In the glory days of ‘90s television, and competed for 30 million viewers each. Allen’s edged out to be the number one show for many years. Now Allen is back on TV with ABC’s, and he happens to be filming right in the Seinfeld stage at our own .
Allen plays the host of a video blog for a nature calendar, and he’s the father of three daughters. Instead of Tim “The Tool Man” on Home Improvement, he’s Mike the nature man. On a break from filming, Allen spoke about his joy to be in the neighborhood studio and revealed he keeps his own auto shop in town, too.
Q: How does it feel to work on this historic lot?
TA: I for one love it. I’ve had so many memories at the Disney lot, I just like being on lots. If you like the business of television on movies, there’s nothing like being on a [lot.] It doesn’t ever get old to me walking around here and seeing there’s so much history here. Names that you recognize on buildings.
Q: After Home Improvement, what’s it like being on the Seinfeld stage?
TA: Who? Seinfeld? I remember, it was a blogger show. It was quite popular in the ‘60s, I remember. Kids liked it. We’ve covered up the sign with a flap. It was a large cat, I remember that. Seinfeld the cat.
Q: Have you had a chance to joke with Jerry about that?
TA: No, actually, because there literally was a grip truck parked in front. There’s a little hair salon there too and it was parked there for quite a while. Then they pulled away, are you kidding me? It’s funny, having good memories of his show also, for some reason just like everybody said, I thought it was filmed in New York. It’s funny how this set has taken on our character now.
Q: What else do you like about the Studio City area outside the lot?
TA: There’s nothing like this. There’s restaurants all around here. I live close to here. I could actually ride a bike. It’s the most amazing experience. Grateful, grateful, grateful. That’s all I think is that I could get here in 11 minutes, and if I really pushed it I could get that down to nine. It depends on traffic. There’s pizza, there’s sushi, there’s hamburgers. My shop is close to here also and this is the first time I’ve been able to, I’ve got hot rods I can’t really drive that much because they’re just troublesome. I’m getting old. I like cup holders and GPS, I’ve got to be honest. I like XM radio and I’ve got some of these hotrods and I go, “What am I going to do?” Can’t park them anywhere and literally they’re more dangerous than a motorcycle. I just am getting to the point where I kind of like the comfort of new cars. I’ve built probably 16 hot rods and they’re all eclectic cars. I’m just a little whiner.
Q: You’ve got an older daughter and a baby daughter. How much do you see on the show that resonates with you as a dad in real life?
TA: Well, these are very well behaved kids who are only here for about 20 minutes. And they’re really good kids. My kids are good but these are exceptional because they’re actors. As television often is, it’d be the idyllic situation if you could get your conflicts resolved in 22 minutes.
Actually less than that because we’ve got a tag and all the bumpers and stuff
so it’s kind of a wonderful situation. I can’t tell you how much I adore these
girls. It’s television and I tend to fall into this and get attached very quickly. I’d like this life. I like this house. I like this job. It’s just like Home Improvement. I really adored those boys and now I’ve got the best of both worlds which was the idea.
Q: Is there a secret to good parenting?
TA: If you’re a parent, you know nobody knows. I always feel like I’m coming up a little short. Like I’m either not there, I don’t engage, I don’t focus enough. I do the best I can and just hope I don’t get arrested.
Q: What is it like working with girls as opposed to the boys of Home Improvement?
TA: Well, I grew up with a huge family of boys. There were seven of us and I appreciate it and love it but I get along with girls too and I really adore baby girls especially. As they grow, I’ve got a 21-year-old, I love women. I actually prefer girls as a parent because they disappoint at a different age. They go through that “dad’s an idiot” and it lasted a little longer than I’d like. I have a 22-year-old now that’s kind of extending. My older brother has girls too. He says, “About 26 they come back, but from about 18, sometimes 16 on, they just think Dad’s horrible.” That’s a little painful. I have a women staff and a lot of women here. If you’re around women long enough you’ll see they have the cracks in their armor just like being around boys all the time. Boys can be kind of disgusting, can’t leave us alone for any length of time because we will burn something, blow something up or paint something. We’re just obnoxious. But women attack in a different way. They’re emotional terrorists. They go, “Oh, I’ll get you back.”
Q: The tool man was such an icon, is being the outdoorsman just as natural for you?
TA: You know, it was funny and was by design. I love this side. Construction was my first love. I love anything, bridges, I love that whole trade. I love the trades. This is the whole other side of that. I grew up around hunters. I love guns and bows and arrows, compasses and binoculars. I don’t do any of that stuff. I just like the stuff. I shot one animal in my life and I didn’t like it. If I had to skin an animal to eat it, I’d probably eat vegetables. I don’t like fishing for that reason because you yank ‘em out of the water and then there they are looking for oxygen and I’m going to take that away from them. I just like the stuff. I love this outdoor stuff and I used to work at a store that we sold guns, ammo and I’m really good at selling stuff so I appreciate it. Literally, we’ve dealt with it on the show. Hunters and the Sierra Club, all the big game hunters tend to be really intense environmentalists. It doesn’t make sense but they are. People that hunt and use the outdoors tend to want to keep the outdoors the way they are. So it’s a weird strange dichotomy. The people that hunt are the guys that really protect vehemently the environment. Ranchers and you find that people that live there tend to want to keep it that way, and I’ve always loved that about the hunters that I’ve known. They eat what they kill and they carry it out. They don’t shoot for sport. They carry these big sheep out on their backs and they gut ‘em and they eat ‘em later if that’s what your deal is. I always admired that. I love fishing gear and boats and outboard motors and all that so this is the flip side. It doesn’t take a rocket science to see what I did here. Instead of three boys, it’s three girls. Instead of Tool Time I have that vlog we’re just developing where we get to do live ranting is what it is.
