The fact that Parks and Recreation's Jerry transforms from schlemiel-schlimazel office punching bag into a fun-loving, physically deft family man married to Christie Brinkley as soon as he gets home should be a strong indicator that the actor who plays him has got more range than you might expect. Jim O'Heir's latest side project is a hilarious little gem called Little Knockers, which sees him playing Bruce Kilmer, an alcoholic, victory-obsessed head coach of a pee-wee football team. The three-part Funny or Die reality show parody releases the fierce drama of the NFL onto a bunch of little kids, with O'Heir leading the furious charge.
"They just take it way too seriously," O'Heir says of the characters' ridiculous antics, "because there is literally nothing on the line in real life, and they act as if this is the end-all, be-all. It calls for no drama, and yet in this Little Knockers world, it is absolutely everything. Is there even a paycheck for any of these people? These coaches are all walking around trying to cut deals and everything, but what the hell is even in it, ultimately? That, to me, is what makes it so funny."
In episode three, as the team is falling apart and any kind of victory seems impossible, the image of O'Heir pouring whiskey into a bowl of cereal and blurting out an expletive is priceless. "I love playing Jerry," O'Heir relates. "He's awesome, but he's pretty milquetoast. It's fun when you can just go crazy and be screaming and yelling." He's quick to point out that "the children were not in the room when all the swearing was taking place," which is important to know as Coach Kilmer gives his final pep talk to the kids that's as potentially emotionally traumatizing as it is hysterical.
"If you just say the lines and mean it, the comedy is all there," the performer says of delivering laughs for a living, and it's perhaps this earnestness which has taken Jerry from background character to series regular. At the time of our chat, Parks and Rec is beginning a milestone shoot, and O'Heir is thrilled to be a part it. "If anybody would have told me that I would still be here for the 100th episode, I would have said, 'Not gonna happen!' But here I am. It's huge and awesome and amazing."
He can't dish on any specifics of the big ep -- "they'll kill me, I'm sorry," he laughs -- other than it will involve the battle to keep Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) in her City Council seat as the recall attempt continues, and the pregnancy of Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones). He does reveal some strong feelings, though, about the show and its future. "My dread when the show ends is just that we won't be together," he says. "I can't imagine we'll ever find a show and a crew and a cast and producers that gel like we do. It's kind of known in the acting world that this is the show you want to guest star on because it's the best set in town. The day we wrap, it's going to be really rough to leave these people."
How has O'Heir's life changed since Parks and Rec debuted in 2009? "I'm not complaining about it, but it's tough to be in a crowd," he replies. "Jerry has become very recognizable. I love it because people are always kind and they're always supportive." And O'Heir is almost always up for a photo with a fan. "If I wake up and realize I don't have enough creamer and I run to Ralph's, that isn't a picture anybody wants to see," he chuckles. "But I run my hands through my hair, put a smile on my face and take the picture."
What does he love about what he does? "I love everything about what I do -- except wardrobe fittings," he quips. "I love getting a script and going, 'How am I going to make this work? How am I going to make this be natural?' That's my passion. I love being on set and I love talking about television and film. It's the world I always wanted to be in, and it's a huge blessing."