20 Questions TIM ALLEN
Issue: Vol. 40, no. 2
Date: February 1993
Tim Allen, the 39-year-old star of TV's monster hit sitcom "Home Improvement," calls his brand of comedy masculinist. It's meant to celebrate guyhood without resorting to uncouth gibes at women. And it largely does. Allen plays Tim Taylor, the married-with-three-boys host of the cable show "Tool Time." Taylor is fixit maven Bob Vila in a tie and sharp slacks, bullshitting his way through repair and remodel tips while his earnest assistant, Al, does the real work. "Home Improvement" was helped to big numbers in its first season by being the lead-in to "Roseanne." Now the centerpiece of its own night (Wednesday), "Home Improvement" proved its clout by trouncing the competition. Allen has come a long way from the time in the Seventies when he spent two years in jail for selling cocaine. Contributing Editor David Rensin met with him in Los Angeles. Says Rensin: "Allen's maleness is more complicated than a gorilla grunting he's turned into a trademark. The older he gets, the tougher he finds it to vote the straight male ticket. And his only child is a girl-which serves him right.
PLAYBOY: You prob the male psyche-avoiding the misogyny of Andrew Dice Clay and the gross-out humor of Howard Stern. What went wrong?
ALLEN: I just couldn't commit. [Laughs] My comedy celebrates what's cool about guys. Guys love brand names, especially tool brand names and big-block motors. That's how men communicate. They do not say, "That's a nice outfit." They say, "Hey, is that your hemi out there?" And the other guy knows that means you respect old Chrysler products, big-block 426's. It's a language most women don't understand, so it keeps us private.
PLAYBOY: Share a manly fantasy.
ALLEN: Scottish bodyguards. Ian and Ion and Ogor, dressed in kilts. Each one three hundred pounds. We'd go to functions and these guys would say, "Aye! You gotta get back, laddie! Timmy's coming through!" I also wonder, just for a goof, what would happen if a guy like me had tits. Just so I could go to the beach and watch my friends in an uncomfortable situation. "God, Tim, man, you got some nice tits." And you can't really tell me to put on a bra, 'cause I'm a guy. I could walk around, take off my shirt, go into a garage; the mechanic says, "God, you got nice tits! Has anybody ever said that? I'm not gay, but, man, you got some tits." I don't know why I brought that up. I recently went to a topless bar in Houston and the girls were so fake they looked like candy.
PLAYBOY: And how would you rewire women?
ALLEN: Stop them from mumbling when they walk around corners. Have them finish conversations while they're looking at you. My wife does this all the time. "Yeah, yeah, the important thing is mumble, mumble," then they're gone. An eek later. "I told you all about that." And you can't say they didn't, you just didn't hear it. There's more: Learn the value of a good stereo. They hate loud music. And get their temperature regulated better. They're always cold. They don't like the extremes. Everything that men really like, women don't like at all: loud noises, explosions, Schwarzenegger movies, the Three Stooges. Men really like those things. Most women would rather sit around for an hour than drive a tank.
PLAYBOY: What makes you uncomfortable about being a man?
ALLEN: Any of the traits I attribute to men that I don't seem able to get away from. Like glaring at women. No matter how much I think of myself as a current guy who doesn't regard women as objects, I look at women as objects all the time and I can't stop that. I'm also aggressive. I think of warfare all the time. I have cruel thoughts. This stuff comes from some bottomless pit. Women don't think these things. Men have dark sides that can hurt everybody. When women are dark, they manipulate. When men are dark we blow up bridges.
PLAYBOY: Although you've had fixit boss Bob Vila on Home Improvement, have you actually cut wood with the man?
