The phrase "renaissance man" gets thrown around way too often, but sometimes clichés make perfect sense, and that seems the case with Nick Offerman, who makes his way to Orlando this Thursday with a show called "All Rise." The press release is a rare one worth quoting directly, since it embodies the measured and somewhat antiquarian approach to language that he has become famous for. "My aim in this undertaking is to encourage my fellow Homo Sapiens to aim higher in life than the channels of consumerism would have us imagine," it says. "It's a proper revival suggesting the existence of a higher power in the land than commerce, one that will cause you to pop, lock and rejoice! Come on down and hear the good news that will make you go jingle-jangle in your juice box."
Just halfway through the tour, Offerman had already logged over 4,000 miles by the time he called Orlando Weekly on a Saturday afternoon, driving a silver Chevy Impala between Washington and Philadelphia. Like most comedians, he's partial to the quiet reflection afforded him on the road. He loves to drive, as one might expect, but he isn't fussy about it. "I prefer an automatic," he says. "I grew up driving stick on my family's farm. As an adult, I had to switch from stick to automatic in college, when I was smoking a lot of one-hitters. I don't condone doing that behind the wheel, but in the '80s, it was the thing to do."
What does he do? What doesn't he do? That's really the question. Best known for his iconic stint on Parks and Recreation, the 49-year-old is also the author of four New York Times best-sellers: Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man's Fundamentals for Delicious Living (2013), Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom With America's Gutsiest Troublemakers (2015), Good Clean Fun: Misadventures in Sawdust at Offerman Woodshop (2016) and The Greatest Love Story Ever Told (2018). The latter book was written with his wife of 16 years, Megan Mullally; together, they have redefined "relationship goals" for an entire generation of hipsters. The world's most famous living carpenter (sorry, Bob Vila) even has a brand of Lagavulin scotch whiskey named after him, which may be the most fitting tribute of all.
In keeping with his decidedly old-school aesthetic, the All Rise Tour mostly bypasses the big rooms in major cities that the average performer might aspire to, focusing instead on classic venues in smaller towns.
"One of the things I love about touring," he says, "is I get to see this amazing array of old jewel-box theaters that communities have been able to preserve." The tour began in Thackerville, Oklahoma, on July 20, loping along through 36 other stops, some of which could have been added for their names alone: the Lied Center in Lincoln, Nebraska; the Criterion in Oklahoma City; the Chevalier Center in Medford, Massachusetts; the City National Grove in Anaheim; the Palace Theatre in Columbus, Ohio; the Masonic in San Francisco; the Stiefel Theatre in St. Louis; the wonderful Tabernacle in Atlanta; and the eponymous Kalamazoo State Theatre.
There are not one, but two different Orpheum Theatres on the tour, one in Madison and the other in Wichita. So which is better?
"I feel like the Madison one is in a little better shape," Offerman says judiciously. "Madison, for my money, is one of the most charismatic towns in the country. The town is on an isthmus strip of land between two lakes. The map looks like it could have been drawn by Tolkien. But Wichita is no slouch, either. Houdini actually performed there, almost exactly 100 years ago."
There are also a couple of the more classic high-end venues on the tour, including New York's Beacon Theatre, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and the legendary Ryman in Nashville. "I suppose, given my druthers and my dusty aesthetic, I prefer the 150-year-old vaudeville halls," he says, "but I've played my fair share of new venues too." (Like, for instance, Hard Rock Live, which hosts this Orlando date.)
Offerman's espousal of old-school values has led to him being sometimes mislabeled as a conservative, but his politics are firmly progressive. He's voting Democrat, no matter what. "Every candidate looks like they were carved in Heaven, compared to the incumbent." On a personal level, he leans more toward Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, but he basically likes them all. "I hope that we can come down on the side of boldness," he says, "but of course we have to win the day, first and foremost." Will he ever run for office himself? "Nope."
One area where he does actually agree with Trump is the need for expanded trade-school education, which is just as vital to America's future as the ongoing push for STEM training. But that's easier said than done, especially given who's saying it. "The problem with having a jackass like him as president is that when he does say something you agree with, it's almost a bad thing," Offerman grouches. "He says something, and then it's points against the subject." Having "run across him" around New York in the years before his election, an impression was made long ago, and Offerman's description is succinct: "He's a pompous boob. I think everyone found him laughable."
Ultimately, the All Rise Tour is a labor of love – love for the art, love for the people, and love for the influences that made him who he is. Chief among these is the author Wendell Berry, of whom Offerman is downright evangelistic in his praise. "In a nutshell, he's in his 80s," he says, "a Kentucky agrarian who's known for his fiction, his essays and his poetry. Of all the writers I love, he's my favorite, because I think he has the most common sense. Bringing a farmer's point of view to the perils of society. 'The problems of consumerism,' he's been calling it for decades. Start with his short stories; there's a book called Fidelity and one called Watch With Me. His essays will knock you on your rear end!"
Trained in the theater scene, Offerman has seamlessly transitioned into almost every possible form of performing art, but the logistics of it all remain confounding. "Booking a tour is incredibly difficult," he says. "I'm a theater actor who happened to get lucky with TV and film, so this is all fairly new to me. I don't know how Celine Dion does it!" And there's that laugh, one of the most distinctive there ever was. It sounds like a gimmick, but it most assuredly is not. His is among the world's most recognizable faces, but as he cruises the open road, Offerman blends in. His tastes are simple, his pleasures basic. "Once I learned that every dollar comes out of my tour income, I said 'OK, no entourage.' A Holiday Inn Express is plenty luxurious."
– This story appears in the Dec. 4, 2019, print issue of Orlando Weekly. Get our top picks for the best events in Orlando with our weekly Events newsletter.