Harris: Joining us live in the studio today is Rob Becker, star of Defending the Caveman, which is playing at The Lyric in Baltimore this week and is coming to the Warner here in Washington for two weeks starting next Tuesday. It was four years ago this month that Rob was a guy who had just worked from Improv to Improv around the country. Then he started a six month run here in Washington and that is where things ramped up to the big time, wasn’t it?
Becker: And it all started on your show.
Harris: Thank you, I take all the credit that I possibly can for that.
Becker: I was nothing. I was no one. I was selling used Kleenex by the side of the road. Then I went on Harris In The Morning and then everything started to happen.
Harris: [laughs] Well, thank you very much.
Becker: I made my first dollar right here.
Becker: I still have it. Look. [laughs]
Harris: Rob has just finished two years on Broadway, and is now taking the show on the road. Let’s go back to the beginning. Why are you defending the Caveman? What did the Caveman ever do that needs defense?
Becker: What it really goes back to is a party I went to where I ended up with a group of women. And we were talking about relationships and one of the women said “You know the problem with relationships is that when you get out of college its hard to meet men you can date. Because you don’t want to date the guys you work with, and you don’t want to date guys you meet in bars.” And this other woman said “Oh no that’s not the problem, the problem is when you meet them they’re all a bunch of….”
Becker: Blank-holes, cantaloupes, yes.
Becker: I thought this was pretty amazing — only because no one disagreed!
Harris: She says “Men are all blank-holes.” And no one says anything?
Becker: I sat back and thought, man, there’s going to be an argument about this! And it’s almost if the first woman had said “The problem with keeping things up in the air is, there’s gravity.”
Becker: Cause all the other women sat there and went, “Oh, yeah, that’s right” as if they had forgotten. And then the conversation moved on. So I went home and I was talking to Erin, my wife, about this and I told her about this theory I had which really came from junior high school. When I was in junior high school I had this friend named Michelle who lived down the street, and I would walk her to school everyday. She was pretty popular, so everyday we would pick up about five other girls and walk to school. So everyday on the way to school it was six girls and me. I was the resident guy. So everyday on the way to school they would pepper me with these questions, why does a guy do this? Why does a guy say something like that? What do guys think about this? And I would have to come up with answers. Then I would get to school and I was playing kickball. And the other guys would come up to me and say “You walk to school with them, right?” and I would go “Yeah.” “What do they think about this? What do they say about that?”
Becker: So from an early age I had this idea men and women were two different cultures. That we make relationships differently, we have different customs and rituals that we use to make relationships. We use language differently, and so on.
Becker: So I was telling this to Erin and then I popped out with this piece of my Defending the Caveman, show about the chip bowl. For example, in the woman’s culture the custom is cooperation and for the man’s culture it’s negotiating. If you get six women around a bowl of chips ‘n’ dip and the bowl gets low, how many go?
Harris: They all go.
Becker: Every single one, it’s a party train right in the kitchen. They go in there and they’re making things, they’re singing songs, confetti falls from the ceiling, there’s a rumba line. Bom Bom Bom Bom Bom BA…..
Becker: It’s cooperative.
Becker: You get six guys around a bowl of chip ‘n’ dip and someone says the bowl’s getting low, nobody goes. You have to have a negotiation first. One guy says, “I brought the chips.” “Well, I put them in a bowl.” “It’s my house.” “It’s my bowl.” I’ve seen it come down to a tape measure.
Becker: One guy’s half an inch closer to the kitchen, he’s gotta go. And he know’s he gotta go, cause he lost the negotiations.
Harris: Right. And everybody in the room understands that so there’s no hard feelings.
Becker: Oh no, not at all. No one’s mad. So the problem comes when you get mixed company. You get men and women together and someone says, “The bowl’s low.” Some guy goes, “Well I brought the chips” and all the women turn around and go “What a blank-hole.”
Becker: And the poor guy goes, “Wait, I brought the chips and now I’m a blank-hole?”
Becker: I must have missed the meeting somewhere.
Becker: So I told her this idea and she was laughing and she seemed to understand. Right there I thought I would really like to write a show where I would explain men to women. And I began to write this show, Defending the Caveman. What I really believe is I think that when a woman does something that a guy would never do, we sort of expect that. We have this built in understanding that sometimes a woman is going to be beyond our grasp. They’re beyond our limited scope of understanding. So men think women are mysterious. But when a man does something a woman would never do, they just think we’re wrong.
Harris: [laughs] Absolutely.
