Nick Offerman never meant to be a stand-up comedian. He considers that part of his career, which also includes acting, writing books, and running his own woodshop, as a happy accident. Colleges had seen him as the lovable Libertarian Ron Swanson on “Parks and Recreation,” and assuming he was a comedian, started to invite him to be the entertainment at their homecoming celebrations.
“At first I said, ‘Oh, no, I don’t do that,’ ” he says. “But pretty quickly I said, ‘Hang on, I wanna try that. There’s some things I want to tell you about good manners and using a handkerchief. Let me see if I can set that to music and I’ll be right over.’ ”
In interviews for his past two shows, “American Ham” and “Full Bush,” Offerman was quick to label himself a “humorist” rather than a stand-up comedian, out of respect for those in the profession who can pack a show with jokes. His approach was more gentle and Midwestern, like a “Prairie Home Companion” with foul language. He extolled the virtues of saying “please” and “thank you” and wrote songs praising the use of handkerchiefs. With his new show, “All Rise,” which plays the Chevalier Theatre in Medford Wednesday and Thursday, he is now more comfortable calling his act stand-up comedy.
“When I sat down to write this new show, ‘All Rise,’ I said, ‘You know what? I’m gonna suck it up this time.’ I feel like I’ve been through a couple rounds of boot camp, and this time I’m going to do my best to make the audience laugh the whole time,” he says.
That means, as Offerman puts it, canceling his “permission to pontificate” and going for more punchlines. “It’s attempting never to be delivered from a pulpit,” he says. “My shows have always had songs on the guitar and a little bit on the ukulele, and those are always funny and sometimes rousing, but my spoken-word sections, my essays, if you will, are, I think, much more geared towards comedy. They still are full of wholesome sort of moralistic content, but it’s aimed at getting a laugh I think much more than I have in the past.”
Offerman’s influences haven’t been stand-up comedians as much as authors like Wendell Berry, George Saunders, and Mark Twain, whose works he has narrated for Audible, and Laurie Anderson, for her wit and storytelling skills. “All have a heavy dose of common sense and love and affection for humanity, warts and all, and that’s the idea, especially given the incredibly irascible state of our society these days,” he says. The goal is to get people to laugh at themselves as a group, to emphasize the positive. That inclusivity is part of what the title ‘All Rise’ refers to.
“I don’t have the brain capacity of my heroes, but I do think I apparently have the ability to keep everyone chuckling as we try and row the boat in the right direction.”
Offerman’s language is peppered with the words “grateful” and “lucky.” “I’m incredibly fortunate that the world in general seems to be responding to my admittedly sort of clumsy material,” he says.
That humility is part of his humanity, and also part of his DNA as a performer. “I learned early on in Chicago theater that people responded to me much more as a laborer, rather than if I put on a suit and tried to comb my hair and land a part in ‘Glengarry Glen Ross,’ ” he says. “They’re like, ‘No, we believed you a lot more when you were the bus driver or the guy carrying that bale of hay.’ ”
He used to be ashamed of his dirty hands and ripped jeans, but now he’s happy he learned about honest work before he had success as an actor. “Even though I can afford what I’m told should be a life of luxury and I should put my feet up and live like a successful consumerist,” he says, “thanks to the lessons of my betters and my family, I understand that continuing to work with my hands will actually provide me with a much more fruitful and satisfying life than if I just go start having fancy high tea with the royals.”
That work ethic informs any character he might play. “I don’t have to always play a guy with a shovel, I just have to understand that whoever I’m portraying, he’s probably been pretty good with a shovel,” he says.
After “Parks and Recreation” ended, Offerman got offered a lot of the same kinds of roles — the ex-Marine who loves barbecue, the football coach dad — and had to resist being pigeonholed. “If I want to continue to be a versatile and evolving creative spirit,” he says, “then I’m not going to go down that sort of cash cow road and just cash in on my mustache and my love of pork chops.”
Ron Swanson fit nicely into Offerman’s wheelhouse, and because “Parks and Recreation” is available on streaming services, he thinks more people are watching now than when the show aired. Swanson memes and gifs are all over social media. But there was one casualty for Offerman. “The one price of Ron Swanson, the one thing that he cost me, was my mustache,” he says. “Which is a pretty dear price. I, too, am a fan of that particular whisker style on my face. And that’s the one way I can’t really look, because that is too reminiscent of Ron Swanson, so I can’t be believed as another person.”
His next role is decidedly not Swanson-esque. He plays a Silicon Valley tech guru in “Devs,” a new series debuting in January on FX from writer and director Alex Garland (“Ex Machina,” “Annihilation”). “It’s a beautifully wrought eight-hour series from the brain of a hypnotic novelist,” says Offerman.
‘The one price of Ron Swanson, the one thing that he cost me, was my mustache. Which is a pretty dear price.’
“American Ham” and “Full Bush” are not currently available on streaming services, but Offerman has plans to correct that soon. “I’m gonna put my comedy specials online myself,” he says. “That’s in the process right now.”
In the meantime, he’ll continue to tour with “All Rise” and explore the possibilities of a one-person show. “It came to me unexpectedly, but I really, really enjoy the intimacy, just sharing myself without glitter,” he says. “There’s no feather boas to this particular medium. It’s awfully satisfying when people laugh and I haven’t had to wear a funny wig.”
At the Chevalier Theatre, Medford, Oct. 23-24 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $39.95-$59.95,
781-391-7469, www.chevaliertheatre.comNick A. Zaino III can be reached at [email protected].