The oldest theme in comedy: Airlines? Vegas buffets? Yo’ mama?
No, it’s gotta be the differences between men and women.
And just as the two are somehow compelled to be together, this prehistoric topic sustains a one-of-a-kind entertainment offering on the Strip.
“Defending the Caveman” repackages a lot of old cliches. (Does your wife put her cold feet on you in bed?) But it seems more original because of its unique-in-Vegas format, the long-form theatrical monologue.
If that sounds all fancy-pants, here at Harrah’s Las Vegas it’s only a step removed from The Improv’s usual stand-up comedy. It’s still a guy up there telling jokes. But he’s delivering a script that’s sustained and focused, sometimes punctuated by dramatic lighting cues on a little set right out of “The Flintstones.”
From 2007 until last May, that guy was Kevin Burke, who has performed the work more than 3,000 times. If Burke is your man, you can catch him in an encore run at Harrah’s Laughlin next month.
Otherwise, you’ll find some fresh air in the aging piece with the new Vegas caveman, Chris Allen.
Allen also hails from the Chicago area, and has the same body type as Burke. Perhaps it’s a rule that all “Cavemen” cover a big spare tire with a bowling shirt (Vegas buffet joke, anyone?).
But Allen is 28, more than 20 years younger than Burke. He’s equally nonthreatening, but more furrowed-brow intense. If Burke was the schlub as John Goodman, Allen is Chris Farley.
His eyes probe the audience seeking yours. And he delivers the material as if he really wants you to understand it, even if that means not punching every line that could potentially get a laugh.
The line “Women are not hindered by logic” traditionally provokes an indignant gasp from the female part of the audience, setting up an explanation. But on this night, Allen already had them in his corner, waiting to hear it.
The Las Vegas version is the only stationary production of “Caveman” in the country now, and at this point far detached from Rob Becker, the comedian who wrote it and took it to Broadway in 1995.
The work is an odd blend of TV sitcom cliches filtered through anthropology and social science. It sets out to explain how men and women are “two different cultures,” acting on genetic coding dating back to the earliest societies of hunters and gatherers.
Allen and director Isaac Lamb try to make its ’90s-era view of domesticity work in the Twitter era.
The original script was fresh with outrage that the dominant image of the modern male had shifted from protector and provider to “asshole.” Today’s millennial gals may well think that, but were raised knowing it’s not PC to gender-type — especially on Facebook.
So Allen now seems merely bemused in the accelerated setup — maybe we won’t notice he was a kid in the ’90s, not “trying to be a sensitive guy” — while still stating the central premise: “What do you say to something like that?”
A late-night visitation from a spectral caveman helps him explain how men “kill” TV channels with the remote, while women absorb information from them.
Men express affection through put-downs and nicknames, while it turns out “most women do not like to be called ‘Buttwipe.’ ’’ And men need to interact through an activity — even one as passive as fishing — while conversations suffice for women.
Most of the principles still hold, especially for the vacationing couples who dominate the audience. If the material keeps getting older, it helps to have a younger caveman explaining it. So far, at least, that strikes enough of a balance to keep “Caveman” out of the Natural History Museum.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.