Becker: I don’t think we’re wrong, we’re just different!
Harris: Rob is bringing his show to the Warner Theatre, home of The Paul Harris Comedy Concert For Children’s Hospital. As matter of fact, it was when Rob last worked at the Warner Theatre that I decided that was where I was going to put on The Concert.
Becker: Ain’t that a great place!
Harris: It is the best venue in town, absolutely. And we got a call from a guy who just saw Rob. His wife took him as a birthday present to see Rob in Baltimore and he was just saying, “Oh, the show was great, I laughed hysterically, I didn’t know what to expect, it was great.” It is pretty much what people say on the way out of there. You’re putting your elbow in your wife’s or girlfriend’s or husband’s or boyfriend’s ribs saying “That’s us!!” Don’t people tell you that all the time?
Becker: That’s the most common, or you get the women who will say, “I thought my husband was the only guy in the world who does these things. I thought he was the only one in the world who would watch TV like that.” I thought he was the only one who didn’t like to shop or pull over and ask for directions.
Becker: And guys will always say, “Man, I’ve been trying to explain this stuff for so long to my wife or to my girlfriend. And I never knew quite how to say it.”
Harris: It’s cool to get those compliments isn’t it?
Becker: Yeah, oh absolutely. You asked me before how I developed the show and it all comes out of the stuff that happens between me and my wife, Erin. Soon after I developed the idea about two different cultures we went on a date for our anniversary. We’re driving out and Erin turns to me and she says, “Do I look nice?” And I look over and she’s got a new hairdo, she’s got new clothes on and she looks amazing. But I didn’t say anything. Every guy knows if you get to that point where she actually has to ask you…
Harris: You’re dead.
Becker: Yeah, you might as well turn the car around and go home.
Becker: “Yeah, you know, you look great!” And she says “So why didn’t you say so?” Cause I was gonna. So she says “How do I know you really think so?” Because I just told you. She goes “But I had to ask!” Oooohhh no, let’s go home.
Harris: Now you’re dead.
Becker: You’re dead. So we started talking about it. She said, “Why do you think that happened?” Look, plug the theory in. I think it’s because when women get together they do that, they compliment each other. They’re in the habit.
Harris: Instantly, it’s the first thing they do when they see each other.
Becker: That’s right. “You look cute.” “So do you.” All right, we’re out of here.
Becker: Guys don’t do that. You don’t tell another guy, “Chuck, your butt looks good in those jeans, let’s go.”
Becker: She says, “Come on now if a friend of yours gets a new top, wouldn’t you notice and say something?” First of all, we don’t get tops, we get shirts.
Harris: Men do not refer to shirts as tops.
Becker: That’s right.
Harris: Absolutely not!
Becker: Second of all, I have no idea with any of my friends what they own and what they don’t own. If a guy got a new top I would have no idea.
Harris: [laughs] That’s right.
Becker: Third of all, I hope the other guys DON’T notice. Because I’ll be “shirt-boy” all day. “Who got a new shirt?” “I’ve got a new shirt.” “Rob got a new shirt. Were all your other clothes on fire? Is that why you had to wear that shirt? What did you do wrong, your mom make you wear that shirt? Hey shirt-boy!” So you hope you don’t get noticed. Guys dress not to be noticed.
Harris: Yes, and guys also live in a culture of insulting each other because we’re friends with each other.
Becker: That’s right.
Harris: Yeah, we don’t have to go into the warm kind of huggy kind of mode. We can just say “Hey, how ya doing?”
Becker: That’s part of the bonding. You find some other guy, you attack it and then he likes you for it.
Harris: [laughs] That is exactly right.
Becker: So you look at men’s clothes, you go to the shoe store. Guys shoes are black and they’re brown.
Becker: And they all look alike, so if a pair wears out you get another pair. The other guys probably won’t even notice.
Becker: You go in the women’s shoe store, there’s colors of shoes there you’ve never heard of before.
Becker: I remember I was doing a segment for Inside Edition. I had the women there interviewing me, and I took her to the shoe store at the mall and I picked up a shoe in the women’s department and said, “See this color? There isn’t even a name for it!” She goes, “Sure…that’s creamy celery.”
Harris: [laughs] That’s a color?
Becker: I know! Where did you get that from? You know all about colors when you try to remodel your house.
Harris: Absolutely, we repainted a couple of rooms in the house and my wife had 3,000 little color chips out and she had to look at every single one. And there’s four shades of orange that are not discernable to the male eye.
