Nick Offerman is nothing if not familiar.
Not because you know his hearty voice and demeanor from television ("Parks & Recreation," "Good Omens"), film ("The Founder") and stage shows with his wife, Megan Mullally. When you hear from him, Offerman is the soul of an honest, good, fun, smart and plain-spoken America — pragmatism at its most artful and straight-forward.
That's what his new solo show, "All Rise," will portray on Nov. 2 at The Met Philadelphia.
"You may be familiar with me and my handling of words, and now I've put together 90 minutes worth of them," he said. "Please come. I promise it will be enjoyable and edifying."
Offerman spoke with PW about his upcoming performance.
Having witnessed several permutations of your staged, satirical storytelling, by yourself or with your wife (Megan Mullally), how did you develop this niche? What made you want to do this?
I was around friends during my college years who would, on occasion, pull out guitars and make up funny songs about the group on the spot; whatever situation we were in. That struck me deeply as just one of the most enjoyable forms of entertainment. If I ever had the chance to pluck out a song on a guitar and sing a song about my family — where each member got their own verse — I took it I was just besotted by that humor delivery form. I spent many years slowly matriculating toward that goal. Once “Parks & Recreation” started, colleges invited me to perform, thinking I was a stand-up, wrongly assuming, but I thought I'd take a swing at this, see if I could entertain an audience with my writing, without any artifice or having it be fictional theater. There's something about delivering my point of view without fictional narrative that feels really good.
Your stories don't always land on a comic point. When you first started, did you push to have a comedic resolution, perhaps, to meet expectations?
In my comedy writing, be it on stage or in books, I am pleased to be able to air my grievances, to pass along important things. But whenever I pontificate or get too deep into the weeds of seriousness, an alarm goes off. ‘Hey buddy, you're not a scholar. You're an actor with a point of view and a sense of humor. Stay in your lane.’ I sneak my broccoli into the pizza, and make sure that the pizza is delicious. With ‘All Rise,’ I've gone the furthest in maintaining that humor, getting my points across, but keeping up the laughs. My wife is directing this, and the most exciting part is when we trim away any opportunity for me to pontificate. I mean, I don't need to tell an audience that white supremacy is bad during my bit where I play a white supremacist with a litany of complaints. It points out what a stupid frame of mind that is.
For the most part, you're speaking to the already-converted. Ever get hassled by those not prepared for what you have to say, considering what your ‘Parks & Recs’ character's libertarian MO was?
I do get people who disagree. I get a certain percentage, 8 percent to 10 percent, who are a brand of American thinker not great at watching television. They have a certain solipsism or don't understand that ‘Parks & Rec’ was a., fictional and b., humorous. Certain conservatives have taken my Ron Swanson character to be a paragon of right wing thought, of Second Amendment rights, of being some sort of NRA idiot. They sometimes will express dissatisfaction and anger. I deal with them gently, tell them my heart is in the right place and remind them that Ron was a TRUE Libertarian — not a gun-wielding jerk who does so out of insecurity, which that and fear is what I believe is at the root of the gun nuts' psyche. Frankly, I think it is mainly white people afraid that black people and Native-Americans are going to take back what we stole from them. I do try to do all this nicely though. If I disagree with your politics or your lifestyle, I still want to shake your hand, because we all have to share this piece of land together. America is an experiment where we literally need to be cool to all people. Except Nazis.
Yeah, fuck Nazis. You told me previously that you grew up in Minooka, Illinois, speaking the words of the gospel to your church's congregation. How much of that you — the religious you — is part of ‘All Rise’?
That's a wonderful question. Religion never took with me. I was raised Catholic and I was the head altar boy and did the gospel readings in the churches, but it just never caught me. There's wisdom in the stories of the Bible, and I get that. A lot of that translated to my love of theater — OK, we can take narratives that communicate these things to an audience that help us remember our values, help heal us as a society because human beings will always be flawed so we need to be vigilant toward any tendency of behaving selfishly. I've always been fascinated with religion and the way that people will conflate their faith with the real world, particularly in this country with roots that are in Christianity, and how society wants to hang onto old-fashioned notions of white supremacy — which is rooted in that Christianity. Then again, religion of all stripes can be used in a fundamental way which shows human weakness.
You spent a good amount of time at Malvern's People’s Light & Theater Company around 1991. What did you get out of that time that you use now in your work?
I'm a big fan of Philadelphia and Malvern. Growing up in the Midwest, these broad-shouldered and American seats of culture, like Philadelphia … they feel like London or Brussels to me. I love to visit your museums, see your sports teams, enjoy your cuisine and can pronounce Schuylkill. Coming up in theater school, you'd hear about important regional theaters where you could have an enjoyable life, not particularly lucrative, but putting on shows as a group and bringing joy and culture to a community. At People’s Light, I was put up at an old farmhouse. The theater is in an old bar. That work and lifestyle was an education. That could've very well have been the direction my life took me if things had worked out a different way. Getting to live in a community, to see this incredibly idyllic and hilly terrain, especially during the autumn. I was a nude model in a drawing class for extra money on the side — there was a whole hedonistic Bohemian sensibility to it all. I was able to subsist on Yuengling 16 ounce bottles — all the beer — and we were next door to a Pepperidge Farm outlet where we could get expired crackers and cookies. I learned the life of a hippie artist here, more wholesomely than I did anywhere else in my career.
Nick Offerman, “All Rise” | Nov. 2, 8 p.m. $30-$60. The Met Philadelphia, 858 N. Broad St. themetphilly.com/event/nick-offerman/