Sundance Film Review: ‘Nick Offerman: American Ham’

Nick Offerman's affable stage presence carries this fairly routine standup concert film.

Nick Offermans American Ham Sundance

Since Nick Offerman has never received the industry recognition he deserves for his work on NBC’s comedy “Parks and Recreation” there’s something fitting about mounting a one-man show, “Nick Offerman: American Ham,” where the entire point is to focus on his unique comedy stylings for 77 minutes straight. Offerman’s affable stage presence carries a fairly routine standup concert film, as the actor alternates among jokes, comedy songs and his “10 tips for a prosperous life.” It’s funny stuff, sometimes savagely so, but theatrical prospects seem almost nil for such a slight production. VOD, cable and streaming business should be hearty.

Recorded over two performances on the same night in March 2013 at New York’s Town Hall Theater, “American Ham” sticks to two primary topics: sex and religion, with a firm appreciation of artisanal craftsmanship and the work of J.R.R. Tolkien thrown in for good measure. Fans of Offerman’s “Parks” character, Ron Swanson, won’t be surprised to hear about the virtues of eating meat or woodworking, but you won’t find the edgier stuff on network TV. And Offerman doesn’t hold back. His marriage to actress Megan Mullally is also a constant point of reference for punchlines both genuinely sweet and gloriously filthy, or a combination of both as in his self-penned love tune “The Rainbow Song.”

Where “American Ham” may lose some viewers, but also lands its sharpest jabs, is in its unapologetically irreverent treatment of religion. Offerman doesn’t raise anything skeptics haven’t heard before, instead delivering his own convictions with an emphasis on kindness and decency that never feels mean-spirited. He’s pro-gay rights and anti-hate, disarming the topic of gay marriage with a crack about the horror of allowing vegetarians to marry whoever they want. He thinks Jesus was a swell guy, and gives him props for the “love thy neighbor” message (which he amusingly takes all too literally in a raunchy aside), but can’t get on board with Leviticus (“the writers of the Onion are all handed a copy of Leviticus their first day on the job”). Ultimately dismissing the Bible as not so much a “good book” as an “uneven book,” he alternately proposes certain politicians would be better off looking to Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” for legislative inspiration.

Offerman’s musical performances are more hit-and-miss than his comedy, but social-media slam “I Stay Offline,” performed to the tune of Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line,” is a highlight. His own rendition of Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel,” rechristened “Jesus Take the Weed,” sounds better in concept than execution, though perhaps that’s because the rant leading up to the performance is hard to top.

At any rate, Offerman remains likable throughout, demonstrating a lack of vanity (he emerges on stage shirtless, with his gut hanging out, declaring “minor nudity achieved”) and enough self-deprecation to maintain his folksy reputation. Not to mention that goofy giggle which “Parks and Recreation” has occasionally made such great use of, deployed multiple times here whenever Offerman cracks himself up.

Helmed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who directed the 2013 indie “The Kings of Summer” (which premiered at Sundance under the title “Toy’s House” and co-starred Offerman and Mullally), “American Ham” doesn’t depart from the concert-film norm, but the fast-paced cutting by editors Alex Gorosh and Josh Schaeffer works as a nice contrast to Offerman’s leisurely delivery. Vogt-Roberts’ biggest stylistic contribution comes from the 10 brief interstitials illustrating Offerman’s 10 tips (including “get a hobby” and “use intoxicants”), several of which feature game appearances by Mullally.

Sundance Film Review: ‘Nick Offerman: American Ham’

<p>Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 24, 2014. Running time:<strong> 77 MIN.</strong></p>

  • Production: <p>(Documentary) A Nick Offerman presentation of a Six Two and Even production. Produced by Nick Offerman, Julien Lemaitre. Executive producer, Jordan Vogt-Roberts.</p>
  • Crew: <p>Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Written by Nick Offerman. Camera (color, HD), Matt Garrett; editor, Alex Gorosh, Josh Schaeffer; music, Ryan Miller; sound, Bill Martel; sound designer, William McGuigan.</p>
  • With: <p>Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally.</p>