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Please Explain: Tim Allen
2007-03-17 20:25
by Scott Long

Tim Allen is the Dave Matthews of comedy. Wait a minute, I take that back, as I've actually liked a couple of songs by Matthews. I can't point to one time that Tim Allen has entertained me. Unless he is the voice of a Pixar character, I just don't get the appeal of the guy. Somehow Timothy Dick has survived my non-patronage of his career, though, as he has been one of the most successful TV and Movie Stars of the past 15 years.

Allen began his entertainment career during the stand-up comedy boom of the 1980's. If you had even a decent mix of talent and personality, the comedy clubs were begging for you. It was a seller's market and Tim Allen is one of the great examples of being in the right place at the right time. (I started in 1992. Kind of like going public with an internet stock in October of 2001) Allen's act was based on the premise that "Men are Pigs" and by mixing tired premises with a few swine grunts, a star was born!

His hit sitcom, "Home Improvement" was the number 1 show on TV at one point. Now I should put out there that I have no interest in tools or fixing stuff, so I know some of the humor wasn't designed for me, but still the show was really abysmal. For awhile, "Home Improvement" actually beat "Seinfeld" in the ratings. Giddy-up!

According to Allen's Wikipedia article, he at one time had the number 1 TV show, number 1 movie, and number 1 book all at the same time. I can't think of anyone else who can say that. Spending just a little time thinking about this would make most comic/writer/actors contemplate wanting to take a shower with Richard Jeni. (Is it still too soon?)

Now, if you think that Allen's career is pretty much over now, let me mention that he was the star of the number 1 movie in America last week, a classic I'm sure entitled "Wild Hogs." Starring Allen, John Travolta, and Martin Lawrence, "Wild Hogs" is almost like a Please Explain segment in itself. Why would some movie studio want to put together these 3 actors, who haven't done anything good in 10 years, even if they have thrown-in William H. Macy to give it a bit of credibility? Well, from the financial success of the film, I guess I was off. I know I can't wait for "Wild Hogs 2" starring Patrick Swayze, Cedric the Entertainer, and Joe Piscopo!

So I need your help. PLEASE EXPLAIN Tim Allen.

2007-03-17 20:36:57
1.   Jon Weisman
Wild Hogs or not, I'd say your question is 5-10 years too late.
2007-03-17 20:47:18
2.   Scott Long
Over the past 4 years he has been the star of the following major theatrical releases.

The Santa Clause 2 (140 million)
The Santa Clause 3 (84 million)
Christmas with Kranks (73 million)
The Shaggy Dog (61 million)
Wild Hogs (90 million already)

Following comes from

I think the question is still relevant.

2007-03-17 20:52:18
3.   Scott de B
Don't forget his great role in Galaxy Quest.

I find Tim Allen to be pretty funny, if in a fairly middlebrow way. Lots of comics have become famous playing the role of Joe Everyman. Home Improvement was a good show.

Test question: Do you think Bob Newhart was funny?

2007-03-17 21:07:22
4.   Scott Long
Newhart is very funny. He just might have the best dry-wit of any comic I've ever seen. His timing is great, as well.

Don't see the comparison between Allen and Newhart.

2007-03-17 21:35:29
5.   dianagramr
"Galaxy Quest" is the only thing I've ever liked of Tim Allen's work.

Bob Newhart is a god ... a comedy legend of the deadpan, dry wit variety. And yes, his timing and facial expressions (especially those of confusion or bewilderment) are classic.

I would watch Newhart's worst before watching most of Tim Allen's stuff.

2007-03-17 21:38:39
6.   Ken Arneson
I think perhaps Tim Allen's success comes not so much from being funny, but filling a niche that needed to be filled. He came along with a message that needed to be said at the time: it's OK to be a guy.

Compare him to all the sitcom dads who came before him in the 80s. They were all totally emasculated, a feminist ideal of what a dad should be like. The dads on Family Ties and Growing Pains and Who's the Boss and whatever else you can think of were all total wimps. He succeeded on the contrast of what came before him.

The rest, I suppose, is just momentum.

2007-03-17 21:47:19
7.   deadteddy8
For a while now, I've thought the segment of the American public that likes Allen finds him appealing because he's safe, and a good chunk of that segment likes him specifically because his story is that he overcame some crazy personal issues and then became safe. Going off what was mentioned before, for comics to have an edge, there sorta needs to be a group of comics who set the bar by aiming to entertain without pushing any buttons. In a way, I admire Allen for trying to forge a career in the family-friendly part of the entertainment industry, even though his stuff isn't really my thing.

About "Wild Hogs", I suspect closer demographic study would show it's hitting the same audience as "RV". I had absolutely no desire to see that movie, but, apparently, it did really well in certain parts of the country.

2007-03-17 21:50:41
8.   Scott Long
Of all the Please Explain subjects I've done, I think the best theory on one of them is your comment, Ken. While the show did seem to follow the formula of Tool Time Tim often being in hot water with his bitchy wife, he did have the "manly" interests thing down.

Do you think his success in movies can just be explained by momentum? If so, he definitely has his "mojo rising... gotta keep on risin'."

2007-03-17 22:02:42
9.   StolenMonkey86
6 - I think it's worth pointing out that not only was he not a feminist ideal dad, he also wasn't quite Homer Simpson, as he was generally portrayed as a decent father. (A lot of credit for that, though, goes to the character of Wilson, but that's another story).

Ken, I agree that Allen was a niche actor. But really, Allen fit the "family friendly" niche, a genre which is not particularly competitive, and far too often not very good.

