.

“I got the job when I was 38, and at the time, I had about three values — now I have seven,” Offerman joked in an interview. “So, from playing Ron, I share a lot of (his) sensibilities, but I certainly don’t suffer fools gladly. I’m not a fan of big government either, but Ron’s a masterfully written comedy character. He’s a little more clear-cut in his ideology than I am.”

Yet, as times change, so does Offerman’s career path. He “never dreamed he’d get a job as good as ‘Parks and Recreation,’” but after nearly six seminal years as Ron Swanson, there are new roles to fill.

“I’m a versatile actor,” Offerman said. “I do actually like to play all kinds of people, but the role that brought me into the public eye, Ron Swanson, he’s a rather manly customer. And people want to see me play manly guys. When ‘Parks and Rec’ is over, I’ll be looking to do things as unlike (Ron) as possible. I feel like I’ve had a wonderful smörgåsbord of manliness, and now maybe it’s time to play a ballet dancer.”

Whatever he puts his talents to, Offerman has always been more than the masculine paragon that heads the Pawnee Parks Department. It’s hard to imagine him in a white, powdered wig and Victorian accent, but that was his training, versatility being the key to his life’s work. It’s even harder to break the Swanson stereotype. But being the archetypical American man has always meant more to Offerman than the comedy — it’s about eloquence, diligence and passion, all with a dirty joke thrown in at the end for good measure.

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