Retool Time

Native son Tim Allen directs his first feature film and returns to the standup comedy circuit to help promote it.

Tim Allen decided to make certain his new movie, Crazy on the Outside, which opens nationwide this month, was a laughing matter. For the first time in nearly two decades, the former Michigan resident and Home Improvement TV star embarked on a 10-city standup comedy tour (he played the Palladium in Birmingham Dec. 10) to present a live show before a special screening of the film in selected markets, a throwback to a bygone, classic era of movie premieres. Crazy, which also stars Sigourney Weaver, Kelsey Grammer, and Detroit native J.K. Simmons, is a particularly poignant project for Allen, 56, in several ways: He plays an ex-con fresh out of prison and ready for a second chance, a role he portrayed in real life after being arrested in 1978 and serving 28 months for a drug conviction before his comedy career skyrocketed. Having also just wrapped his voiceover as Buzz Lightyear for the forthcoming Toy Story 3, Allen now lives in southern California with his wife, Jane, and their 9-month-old daughter, Elizabeth; Kady, 20, his daughter from a previous marriage, is a student at USC.

Before we talk about your new movie, those “Pure Michigan” commercials you voiced for Travel Michigan are beautiful, and quite effective.

I wish I had the writers’ names, because they get the credit for 90 percent of that, if not more. The writers and directors were really good on the phone and pushed me into areas that are quite remarkable, for a funny guy to be that dramatic. I only hope that, eventually, I do movies where it feels that good to do that stuff.

Your delivery on those spots suggests that Tim Allen could be a dramatic actor.

If, in fact, I wanted to. There’s plenty of dramatic actors out there, and the reality is, they’d rather use me for comedy. It isn’t like I have a real hankering to do it; I just like working in this business. My movie is a comedy, but there are some moments, some real good moments, in it for me. I directed myself, which is difficult enough.

This was the first film you’ve directed, right?

I’ve directed some TV shows and some movies in college, but to direct major stars in a major movie and to be in it myself, it’s something I’ve always wondered how to do. I asked [Kevin] Costner and some other stars that have done it, then I went ahead and did it. I got a good crew who knew what they were doing and understood my vision. It meant a lot of decisions and a lot of courage. I had to dig down deep and say, ‘This is what I’m gonna do.’

Were you pleased with the result?

I love it. I love it so much, I worked up a new standup act to help promote it. Rather than do it the way the studios do it, I asked to go virally, do it on the Internet, do it my own funny way. I’ve got about an hour and 15 minutes of new material. Not the same grunty tool stuff. Same guy.

You know January is Auto Show month in Detroit. What are you driving these days?

I’ve got everything as all Motor City out here, but really what I’m driving, and it’s kind of a surprise to me, is a Cadillac CTS-V. It’s a startling car. If you haven’t driven one, it’s just stupid. I’ve got a Mini Cooper, that’s my socially responsible car, but you know I souped it up. And I’ve got a Corvette. That’s the Cadillac’s evil sister.

Any thoughts from a concerned expatriate on the auto industry?

There’s too many talented people in Michigan, and it’s filled with engineers and workers who know how to build stuff. Last year’s Ford Mustang — great buy. I’m going to go out on a limb and say the last five years of American cars are the best we’ve ever made. But when you get fat and lazy — and I’m not accusing Michigan of being fat and lazy at all anymore — you reach an emotional bottom where you realize that world of entitlements got stupid. Look what happened to GM: All those promises were horses–––. You should have saved that $38 an hour you were making instead of buying 16 snowmobiles and being a ‘thousandaire’ living like a millionaire. You stay within your means. Even though I’ve been a successful guy, I don’t buy things I can’t afford and I save a lot of money. I just think someone turned Michigan into a fiscally irresponsible place, and we all have some blame there. I remember when GM left Flint, when GM left Saginaw. Our lifeblood just leaked out of that state. So I’m very bitter.

Maybe it becomes the ‘rebuild’ capital. There were some years washing machines were really good. My grandma had a toaster that was heavier than an outboard motor, but it never went wrong. Where is that toaster? I can’t find a good one. So maybe if you find old stuff that works, send it to Michigan. We’ll remodel it because we built it the first time and we’ll rebuild it even better.

Fair to say you’re rather passionate about your former home?

I’m just sick of it, man. Like the freakin’ Lions. Sick of being in the basement. And every once in a while you get a bright spot. But it’s very tough for me to applaud Michigan for creating the movie business cheaper and better — and they are — and taking all the movie jobs out of California, the place where it began. Eventually, you’re going to want the same salaries and benefits the people here get. I don’t know [Mayor] Dave Bing except for his past, but this is the first time I’ve seen someone leading Detroit who has a background in business. I don’t know what he’s going to do, but from what I hear and read, I’m very impressed.

You haven’t done a standup comedy tour since Home Improvement. Was the experience different after all this time?

Oh, my God. It’s different. The same things that bothered me still bother me. I still get very nervous, feel like I’m going to get sick, but as soon as I get up there, I’m all right. It took me many years and a couple of big breaks to get a hook, and all the hunting and tool stuff, I don’t have that anymore. But I’m all right with it. It’s been great.