2007-03-17 22:03:52
10.   StolenMonkey86
7 - I didn't see yours until after I've posted.
2007-03-17 22:04:34
11.   StolenMonkey86
bah, make I've I'd
2007-03-17 22:12:28
12.   Ken Arneson
Well, it's not just momentum, obviously.

I think Allen has mastered the character of the guy who is likeable enough that you forgive him for being a bit of a jerk. I would think that playing a likeable jerk is actually pretty hard to pull off successfully, so he's probably the first guy casting directors think of when they need a likeable jerk.

None of which has much to do with being funny.

2007-03-17 22:46:56
13.   Scott Long
Allen does seem to have filled the role that Chevy Chase used to play. While Chevy has made a lot of bad movies, he has done enough good ones that I cut him some slack. I guess I don't see what Tim Allen offers, except everyman good looks and likeable persona. Good work if you can get it.
2007-03-17 22:56:56
14.   Scott Long
One thing that I do find interesting is that Mr. family entertainment has....

done time for selling coke

cut a deal by ratting out his partner to save his ass

been busted for drunk driving, even though his dad died from a drunk driver

spent time in drug/alcohol rehab center.

Did I leave out that my favorite work of Allen's was when he hosted a Miss Nude Contest at a nudist colony in Northern Indiana? (check IMDB for the video info)

Hey, I'm no Saint, but I guess I do find it amusing that so many of these "family man" types have such freaky demons.

My dime store psych job on Allen is that he has a lot inner turmoil working inside him that he never has brought to the stage or screen. Not having this place to release the inner truth manifests itself in his personal life. Of course, Sam Kinison and Richard Pryor discussed their demons publicly, but still were absolute freaks in their personal life, as well.

Man are comics f-ed up.

2007-03-18 08:10:18
15.   Benaiah
I mean "Touched by an Angel" was a hit for a few seasons (around the same time no less) and the most popular comedy in America right now is "Two and a Half Men". I think it goes beyond family friendly, because that Charlie Sheen show is pretty racy in a boring CBS way. A lot of people like to watch things that are comfortable, they like a show where the only way to tell the difference between season 7 and season 1 is the kids are now 25 (but playing 16, though Jonathan Taylor Thomas is about 40 now and he still looks 16). I have talked to people who prefer a laugh track and don't like shows like "The Office" because it isn't what they are used to. Who needs innovation when you can have a running joke about not seeing Wilson's face? If the goal is just to pass the time between living and dying then "Home Improvement" is a pleasant enough distraction.

That said, I do use one of his jokes sometimes. My last name is vaguely phallic and when people make the same joke over and over I mention that I have a sister named Anita (Dick).

2007-03-18 09:10:47
16.   Scott de B
Don't see the comparison between Allen and Newhart.

I see Allen, Newhart, and others like Tom Poston as the same category of humor. You have your edgy humor, your zany madcap humor, your slapstick humor, and your beleaguered everyman humor. Allen falls into the latter category, though he isn't the epitome of the art.

2007-03-18 09:13:10
17.   Scott de B
Who's the best comp for Tim Allen? Red Green, perhaps?
2007-03-18 09:57:32
18.   bob gaj
scott - have you ever seen allen's live performance? the only reason i ask - i haven't seen it - is long ago, a friend was telling me about how good comedians could have terrible shows / be terrible outside of standup. and his references were bob saget and tim allen...
2007-03-18 10:11:59
19.   jeffpico
I think the Two and a Half Men comparison is very accurate with Home Improvement. That show was maybe funny a few times but after that it was just some awkward After School Special stuff after another. It was definitely SAFE as SAFE can be. I know people who won't let their kids watch the Simpsons lol

Allen will make LOTS more movies cause of all the box office smashes he's had.

2007-03-18 10:28:12
20.   Voxter
"Galaxy Quest" rules.

That's all I got.

2007-03-18 11:00:26
21.   Scott Long
I just think back to the days when Michael Keaton did the family comedy movies like Mr. Mom and Gung Ho. If the script is good or not, Keaton always has made the film better. I realize that Keaton became bored with these movies and moved into the more serious film roles, but there has got to be someone better than Tim Allen. Right!?
2007-03-18 13:22:24
22.   Suffering Bruin
Parents see a lot of movies that suck out loud. A lot of Allen's movies are safe family films. Allen makes films that are escapist fare for families; parents don't have to worry about what they see on the screen.

FWIW, I thought Allen was very funny as a stand-up comic so we'll agree to disagree there. And he was quite good in "Galaxy Quest."

2007-03-18 20:37:29
23.   StolenMonkey86
14, 17 - On the subject of, er, adult content that people don't really know about, is Bob Saget a good comparison?
2007-03-19 07:46:58
24.   Penarol1916
Suffering Bruin has it right, Tim Allen's box office and television appeal is really based on filling the niche. Home Improvement, to me, is the template for shows like According to Jim and the like, just something safe and easy for the kids to watch without being all that funny. His movies work because of market niche they hit, nobody good wants to do brainless family fluff like The Santa Clause and Christmas with the Kranks, Disney knows it has a great built in audience and so they get somewhat familiar names to star in their stuff, and it's awful, but my kids love it.
2007-03-19 09:36:39
25.   Scott Long
Finally we have come up with complete answer for a Please Explain category. Thanks Ken and Suffering Bruin.

Having said that, where is the new Michael Keaton or Tom Hanks, who can do a family comedy and really make it funny?

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