ALLEN: He came to my home in Michigan, where we did a project together for his show. I'm putting in a new garage and a family room. His crew wanted to do a run-through, but Bob knows me well enough and said, "Nah." Then he just went around the house and asked, "What are you doing here?" And I bullshitted as though I knew what I was doing. I did it just as he would. "Well, Bob, what we've done here is poured our foundation." He was throwing me off with these big words: "You're using double-ought blah-blah-blah," and I said, "No were not. We're using triple." Everything he said, I upped it. "How are you heating the place?" I said, "We're using a coat of low-level uranium six inches underneath the floor. The natural breakdown of the reactive materials causes heat." He said, with a straight face, "Is that a danger to your family?" I said, "It's an unseen danger. You don't see it therefore it doesn't exist. Maybe generations from now we'll look like frogs, but now we heat our house for almost five thousand years penny-free." He said, "There's no basement here?" I said, "Actually, we built the basement off-site. We will finish the basement, then lift the entire house and set the basement underneath. That's cheaper. "This went on for an hour. As we were talking, my crew finished doing the floor, and then Bob and I walked right through the wet concrete. Think about it: Construction guys, who were amazed to be on the job site with Tim Taylor, the fake, and Bob Vila, the real guy, who've switched roles are yelling "Hey, hey, hey" at Bob as he sloshes through the concrete.
PLAYBOY: What is the only sensible response when a woman asks, "Do you like my dress? How do I look?"
ALLEN: Being married is different from dating. Dating, you have no fucking choice. You can't commit to anything but "great." Marriage -- my wife does this to me all the time: "You're going out like that?" I say, "NO, this is a pre-outfit. I just wore this to get to the outfit. What do you think I should wear?" She says, "How about the brown shirt with those pants I just bought you?" "Yeah, that's what I should wear! I just wore this to get to that outfit." Meanwhile, she has changed clothes five times.
PLAYBOY: What tool did you have to have but have never used?
ALLEN: I bought a Makita mini circular saw. I've used it once. My wife has used it a number of times, but never for its intended purpose -- cutting wall paneling on the job site. She'll blow the blade and say, "This thing doesn't work right." Well, I'm not sure you're supposed to use it to cut hair or chicken.
PLAYBOY: When you wear a tool belt, do you really need suspenders?
ALLEN: To avoid butt cracks, yeah.
PLAYBOY: What's in your tool chest that you don't want anyone to see?
ALLEN: A brass bong. I made it in college. Everyone had a bong then. I don't why it's there. Everytime I look at it I go, "I'm gonna get that out of there because at this stage, it's indefensible, Unusable." What if my kid or nephew finds it? What would I say to questions like, "What kind of tobacco do you smoke in a pipe like this?" "God, that was years ago. Tobacco used to be a lot stronger."
PLAYBOY: You may be a man's man, but your only child is a daughter. Did you get the kid you deserve?
ALLEN: When we did the ultrasound and they said, "It's a little girl," I went, "Ohhh." I actually made the sound. Like I'd opened the wrong Christmas present. Three people in the room said, "What was that all about?" My wife goes, "What's ohhh for?" I went, "Oh, I was clearing my throat. Oh, look! A girl! Dresses and parties and a friend to you! Look at that!" I was very disappointed. And now, of course, I feel guilty in front of God. This girl is so much pleasure to me that it's incredible. I go to other guys' houses and their boys are fucking monsters. The difference is night and day. Kady is bitchy only to me. She already toys with my emotions. She can hurt me so desperately by saying she doesn't want to talk to me or that she doesn't love me anymore. I'm a very sensitive guy and I think she means it. And beyond that, I keep thinking that she -- any kid -- could potentially ruin or rule the world. What a responsibility. And there's no manual.
PLAYBOY: There seems to be a note of authenticity in your relationship with your TV wife, Jill, played by Patricia Richardson, that's missing from most other sitcoms. Are you getting away with something?
ALLEN: It just happened. We got along right away. We agree on just enough to make us like each other and disagree on enough stuff to make us a real couple. For instance, we're night and politically. I like to argue with Pat. Someone from the National Enquirer saw us do that one day and extrapolated that we hate each others guts. So now our running gag every time we're in public is, "I hate your guts." Then Pat had the idea to have her pants down, as if we were screwing, and get caught backstage. Then the Enquirer would really have to explain it. "They hate each other so much, now they're screwing onstage!" This is how she thinks.
PLAYBOY: What part of a women's body should you never comment on because whatever you say will always be wrong?
ALLEN: Ass. Butt. Rear. Derriere. "Hey your butt looks different in those pants." Can't say that. You never want to mention their ass in any other way than. "You have a nice ass." Nothing else. It's a danger zone.
PLAYBOY: What book do you have in your bathroom?
