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Nick Offerman brings 'American Ham' to Austin for Moontower comedy fest

Michael Barnes
mbarnes@statesman.com

Nick Offerman is breaking up. The comic actor, who deadpans his way through the role of Ron Swanson on "Parks and Recreation," isn't laughing uncontrollably. Rather, he's speaking on an unreliable phone while crossing undulating cornfields in Illinois, his home state, en route to a college gig.

"I hate being misquoted," Offerman says bluntly, coming close to intimidating this reporter, the way Swanson might during a press conference as parks director in fictional Pawnee, Ind.

Well, given that every third sentence was garbled in transmission, I might be in big trouble when Offerman rolls into town to perform "American Ham." It plays Thursday at the Paramount Theatre during the sprawling Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival.

"I don't write jokes," he says. "They keep trying to tell me I'm a stand-up comic. I insist I am not. I'm a humorist."

"American Ham," he explains, is a collection of cautionary tales, amusing anecdotes and songs.

"It's something I never dreamed I could do," he says. "I like acting in fictional roles. I like embodying other characters, not me. Being myself is strange."

Offerman was a dependable, journeyman actor, regularly glimpsed in movies and television roles, and then he was cast by "Parks and Recreation" creators Michael Schur and Greg Daniels as the manly, government-hating parks director.

"Ron Swanson was the job I had been searching for for 13 or 14 years," he says. "The job that would take my clout as an actor to a much higher level. Now, I'm on the map. I have the great luxury of choosing the best material, rather than taking whatever job is available."

Inevitably, fans of the NBC comedy sometimes confuse Offerman with Swanson.

"I am expected to eat a pound of bacon at every sitting," he says. "Carry a couple of firearms on my person. Sometimes, when they see my live show, people are in for a surprise. Hopefully, not too disappointing a surprise. There's a very little bit of Ron Swanson in the show. But I'd like to think I have more to offer than just that character."

The prepared portion of "American Ham" runs an hour. Offerman usually appends a question-and-answer session when he performs at colleges. For the festival, he'll bring some friends to the stage for what he calls "some delicious goulash."

"I'm very new to the world of comedy festivals," he admits. "I've been to a couple as an audience member. But it's very exciting to see those names on the festival poster. I feel optimistic because it's in Austin. Anything that has a fruitful creativity should succeed in that magical city."

Offerman's first trip to Austin came during South by Southwest in 1999.

"My friend and I just sampled every flavor of Austin we could find — amazing barbecue, great music, Barton Springs," he recalls. "They tell me I drank a lot of delicious liquor. They also say I had a terrific time."

Since then, he's worked on Austin films for Robert Rodriguez ("Sin City") and Bob Byington (multiple titles, including "Somebody Up There Likes Me," which premiered at the 2012 SXSW).

Given that Offerman is married to Megan Mullally, who plays his ex-wife on "Parks and Recreation," what's it like having two comic actors in the same household?

"It's hard getting through a session of coitus without breaking into gales of laughter," he says. "I'm happy that, after 12 years, I can make her break down in laughter during (deleted) with a well-placed wisecrack. And she me. It has to be one of the secrets to a very successful marriage."

Contact Michael Barnes at 445-3970.

Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival