American Ham is more than a stand-up special; it’s a how-to guide. Nick Offerman’s hour-long performance is subtitled 10 Tips for a Prosperous Life, and the resulting monologue is a master class in postmodern American manhood: semi-ironic flag-print button-down shirts, an old-fashioned belief in the virtues of courtesy and the great outdoors, and equal enthusiasm for red meat and cunnilingus. Starting with “Engage in Romantic Love,” Offerman’s commandments offer an updated vision of 21st-century masculinity, one with equal overtones of Ron Swanson and Brooklyn lumbersexual.
Filmed at New York’s Town Hall, American Ham is beefed up for Netflix with cinematic cutaways that illustrate Offerman’s tips for the home viewer. “Engage in Romantic Love,” for example, shows Offerman and spouse/on-screen ex-wife Megan Mullally trying and failing to embrace on a beach; “Eat Red Meat” has Mullally slapping Offerman in the face with a raw steak. And the obligatory Parks and Rec meta moments come in the form of Marc Evan Jackson, who reprises his attorney role to inform a skeptical Offerman he’s forbidden to parody Carrie Underwood, a scene that takes the place of Offerman’s rendition of “Jesus Take the Wheel.”
The rest of the special is a straightforward lecture on How to Be, a format that’s based on the most counter-intuitive source of comedy there is: Offerman’s happy, stable life, including a loving spouse and supportive parents. American Ham takes Offerman’s lack of typical comedy ammo — failed relationships, general misery — and turns it into a strength. For example: he can now inform the audience that the key to a stable Hollywood marriage is being boring. (“We do a shitload of cocaine and do puzzles… There’s something so soothing about a field of cerulean blue when I’m on amphetamines.”)
There are occasional observational bits — “Folks, let’s talk about merging for a second. What the fuck?” — but they’re noticeably less interesting than Offerman’s updates to the Midwestern dad persona. Because despite some tweaks á la tip number nine’s “Maintain a Relationship with Jesus Christ… If It’s Getting You Sex,” Offerman’s outlook is at its core about basic decency. He wants you to stop comparing yourself to other people, because when has a tree ever stressed out about not being a different kind of tree? He wants you to be respectful of other people, even if the other person is “a fan of celery.” He wants you to look up from your goddamn smartphone: “Instead of playing Draw Something, fucking Draw Something!”
Some delightfully filthy jokes function as sugar to help the medicine go down, like the song Offerman ostensibly wrote for Mullally’s 50th birthday: “I’ve got my Cialis so I shall not fail / For tonight you’re gonna take it in the pail.” But that song is still there to illustrate the virtues of thoughtful gifts, just like Offerman’s passion for “eating pussy” is actually an example of why everyone needs a good hobby: “Get your hands dirty. Make shit with your hands. Give excellent head.”
The effect is to render American Ham the lewdest dad lecture you’ll ever get — in a very, very good way. Offerman takes old-fashioned folksiness and makes it appealing, with a mixture of self-awareness and just the right dose of contemporary sensibility; he’s your conservative dad, if your conservative dad were enthusiastically supportive of homosexuality. It doesn’t hurt that he’s funny, too.