I had friends when I was first starting out who would be like ‘I just want to be a star.’ I never really got that. I was like “What does that mean? You just want the accolades?” To me it’s the work. That’s the interesting stuff.
There’s a man in a bagel shop in Manhattan. Suddenly, this man is talking to a much younger girl, who literally has tears in her eyes. 9 times out of 10, this story could potentially end with the man in the back of a police car with shiny new bracelets strung from his wrists. Fortunately in this instance however, the man in question was Jim O’Heir.
She goes “What are you doing here?” O’Heir recounts as we sit in his hotel room at the Ambassador Hotel in Chicago. I’m like “Um… I think I might get a bagel.” She goes “This doesn’t make any sense. I just got to New York. Why is this happening?” She was just so confused, because some people I think have an issue between reality and fiction. It’s like “Why is Jerry from Pawnee, Indiana in Manhattan?” Well, because Jerry doesn’t exist, that’s why. And Jim O’Heir was in New York.
Jim O’Heir (a local Chicago boy) is a nice guy. Jerry Gergich from Pawnee, Indiana is, arguably, just as equally nice a guy as Jim is. But no matter how nice they (Jim) may be, this is certainly a difficult scenario to imagine. You’re a frazzled parent of an infant that is literally dangling off of your arm, screaming. The moments of peace and quiet are few and far between. On the T.V., is the childless 56-year-old Jim O’Heir as Jerry Gergich, having a ‘fart attack’ on ‘Parks and Recreation’. And then, it suddenly hits you. “This is the man that, aided with an acappella group, can finally put baby Emma to sleep.
This is precisely what happens in Jim O’Heir’s newest series, Lullaby League.
“Basically the competition is acaepella groups are competing to put the baby to sleep,” he explains. “Whoever puts the baby to sleep the fastest wins the episode, then it goes on and on and on. Then there’s two teams that have the big challenge of putting twins to sleep. So that was a tough nightmare. With these babies, every single parent said these babies went out sooner than normal. And the only constant was the acappella music. So it must have effected somehow.” The winner of the competition then gets a recording session at the acclaimed Fireplace Studio in New York.
The idea of a singing competition for babies is the show that you have gone all of your life without thinking it could ever be a thing. However, now that a show like that has come along, you are glad to have tuned in. It is perfect mix of the adorable and the absurd. And what only gives further credence to such a stunning combination of opposition is O’Heir as the host of the show.
“I knew one of the producers and he said ‘Listen, here’s the show we’re doing, Lullaby League,'” he explains. “I said ‘Well, I’ve never even had babies. Babies kind of make me crazy, all of them crying.'” And he goes “That’s why we think you’re perfect.” Because they let me be myself and sarcastic and I got to be like “Oh, will this baby ever, ever stop?” So it wasn’t like me going “‘Oh, everything is wonderful and every baby is wonderful!’ It was very much like ‘Oh Lord, this one’s killing me.'”
“We put hidden cameras in the baby’s room, which sounds terrible. But we had to. Then the parents would come out and we would do play-by-play, because we had a monitor watching the baby. And then the groups would come in and sing. And ultimately the parents would be the one who decided when the baby was asleep. Because sometimes I’d be like ‘Oh my God, that baby is sleeping.’ And they’d be like ‘I don’t know…’ And then the baby would jump up. So it was always the parents who called it.”
Jim O’Heir’s career can be described best by the phrase “That Guy”. A “That Guy” is one of those guys that you see in literally everything. They are the glue that holds the project together. They may not be the star of the show typically, but the show is ultimately enhanced simply by their presence. Some of the shows he popped up on include Friends, E.R., Curb Your Enthusiasm, Hot in Cleveland, and Brooklyn 99, among an array of others.
“Thankfully, I have never had to work in L.A. other than as an actor” he says of all of those early years he spent popping up on every sitcom you can imagine as a day-player. “Because the minute I got my agent and manager, I started getting guest spots. I’ve been everywhere. And there’s been good years and bad years, but thankfully the good years helped the bad years even out. But I was always able to make a decent living as an actor. I never had to be a waiter, thank God. Because I sweat, and people don’t like that in their food.”
In 2009, O’Heir saw his career reach new heights, when he was cast as the character for which he would become best known, Jerry Gergich on Parks and Recreation. The show saw itself with a now star-studded cast, including Amy Poehler, Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman, Aubrey Plaza, and Chris Pratt. Parks is one of those shows that has an infinite amount of staying power, which is no easy task. So beloved it is that it has a stronger following now, 3 years after it went off the air, than it ever did before.
“Because of Netflix, Parks is more popular now than ever before. Way more than when we were on the air. The recognition factor is higher than it was when we were on the air tenfold. Netflix changed the game because people binge, and then other people tell them ‘Hey, you’ve got to binge this show.’ So then they binge the show.”
These days, Jim O’Heir’s recognition from Parks has gained him the opportunity to do what he truly enjoys doing as an actor: Everything. “There’s some actors who only like doing one particular thing,” he explains with his heart full of passion for the life he’s been given. “I love doing it all. So, for me, that’s the best. In the old days, you only really did what you did. You were a T.V. actor or a movie actor. Remember when movie actors couldn’t do television? ‘I saw so and so is doing Love Boat. Ooooh!’ Well now, you can do anything. There are no rules anymore.”
In addition to his work doing sitcoms, films, and theater, 2017 saw two new ventures for Jim O’Heir: his appearance on Bold and the Beautiful (“It’s tough. Those guys work SO HARD”) and bringing home his very first Daytime Emmy Award for his appearance on said soap.
“Last year I won a Daytime Emmy, and I was so sure that wasn’t going to happen that I had other plans. I said to the driver ‘After my category, I’m going to do the [Good for them gesture upon losing] then I’m going to walk my ass out of here, because I have friends, two comedians who were doing a show together. Wendy Liebman and Craig Shomaker.’ Well then Larry King says my name. And I’m like ‘What????’ I had nothing ready, because it made no sense. Then I’m walking up there like ‘You idiot. You didn’t plan anything.’ I had nothing. I’m ready to get the hell out of there. It went alright, I kind of just spoke from the heart. I said to the guy ‘We’re stuck here all night.’ Because now I’ve got to do press. I’ve got to go to the CBS afterparty. I didn’t get home until 1:30 in the morning. And again, it’s all lovely. I hope it doesn’t sound like complaining. It was just incredibly unexpected. And it is nice, because you are forever known as ‘Emmy Award winning actor, Jim O’Heir.’ And I like that. I think that’s cool.”
And as for the future? Is there any hope for a Parks reboot? Clearly this is a question he has been asked by fans countless of times, especially given the current reboot landscape we are all swimming in these days. “We’ve only been off the air for 3 years. My God. It’s too soon for a reboot,” he explains to me. “I loved all these shows [that are being rebooted], and I will tune in because my first thing is I want to see what people look like and how the show’s going to go. But to be honest, after one or two checking in’s, I’m checking out. I’ve already seen it, and now okay. So I don’t know if it’s such a smart move. But hey, no one’s asking my opinion on what shows are being made or not made.”
Jim and I walk back to the elevator, talking about the legendary Pump Room, which sits adjacent to the hotel lobby (the very Pump Room where Frank Sinatra would hold court in). As the elevator doors open, he is greeted with a cheery squeal that is both one of excitement as well as disbelief. “OH MY GOD! IT IS JERRY GERGICH!!!” Yes, this is indeed Jim O’Heir’s life now. And from what I can see, he remains flattered and touched by it all.