Becker: That’s right, all the studies show that men are way less sensitive to color than women are.
Harris: Only the female eye can see the difference between these four shades of orange.
Becker: Eight percent of men are color blind and there are no women who are color blind. Every study shows women are way more sensitive. So if you talk to a woman you just can’t say “Pink!”
Becker: Guys know red, yellow, blue. With women it’s “What do you mean pink? Is that more like a salmon or a coral or are you talking more like a persimmon, warm cantaloupe, aztec sunset?”
Becker: “What are you talking about? Is that a dusty rose, what is that, an ecru, is that a taupe? No that’s more like a smokey taupe. It looks like turquoise. No, that’s teal. It’s like a sea foam, it’s like a warm moss.”
Becker: Oh my god, can’t we just get green?
Harris: That’s right. I just had lunch with a friend of mine last week who has had a moustache for most of his adult life. We’re sitting there and halfway through the lunch he says, “You didn’t even notice.” [laughs] I said “What?” He said, “I shaved off my moustache!” Oh, yeah, you did. Why did you do that? I didn’t even go….
Becker: You should do a cartoon, that would be a great cartoon where one guy got his head cut off and it’s sitting on the plate. “Do you notice anything different about me?” And the other guy goes “What?” That’s another thing all the studies show, that women have more memory, they take in more detail. You can put a woman in a room for five minutes — they’ve done this study — put a woman in a room for five minutes, then pull her out of the room and question her. “What was in that room?” She could tell you the wallpaper, all the details of the wallpaper. She could tell you what’s on the desk, if the window had a crack, what the carpet was. You take the same room, take a guy, put him in the room, pull him out. He’ll go “I’m pretty sure there was a floor, cause I didn’t fall out.”
Harris: “I think there was a chair.”
Becker: “Yeah I was sitting in something! So there might have been a chair.” What about the wallpaper? “Oh, there was wallpaper.” What color? “I don’t know.”
Harris: Rob’s wife and my wife have become very friendly over the past four years and they give each other gifts all the time and my wife can remember everything that Erin has given her. And if she ever wears it, she’ll ask me, so it’s like a quiz, “Do you know who gave me those earrings?” [laughs] Gee, I’m hoping like hell it was me. I have no idea.
Becker: The quiz thing, that’s the quiz thing. “Do you notice anything different about me?” Every guy hates that, “You got a new haircut?” That’s the first thing you say, “No, not a new haircut.” No? Oh, man.
Harris: By the way, here’s the safe one to say anytime: “You lost some weight, honey! You look great!” Okay, let’s get back to your show. Defending the Caveman just set a record after two years on Broadway. What is it now? What is the official title? Cause I was up there a week after you officially got a street named after you.
Becker: That’s right.
Harris: 44th Street, was it?
Becker: 44th Street. They renamed it Caveman Way.
Harris: Caveman Way, because at the Helen Hayes Theater you did how many shows?
Becker: 571 performances, the longest running solo play in Broadway history. I broke Lily Tomlin’s record, and Jackie Mason’s record, and also Mayor Giuliani proclaimed July 17th as Caveman Day.
Harris: Cool. How cool is that?
Becker: I gave the whole city the day off and no one knew. [laughs]
Harris: That’s great. Let’s talk more about the success of the show because people must have been coming to you and saying, “Rob, why don’t you put this on videotape? Rob, why don’t you turn this into a movie?” You and I have talked about this several times and I have told you not to do that while there is still milk in the cow. Right? Wasn’t that my advice to you?
Becker: [laughs] Yes.
Harris: And what did you say when that guy wanted you to do it on video?
Becker: I just don’t want to do it on video yet. I wanna do it live and in the theater and when I’m so tired and can’t possibly do another performance live, then I’ll put it on video.
Becker: Then I’ll put it out on audio tape, I’ll put it on CD, and I’ll go door to door and eventually people will be running for their lives. “Here he comes again, get out of the way, run for your lives! It’s that Caveman!!”
Harris: And in the meantime while you’re doing it on the road, the show is still on Broadway.
Becker: That’s right.
Harris: So now it’s Rob Becker’s Defending the Caveman starring The Commish.
Becker: Yeah, Michael Chiklis is now doing it on Broadway.
Harris: And how’s that going?
Becker: It’s going great. I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people. He’s very funny. I watched him do a rehearsal last week and he’s great.
Harris: I he doing an imitation of you while he’s doing the show?
Becker: No, no. He does it his own way, a little bit different, but it’s the same show and he was really funny and it was really enjoyable to watch the show as a spectator.
