One would think a conversation with Tim Allen, star of stage, screen (big and small), and book, would hinge around handyman tips and power tools. But that wasn’t the case when the Straight caught up to him recently ahead of his standup gig at the Red Robinson Show Theatre on Friday (June 18). That also happens to be the opening date for Toy Story 3, in which he provides the voice of Buzz Lightyear.
The 57-year-old comedian, best known for his eight-year run as Tim Taylor on TV’s Home Improvement, talked a bit about being a superhero to kids everywhere, thanks to Pixar. He uses his powers for good, though. Now, anyway.
“It’s amazing and daunting,” he said on the phone from his home in Los Angeles. “You mitigate it [the popularity] a little bit because it really is the toy. The kids don’t get that I’m the voice. I’ve stumbled with kids because I’ve ended up doing the voice at a party. I can frighten children. It’s incongruous to them. I’ve actually had it happen where I caused a kid a lot of pain because he’d thought I’d eaten Buzz Lightyear.”
He says the 3D sequel will amaze, and takes no credit for it. “It’s spectacular. Just the visual imagery alone is good. And you’ll love the story and the kids will get it. It’ll tug at you. They did it again. How they did it, I don’t know.”
But the personable Allen, who has fashioned a career on his love of manly pursuits, has other interests, too. Which leads us into a spirited discussion on philosophy and quantum mechanics, a particular passion of his.
“I love physics because physics is like applied philosophy,” he said. “It’s so fucking peculiar. How do you explain shit like quantum physics? Philosophers didn’t know any of that shit. You try to explain that shit, you become very philosophical.”
So there’s something you perhaps didn’t know about the G-rated star: he’s no dummy and he’s not exactly G-rated (he describes his act as “definitely PG-13”). Here’s another: he’s one of us.
Well, partly. His mother’s family was from Ontario and he spent many a summer up here.
“Canada was so different but so wonderful for us,” he recalls. “I mean, vinegar on fries, what’s that about?! That was the biggest deal to us. We’d eat it and go, ”˜Yup, tastes like it sounds: terrible.’”
It’s due to his knowledge of and fondness for our home and native land that he’s retooling—pardon the expression—his live act a little bit for us. So many foreign performers come in with a set routine meant for their own country without any consideration for how it might play in another. But Allen aims to please.
“I was just thinking right now I’ve got to change it a bit for Canada because none of this stuff about my government’s really of any interest to you.” When he’s reassured that we’re certainly up on our American news, he replies: “Yeah, but who gives a shit, really? I barely care about it because it’s such bullshit.”
After years away from the craft that gave him his break in show business, Allen finds himself struggling a bit with standup comedy. And maybe that’s to be expected when you’re a multimillionaire who holds the impressive distinction of being the only person to have found himself with the number one series on television, the number one book on the New York Times bestsellers list (Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man), and the number one movie at the box office (The Santa Clause) all in the same week (of November 1994).
“It hasn’t been real comfortable for me,” he admits. “Because it isn’t the same. When I started off, I was hungry. I had to do it. Now it’s elective. It just takes a long time to mount it. You don’t just come right out and do it. You gotta get back, practise, get the material, weed the material, write the bits, get the little nuances. I’ll never be prepared like I feel like I was because when I left, I was at the top of my freakin’ show. I watched the videotape of one of my first shows and I said, ”˜This guy’s funny.’ And it doesn’t feel like me. And it was so organic. Now it’s planned.”
Timothy Allen Dick has certainly come a long way since he dropped his last name in 1979 at the start of his standup career. And even farther considering he spent 2.5 years in prison on drug-possession charges, making his rise to family fame and fortune unfathomable. Even to him. But it did set him on the right path.
“I knew immediately, within about a year, I was never going to commit a crime again,” he says. “You gotta understand at some point this ain’t your show. And prison taught me that in a brutal fashion. My best thinking got me in all this trouble. So my best thinking is very suspect. [But] I was able to then start taking chances. Sitting still is sitting still. If you want to let life come at you, that’s fine. But I’d rather go out swinging.”