ALLEN: Sexual Personae, by Camille Paglia. I read twenty pages and was out of breath. I've never highlighted a book more in my life -- yellow marker, by the way. But it leaks through the cheesy newsprint-type paper. It's not the high quality stuff like Spanky and the Maid. Her writing reminds me of listening to Richard Pryor talking about white people. You get a clear view from someone outside the race. What a wild woman! Real strong feminist and antifeminist. Love to meet her. A very provocative thinker. I don't know where she gets the brainpower to come up with all that stuff. Did she spend a lot of time visiting Greco-Roman exhibits in museums? I also read Deborah Tannen's You Just Don't Understand. I need to do this stuff for my act. I mean, I do have distinct ideas about men. I believe in the stuff I say. I parody it, but I believe it.
PLAYBOY: Your real name is Timothy Allen Dick. When did you cut off the dick?
ALLEN: When I did my first TV talk show and they said, "It's obvious, isn't it? People will think you made it up." I couldn't disagree, but it offended me greatly. How would I explain this to my dear deceased father? I grew up a Dick. All my brothers are Dicks. My whole family are Dicks. I caused a scene at a restaurant once and almost got kicked out. I said, "You're gonna kick me out because I'm a Dick? Lady, my father's a Dick. My mother's a Dick!" She said, "Sir! Sir!" And then my wife comes in: "He's right they're all Dicks. All of them are Dicks.
PLAYBOY: What part of the men's movement should we throw away? Ever at end a movement weekend?
ALLEN: Any time it becomes a thing, it's over with. I was reading a men's magazine and every other ad was for drums to beat on. "We can get you back to it." Business ruins the flavor. Some things you go through and you don't know it at the time. For instance, the Japanese are very into their sand gardens. I figure they were never allowed to be children, because most Americans went through that at an early age and called them sandboxes. The American Indians used sweat lodges. Well, Indians obviously never drove from Detroit to Indy in the back of a Dodge van with twelve guys to see a race. That was a sweat lodge. I've been to a J. Geils concert where you have twelve guys going, "Dju-dju-dju-dju-dju." That was my movement weekend. I've had the experience.
PLAYBOY: How would you improve mankind?
ALLEN: Men need to learn to make better decisions, especially concerning their own creativity. A guy in Florida designed a bullet -- took time out of his day -- that would pierce a bulletproof vest. Now, what was the thought process there? He could have been making something that made canned goods last longer or, heaven forbid, made certain durable goods less expensive for people who can't afford them. Instead, He spends his time making a shell that will pierce police armor. The guy's obviously creative, talented, but very misdirected. I wish there were more guys like Edison and Buckminster Fuller. More heroes.
PLAYBOY: Women seem obsessed with body hair. In what locations where hair naturally occurs should women be unconcerned that it does?
ALLEN: Their heads. Just leave it where it is. [Smiles] If women didn't shave at all, how long would it take to get used to that? I dated a girl in college who had gotten to the zucchini lasagna stage, with candles in her house and red wine that her uncle made. Everything was natural. She didn't shave anything and I never got used to it. It's just too much of a push. So I had to start shaving. "Somebody's gotta shave here," I said, "Somebody's got to be smooth."
PLAYBOY: So, how do you shave?
ALLEN: I learned to shave in the shower without a mirror. This happened in jail. It was too difficult to see in the fucking polished stainless-steel mirror. It was much easier to shave in the shower and get it over with. Besides, it'll come in handy in case I go blind one day -- which, oddly, I have always thought would happen. It's one of those little tests. My dad's was "Learn to tie your shoes standing up." I learned. [Demonstrates] He said it promotes good balance. Goddam right it does, because you have to stand on one foot and raise the other to tie the shoe.
PLAYBOY: What did you quit doing yourself when you could finally afford hired help?
ALLEN: Landscaping. But I really enjoyed doing my yard. It was my Zen. I have a big John Derre tractor that I love. Always wanted one, got the best. Not including my cars, I have seven combustion motors in my tool shed: a mulcher, a blower, two weed wackers and three lawn mowers. Oh, and a Rototiller. I moved for three seasons by myself, and now I have a kid who uses my tractor, so at least I get to see it. I guess the next step is a lawn crew. Then I'll have no connection whatsoever to my yard. Success is a bittersweet thing.
PLAYBOY: And how would you rewire America?
ALLEN: I'd get rid of those fucking plugs on which one prong's bigger than the other.