By Jane Wollman Rusoff
City & Shore PRIME Magazine
Tim Allen has carved out a career cheerfully skewering human foibles. To laugh at his antic comedy act is often to laugh at ourselves.
So is it too much to say he’s performing a public service? Maybe not.
Allen of course starred on two long-running hit TV series, Home Improvement and Last Man Standing. He is also known for playing a dad transformed into Kris Kringle in The Santa Clause film trilogy and is the voice of courageous space ranger Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story, the animated feature franchise.
Off-screen, the 64-year-old comedian boasts a striking collection of American and European automobiles. It therefore may be no coincidence that he is the headline performer at the 12th annual Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance, a weekend of entertainment, automotive seminars, gourmet dining and a car-and-motorcycle exhibition, eligible – among other awards – for the Jay Leno Big Dog Garage Award and the Tim Allen Award. The three-day event takes place Feb. 23-25 at the Boca Raton Resort & Club.
Allen’s popularity and comedic talents have been widely recognized: He won the People’s Choice award for Favorite Male Performer in a Television Series eight years in a row and has earned a Golden Globe and Emmy nod for his work on Home Improvement.
Born in Denver, the comedian grew up a misbehaving child amid nine siblings. In the 1980s, after a soul-searching rough patch, Allen successfully launched a stand-up comedy career, soon segueing into television, then moving on to starring roles in feature movies, first The Santa Clause, followed by several others, including Jungle 2 Jungle, Galaxy Quest and Wild Hogs. His most recent is El Camino Christmas, which premiered on Netflix last December. Allen will once again voice brave Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story 4, set for release in 2019.
City & Shore: You’re here for the Concours d’Elegance, but have you been to South Florida before? If so, what did you like about it?
Tim Allen: There’s something wonderfully eclectic about Miami. I love it right in the middle of summer when it’s 90 degrees and you can go out in a boat. When I shot the movie Big Trouble there for three months, we rented a little house off South Beach. It was wonderful.
C&S: Why is restoring old cars something you love to do?
TA: It’s the authenticity, the charm, the values that were inherent in the build. I have a ’49 woody wagon that doesn’t run well, but it’s unbelievable. I recently drove a Model ‘T’ [Ford] with Jay Leno.
C&S: What was that like?
TA: I couldn’t believe the thing runs, but Jay says it’s the most important car in the world – it started the production of cars so everybody could afford to get around. But they’re not worth very much since there are still so many of them – they’re very sturdy and literally don’t decompose.
C&S: Did you like taking shop class as a kid in school?
TA: I loved it. We males like tools because they keep us focused on the beginning and the end of a process. In shop: You took your time, set up your tools, did you job and cleaned up your area.
C&S: What did you make?
TA: In one woodworking class, we had to make a box; but I built a chair instead. The teacher said, ‘That’s an amazing chair. You did something above and beyond a box. But I’m giving you a D because you didn’t make a box.’ It was very common for me to get D’s from misbehaving or doing something I wasn’t supposed to do, like making a chair.
C&S: Does your 8-year-old daughter think you’re Santa Claus?
TA: She’s right at the age where she asks questions like, ‘Dad, did you ever see Santa?’ I don’t want her going to school saying, ‘My dad is Buzz Lightyear’ or ‘My dad is Santa.’ So I tell her I’m not. But I don’t think she listens. One day somebody will say to her, ‘You’re dumb for believing in Santa Claus.’
C&S: In a single week in 1994 you simultaneously starred in the highest grossing film, The Santa Clause, your movie debut; your autobiography was No.1 on The New York Times bestseller list; and Home Improvement was the No. 1 TV show. How did that feel?
TA: It was a cool accomplishment, like having a no-hitter in baseball or winning five Super Bowls. But when we were growing up, my mother always said, ‘Just show us what you can do. We don’t have to constantly give you credit for it.’ So it was easier for me to go, ‘Yeah, that’s nice.’
C&S: You can be hard on yourself, then?
TA: It’s tough for me to take a compliment because I’m a sick person. I can get very self-critical. Human beings have a dark person living in the basement called the ego that’s constantly looking for trouble. In my case, it’s always telling me that I’m no good. I’m constantly battling this idiot that has no place in my life.
C&S: What was your mother like otherwise?
TA: Her slogan was ‘Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never harm you.’ She said that to me all the time when my brothers called me names, like ‘stupid,’ ‘idiot’ or ‘loser.’ Her point was that words are meaningless without intent. That’s what Lenny Bruce tried to say.
C&S: You’ve joked in your act: ‘My mom said the only reason men are alive is for vehicle maintenance.’ Oh, really?
TA: She didn’t say that. I bought that line from a very funny comedian. My job is to exaggerate details so that the center of what I’m saying becomes magnified.
C&S: You grew up one of ten children. What other memories do you have of your childhood?
TA: We had three bedrooms and one bathroom. We were solidly middle class. For Christmas, we always got everything that we asked for, plus more. My dad was great. He was an insurance salesman, who died when I was quite young [at 11].
C&S: What’s the main difference between the two characters you played on your series: Tim Taylor of Home Improvement and Mike Baxter of Last Man Standing?
TA: You were never sure if Tim was a bright guy or a dumb guy. Sometimes he was very slick about his opinions; sometimes he was very buffoonish. Mike was very clumsy in expressing his emotions. The idea was to make him Archie Bunker as a college graduate.
C&S: Do you ever do political humor in your stand-up act?
TA: I do the ground underneath political humor: our human behavior. [My act] centers around my relationships with my mom and her sisters and her mom. I was raised by these women.
C&S: What’s the most challenging part of making films with kids and being a dad in real life?
