Nick Offerman's stand-up falls flat
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  • Nick Offerman, actor in "Parks and Recreation," performed at Northwestern on Saturday.
  • Sarah Sherman performs before Offerman's stand-up.
  • Mee-Ow, a student short-form comedy group, performs before Offerman's stand up.

Photos by Kamya Bijawat / North by Northwestern

SCOTT: the performance

My comments about Nick Offerman’s stand-up event on Saturday night should take into consideration these two facts. The first: I have seen the first four seasons of Parks and Recreation, and while I found them funny, I’m in no way a die-hard fan. The second: I was forced to sit with the rest of the press on the Pick-Staiger balcony, where I had to lean forward and cup my ears because the audio coverage was so bad.

At one point during Offerman’s long-winded, mostly humorless talk on chemical companies being run by the government, I sighed and whispered out loud: “Did I walk into lecture by accident? My ticket says stand-up, but I feel like he's talking about class readings that I didn't do. I don’t know what the hell he's going on about.”

Offerman, as the gruff but amiable Ron Swanson on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, espouses much of the same concerns in the same gravely, honeyed voice. However, on the show, Swanson is one piece of a much larger production. On stage, all alone, Offerman failed to provide the same level of entertainment that his counterpart does on screen.

I must applaud Offerman for his singing and guitar chops that he sprinkled into his show. But despite a strong beginning, when he established a more intimate tone and performed the musical numbers, I didn’t find much to even chuckle at. The laughs were mostly a result of the Ron Swanson moments, not for the man on the stage.

We got a lot of Offerman’s lowered voice when he hit the punch line, his "hrms", Ron Swanson’s cursing (and talking about sex!), his odd turns of phrase and his boyish, Pillsbury Doughboy giggle. Jokes with punch lines or stories with a humorous direction? Nowhere to be found.

STACY: The Q&A

The uproarious cheering when Nick Offerman finally said the magical words “Ron Swanson” might have been more exciting than the previous 85 minutes.

When Offerman opened the floor to questions, a few phone-lit faces filed out, but the majority stayed, drawn in by his gruff, innuendo-filled humor and a loyalty to the face of a beloved character. However, he was much more sentimental than some might have expected. A question about his wife prompted a sweet story of theater and love, then was promptly summed up with a gratuitous amount of the word ‘anal’ – an accurate summary of the show’s themes.

Offerman is self-deprecating, at the very least. He didn't dwell on fame, nor he doesn’t make a big deal of the Parks and Rec-related questions. Instead, he reveled in a sort of lurid, New Age hippie-ness that evidently jives with a lot of his fans. Questions about auditions and sandwiches alike elicited genuine responses. A question about his relatively recent foray into stand-up was answered by his thoughts on his unconventional, style of comedy. He unabashedly talked about the lack of a concrete structure in his set, calling his set “humorous” rather than “stand-up.”

As Offerman answered more and more questions, it became clear that he was just being himself on stage – maybe sans comedic timing, but also sans artificiality and pretension (okay, maybe a little pretension – but seriously? Anti-consumerism? That is so passé, Offerman).

Despite the preachiness and overt innuendos of his show, there was an undeniable lovability about the unedited Offerman. He quipped about his love of film and TV, but singled out theater as his favorite because of the “instant feedback” from the audience. From the near Pavlovian audience reaction to his signature giggle to the elated facial expressions when they heard the first chords of"5000 Candles in the Wind," it’s clear that Northwestern gave him that.

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