Q: Does having your own online journal in real life help you?
TA: I’m pretty different. This is a character. The stuff I do on my website is kind of serious. We befriended Mike Rowe who plays my brother on the show. It turns out he’s got a website, we’re very kindred spirits about what we believe politically and socially. Very similar guys, great respect for working people, a little trepidation about working people’s organizations, being unions. I was a union guy, still am a union guy but on my website I admire working people period. I think Rowe said it best, if we were all fans of working people like we were fans of athletes and movie people, it would be a very different world. As he said, if you don’t care about how the water gets to your house and how the sewage leaves and electricity gets to your house and how it leaves, you’re an idiot because they build this world. There’s people that put this all together and I really admire that. That’s why Tool Time came about. This is a different sensibilities.
Q: What TV shows had an impact on you?
TA: I liked all the Newhart stuff. I loved all that, Mary Tyler Moore, all that. Classic sitcoms, what a great era. That’s what reminded me how grateful I am to be in this business, movies and television, and how grateful I am to be in another hit. Newhart’s the only other guy I know, Cosby’s done it, but there are very few people that have done what Newhart did where he had three hits in a row and he’s still a hit to me. Rarified air. I said I like the classic TV sitcoms which again we’ve done our best to keep a live studio audience, although I swear we almost have to remind people like they used to, “Filmed in front of a live studio audience at CBS.” Even my mom goes, “That laugh track sounds so in your face.” I go, “Well, it’s 250 people laughing.” She goes, “Yeah, but it sounds like they’re right there.” I go, “Well, they are right there.” There are not many. It isn’t done so much anymore. We’ve highlighted everything, we’ve done more, great lighting, all new technical stuff so it is as upgraded as you can do a sitcom but it’s live sitcom. It’s kind of a mix between I love standup, we have theater, it’s just wonderful.
Q: Do you still think about standup?
TA: I still do it. I’m in the Venetian all year. This is the second year at the showroom at the Venetian and I still pop in to various clubs in Los Angeles to warm up. I don't know why I ever got away from it. I love doing it. It’s the same stress as it was when I did it 30 years ago waiting in line with other comics, but now I’m the big cheese. I’m the guy I hate. You’ve got regular guys at comedy clubs, I show up they go, “Oh, Saheeb’s here, put him on.” Then guys wait in line. I’m exactly who I hate when I was a young comic, “Who does he think he is?” Well I’m now who he thinks he is.
Q: What kind of pressure is being the big cheese? Do you get a pass?
TA: I get a pass. There’s definitely a pass but at the end of the five minute pass, if you’re not funny people are going to be shifting in their seats and going to the bathroom. I can get up there and do question and answer for 20 minutes, “Oh, what’s your favorite episode?” I can talk about Buzz Lightyear and all that stuff for any length of time, but when I first started two years ago, I rebooted. I did some big concerts and fell on my face. Personally, the crowds still got a show because I did some old stuff, but it’s taken me probably 18 months of hard work to get it right back up to a level that you can come see in Vegas.
Q: How does that change your game for a sitcom?
TA: I’ve been around great actors and there’s something smoking hot about working with them because they sustain a vibe. I don't know how to describe acting. From a comedy point of view, standup keeps me razor sharp so I can ad lib. That’s why they hire me. I can add value to a scene that’s a little flat or do a facial gesture or whatever. It’s been wonderful, it’s been stressful because I’ve got a family and I’m on the road again and I don’t want to do this anymore where I’m on the road. I was on the road a lot when I was young and I don’t want to do that. So I do Vegas which I really feel like I need a sequined suit. It’s Vegas, ey, ladies and gentlemen. It’s not my gig but I do love it and I like the Venetian, they’ve been real good to me. I’m going to continue doing this twice a month and pop around here. It just keeps me sharp, keeps my motor running.
Q: Are they doing more Toy Story shorts?
TA: You know, this is like working with the CIA, Pixar and Disney. They really don’t want me to say anything but talk to Hanks, he seems to get away with whatever he wants to say because no one ever messes with Tom, or “Woody.” Disney would just prefer I don’t talk about Toy Story because I think they’ve got big surprises coming. They want to manage it because they don’t want expectations… it takes a long time to put these together, both the shorts and the big ones. They time their own deals. I remember, all I’ve got to say is that the shorts are doing very well, but the last gasp of that movie series was that little girl. We’re supposed to be waving on the porch. It was so sad, even to all of us that do it, and then that little girl came from behind her mom’s leg and it looked like she was going to take care of the toys. And the audience went, “Well, why doesn’t she just take care of them?” And Pixar felt it, so did Disney, all of us did. God, maybe that girl, this wouldn’t be the end of this thing. So that’s where it’s sitting right now.
(See videos of and about the show above, and check out the Photo Gallery above.)