TA: Staying engaged. I’ve been uncomfortable with some of the children I’ve worked with in movies. I don’t know what to say and how to engage with children. So I’m just silent. Sometimes I have trouble with my own children. They’re both girls. They like cars and tools because of me, but they’re not naturally that way.
C&S: What impact did your serving time in prison on drug charges have?
TA: It saved my life because I was going down a very lazy path. I didn’t want to work for a living. I was a very entitled kid. I wanted money to come to me. That sort of mentality put me in a very dark place with people of like [attitude].They didn’t want to obey the law and didn’t mind forcing other people to do stuff, like selling drugs.
C&S: Did you get gratification from working for them?
TA: I actually worked harder working against the law than I’ve ever worked because on top of sometimes working all night and driving hours and hours, you’re avoiding the police at all times. You’re worried all the time. Eventually, I found myself under water in my personal relationships.
C&S: How did being in jail change you?
TA: It was almost [the same thing] as when I got sober. The moment I got sober 20 years ago was a moment of clarity: I’m done with this. In the case of [breaking the law], the moment of clarity was seeing two guys with badges. I had no idea how deep I had gotten myself in. I was under a continually criminal enterprise, as they called it. But it really wasn’t.
TA: The Feds thought it was bigger than it was. They were very aggressive and ended up [indicting] me for a Federal crime for transporting drugs, none of which I did. But I was involved with people that did.
C&S: How awful was the experience of serving time?
TA: The bottom line is I ended up doing three of seven. It actually shocked my system. I had to survive. I was at a Federal penitentiary, which was almost like the military. I really should have gone into the military because I was a person that disliked authority. I needed discipline to learn what it’s like to do as you’re told. In there, I did.
C&S: What was the upshot?
TA: It freaked me out. So I was a totally different guy when I came out.
C&S: And you became a comedian. Such a career change! How did you decide what to pursue?
TA: In prison I read every book about people whose success I admired, including women philosophers and biographies of African-Americans, like Eli Whitney. I couldn’t be like some of them because of [the difference in] gender and skin tone, but I could do some of the things they did to be successful.
C&S: Did you create a specific plan?
TA: These people made lists and set goals, so I made lists of the same things. Lord knows, it worked! I found I could do those things. You accomplish goals little by little, and big things happen. You realize that you’re in charge of the moment. You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control your relationship to things.
ONLINE BONUS: More of our interview with Tim Allen
C&S: Off-stage, you’re an outspoken Republican. What do you think of Donald Trump’s first year in office?
TA: Keep him away from Twitter! This guy needs to be focused on infrastructure. He’s a builder. We need infrastructure bad. His [strength] isn’t being used. He has the ability to get stuff done with unions on a physical plant level. We should get him angled on fixing the infrastructure.
C&S: Did you vote for him mainly because he promised to spend billions to fix roads and bridges?
TA: I didn’t say I voted for him. I was a big fan of [candidate] John Kasich [Governor of Ohio]. I met with him, and I liked him a lot.
C&S: What are your thoughts about the Russia investigation?
TA: Well, what is it that Trump promised the Russians? To me, the biggest question is about the quid pro quo. He got elected, but now he owes them something? Was he supposed to get them cases of vodka, more caviar, Marine bases in Guam? What do the Russians get that we wouldn’t all notice? It’s a huge question.
IF YOU GO
Vintage, antique, classic and exotic cars and motorcycles will compete for awards at the 12th Annual Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance, Feb. 23-25.
Comedians Tim Allen and Jay Leno, and a panel of expert judges, will present more than 20 awards in multiple categories. These will include the “Jay Leno Big Dog Garage Award” and “Tim Allen’s Best Award” for the stars’ favorite autos and motorcycles on exhibit.
The awards will cap a three-day spectacular of gourmet cuisine and live entertainment in Boca Raton.
Festivities begin on Friday, Feb. 23, with a Live Hangar Party at Boca Raton Airport hosted by duPont Registry and spotlighting entertainment and gourmet tastings from 20-plus South Florida restaurants. On view: a selection of exotic cars, motorcycles, boats and private jets.
Highlighting the Saturday, Feb. 24, Grand Gala Dinner is a headline performance by Allen, star of TV’s long-running Home Improvement and Last Man Standing TV series and who is also a serious car collector. There will be auctions – silent and live – and the Automotive Lifetime Achievement Award presented to Norman Braman, founder of Braman Motorcars.
The Concours, sponsored by Mercedes-Benz and automotive retailer AutoNation, benefits Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County, helping more than 12,500 at-risk youths.
The yearly event was founded by Rita and Rick Case of The Rick Case Automotive Group. Last year’s Concours raised more than $10 million for Broward’s Boys & Girls Clubs.
On Sunday, Feb. 25, Allen and Leno, former Tonight Show host now starring in TV’s Jay Leno’s Garage, will stroll the exhibition of vehicles of the past century – including an Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) “Cars Through the Decades” display and Lincoln-Mercury vehicles – to select their auto and motorcycle top picks.
The comedians also join an expert panel of judges, including Chief Judge Dr. Paul Sable and Chief Honorary Judge Steve Moskowitz, AACA executive director, to choose the finest vintage, antique, classic and exotic vehicles based on time-period, presentation and style.
As a special treat during the Boca trifecta, attendees can enjoy 10 a.m.-11 a.m. Sunday brunch with Allen and Leno, while quizzing the two in a Q&A session.
The Concours is open to the public, with tickets sold separately for each day and for the brunch: Friday $125/per person; Saturday $500/person and $1,000/person for premier seat (table options also available); Sunday $75/person and $125 early admission; Sunday Brunch $1,000/person. To purchase, call 954-537-1010 or visit boca.CDE.com.