The creators of TV’s “Parks and Recreation” based Rob Lowe’s character, sunny and self-deprecating Chris Traeger, on the actor himself. A 20-minute chat with Lowe shows what they mean.
“There’s clever, and there’s funny. I can kind of do clever, but the bar for funny was set by people who are in another league,” Lowe said when asked if he has ever considered a stand-up career, like his pals Aziz Ansari and Ricky Gervais. “I also think that when people come to see me, they’re not necessarily prepared to laugh, so it’s all a pleasant surprise.”
Lowe has written two sunny, self-deprecating books, “Stories I Only Tell My Friends” and “Love Life.” He says the one-man show he’s bringing to the State Theatre in Minneapolis on May 20, also called “Stories I Only Tell My Friends,” is in lieu of a third. It contains new material and revisits milestones he dealt with in the earlier volumes.
“I’m playing the hits, and I’m playing the deep cuts,” Lowe promises in an online trailer. “Are we doing Brat Pack? Yeah, we’re gonna do Brat Pack. Are we doing ‘West Wing’? Yeah, we’re going to do ‘West Wing.’ ‘Parks and Recreation’? Yeah. Are we going to do some obscure cuts? A little ‘Behind the Candelabra’? A little ‘Bad Influence’? We’re doing it all.”
Considering that Lowe began his career as a pretty boy whose cheekbones earned more acclaim than his acting, it’s a surprisingly varied career. In fact, that variety is one of four things that give him the most satisfaction:
“There’s my long-term sobriety, which is 28 years [this month]. My marriage. My sons. And then the fact that if people stop me on the street, I have no idea what project it’s going to be. I’m not known for one or two or three or five things, which makes me feel great. It could be ‘St. Elmo’s Fire.’ It could be ‘The Outsiders.’ It could be ‘The Grinder.’ ”
That snappy 2015-16 sitcom co-starred Fred Savage. The fact that it lasted only 22 episodes could be used as evidence that American TV watchers don’t deserve nice things, but Lowe is sanguine about it.
“I am so proud of that show, and here’s what is great about streaming and Hulu: It takes a little work, but the show is still out there,” he said. “Had ‘The Grinder’ been made five years ago, it’d be gone. It would be a memory. But those 22 episodes, to me, were absolute heaven, and I look at it this way: I’m shocked a network let us make 22 episodes because it’s so weird and funny and amazing.”
Wit and confidence
Currently directing and starring in a TV remake of the 1950s thriller “The Bad Seed,” in which he plays the parent of an adorable sociopath, Lowe also is in theaters in a bawdy supporting role in “Super Troopers 2.” Again, he pooh-poohs his comic gifts (“I have a way of inserting myself into a crowd that’s a lot more talented than I am”), but Erik Stolhanske, who co-wrote and stars in the comedy, in addition to serving on the board of Minnesota Film and TV, begs to differ.
“The combination of wit and intelligence and confidence makes Rob extremely funny,” Stolhanske wrote via e-mail. “After signing on to ‘Super Troopers 2,’ Rob was cast on ‘Code Black.’ Most actors would have dropped out of our project because of the scheduling conflict. Rob, on the other hand, said, ‘Let’s find a way to make this work! I really want to do this movie.’ So he shot all week on ‘Code Black’ and then, after a long week of work, hopped on a plane to fly from L.A. all the way across the country to Boston to shoot with us all day Saturday and Sunday and then fly back to L.A., without a day off and barely any sleep. And he did this for a whole month.”
Which should mean that crisscrossing the country for the live show, which Lowe has performed on and off for 18 months, is nothing. Still, Lowe says he gets butterflies.
“I’m nervous right now, talking about it, and that is why I do it,” he said. “To get the adrenaline pumping and have actual stakes becomes increasingly harder the more you do this. That’s what keeps it live and electric for me, and the audience.”
In addition to anecdotes about his life and work, the show will include a sort of non-surprise surprise.
“There may or may not be an archival short film that I think people will be interested in seeing. It’s something people have made a lot of hay over: ‘You grew up with Sean Penn and Charlie Sheen and you all became actors and you supposedly made backyard movies.’ Well, I may or may not have found one of those movies, and it may or may not be in the show,” Lowe said.
The actor said “Stories” varies from night to night but audiences can be sure he’ll try to keep it light. Regardless of how funny they expect him to be or how clever he may or may not be, there’s one thing he’s sure of: “In this day and age, I think an audience would rather be laughing than not.”