There are few celebrities of the modern age as perennially relevant as Tim Allen. From middle-aged dads who fondly recall the megahit sitcom Home Improvement to the under-12 set with a soft spot for Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear, the actor, author, and comedian is likely a familiar face — or voice.
Nowadays, Allen is perhaps best known for his role as Mike Baxter on the all-American sitcom Last Man Standing. It seemed that the show was set to disappear from the airways when ABC declined to renew it last May — but Fox stepped in and picked up the comedy for a seventh season. Throughout the travails, Allen never wavered in his support of the sitcom.
“I was the last person in the hospital while the show was on life support,” Allen says in a hushed voice. “I would come by the hospital every day and hold the show’s hand, and, before we knew it, we got 90 percent of commitments from most of the people I wanted — mainly the crew, the set, and the studio — and it all came back together.” The show is now set for a September 28 season premiere on Fox.
When asked why Last Man Standing struck such a chord with audiences, Allen admits it has a lot to do with the show’s tone and subject matter. “We didn’t make fun of things; we just had fun with things. I always thought the idea of it was a guy with three daughters, since I have two, and I loved Home Improvement, with the odd three boys, mixed, so I said let’s do one with three girls,” he explains. “I wanted to be like Archie Bunker, but with a degree in marketing from the University of Michigan.”
The filming also struck a chord with Allen himself, who developed a special bond with his supporting cast. “I come from the world of standup comedy, where most of my life, I’ve worked onstage by myself. So I get really attached to people on movie sets and television shows,” he shares. “My family’s always been really tight — my real family — but sometimes I mistake these showbiz families for real, and they all look at me and go, ‘You know we’re not actually family, Tim.’ And I’m like ‘Oh, yeah, that’s a little disappointing actually.’”
Allen is once again returning to this standup that marked much of his career with a November 15 performance at Stamford’s Palace Theatre. For Allen, who could easily rest on his film work, standup is an indispensable part of life. “The muscles that standup comedy exercises are almost like the legs or core: They are the most important,” he says. “Touring is a lot of work, but if you come see me, I’m going to give you everything I’ve got.”
Allen traces this passion for the stage to the first time he saw a certain comedian’s standup act. “I saw Richard Pryor, and I was enamored. I said, ‘That’s what I want to do; I want to be as funny as that guy, as honest as that guy, as rock ’n’ roll comedy as that guy,’” recalls Allen. “Once I got to the point where I could do that, there was nothing like it. There is a deep level of connection to a different part of me more than in any show or movie — there’s nothing like standup comedy.”
According to Allen, sitcom work is so enjoyable because it is a combination of theater, film-type television, and the joys of standup.”[Sitcoms are] like a bridge between all of the art forms; that’s why I’m back at it, and that’s why I fought so hard for Last Man Standing.”
And yet despite this journey to the top, audiences can expect a standup show surprisingly true to the subjects Allen has always favored: the women in his life.
“They’re just complex, wonderful, scary, beautiful, horrifying… I mean there’s so much, and that’s really where all of it comes from,” he says with a laugh. “My act is really about my growing up and how this world has affected me, but the basis of that really is how the women in my life have molded me and made me what I am.”
As for what Allen is, the term megastar often comes to mind. While he has appeared in films ranging from The Santa Clause to Galaxy Quest, his work voicing Buzz Lightyear for each Toy Story film is one of the major reasons the title sticks. He is now getting ready to reprise his role with Toy Story 4, which is currently in production.
“It’s become an iconic thing and much bigger than me,” says Allen. “Pixar is so meticulous about content that my side of the story is not completely ironed out yet, but I love doing the character. It always goes back to that original story that Pixar wrote about friendships. It was a wonderful story, and it continues to be a wonderful story.” The same could be said of Tim Allen’s career.