Harris: The first time you sat there and saw someone else, Chiklis, go through the entire show which you wrote and you’ve been performing now for years — not just four years ago here in Washington, but you did Dallas and San Francisco before that. So it’s really been 5 or 6 years you’ve been doing the show.
Becker: That’s right.
Harris: What was it like the first time you looked up and here’s The Commish doing you? How weird was that?
Becker: The first few minutes I was sitting there going, “I would have done that line differently. [laughs] I would have punched this word more.” And after a few minutes, all of a sudden I found myself just into the show and just watching it and about an hour an a half later it was over and I felt kind of moved. You know, I went through it like an audience. I had been laughing, and at the end I felt kind of moved and I kind of had a little lump in my throat and I thought, “Man, this is what the audience goes through. That’s wild. What a good show!” [laughs]
Harris: See that’s the feeling you should walk away with when you see someone else do it. You should be able to say, “Wow, I wrote something good and enduring here and it is going to be able to last now.”
Becker: It was amazing to sit there like an audience and feel all those feelings. There were several points in the show where I felt kinda touched, kinda moved. And I was kinda surprised that this lump was growing in my throat a couple of times, and at the end of course….
Harris: Oh, the part at the end about the kid and the fort, definitely. Everyone in the audience is kind of like, “Whoa……”
Harris: Male, female, canine, doesn’t matter what you are .
Becker: And I was right there in all those moments and I thought, “Wow, this is really interesting.”
Harris: And the next thought you had was, “I am going to be SO RICH!!!”
Becker: [laughs] Back up the Brinks truck.
Harris: [laughs] “There is more milk in this cow than I thought. He can do the skim milk, and I can do the low fat milk!”
Becker: No, that’s not what I thought. I thought about my artistic integrity. [laughs] And all about myself as an artist.
Becker: My creative force behind the show.
Harris: Yeah, speaking about artists, didn’t these engravers do a good job on these $100 BILLS!!! [laughs] Anyway, one of the most essential points of the Caveman show is the “men are hunters and women are gatherers” concept, right?
Harris: Now where did this start?
Becker: As I started to develop the show I wanted to find out the history of relationships. So I went to the library and did some research and it turns out that for millions of years men were hunters and women were gatherers. So we evolved with different instincts. For example, look what a hunter does. He narrows his focus to his prey, concentrates on it, and he can’t be distracted. He blocks everything else out and he concentrates like that for days and days until he’s killed his prey.
Becker: So over the course of millions of years, this is what men do now. They lock in on things. We focus on something, we lock in on it and block all the rest out. Like when we watch TV.
Becker: If I’m watching TV and my wife tries to talk to me I can’t even hear her voice. I’m aware of a buzzing noise, and it’s coming from outside the TV somewhere. And it’s getting madder. Women hate this about us. It just drives them nuts. Every guy knows what I’m talking about here. She starts trying to talk to you, and it’s almost like you have to pull your head across the room out of the TV and then you have to clear it out, so you’re kinda almost shaking your head like an Etch- A-Sketch to clear off what was in there before.
Harris: [laughs] Right.
Becker: And then finally you turn and you’re mad but you don’t know why.
Harris: Honey, I’ve hit the mute button, now what is it you wanted.
Becker: That’s right, you bark. And as soon as you bark you know you’re in trouble. Cause you pull your head out and you’re like “WHAT?!?” And your other part of your brain realizes, hey wait a minute I just barked. And as that happens you realize she’s really mad now. You’ve taken so long to pull out of the TV, turn to her, and then you go “WHAT?!?”, and at that point she says “Nothing!” BOOM!
Harris: And she leaves the room.
Becker: She’s pissed because she thinks I’m choosing the TV over her. And I’m pissed because I’ve been called out of the TV for nothing.
Becker: Nothing! I was called out of the TV from Gilligan’s Island! Or take reading the paper. This happens every Sunday. We say, “This Sunday, why don’t we sleep late? We’ll get the Sunday paper and we’ll get some muffins and we’ll just lay in bed and read.” And I think, man, that sounds great, we’ll read. We get the paper, we spread it out, and the next thing I know she’s trying to talk to me. So I say, “What are we doing?” So she says, “We’re talking.” “No, we’re reading!!!”
Becker: “We’re not talking, we’re reading.”
Harris: The assigned activity for this morning, honey, is — you’ll recall from our meeting — we were going to READ!”
Becker: Suddenly I realize she’s talking and reading to me at the same time. She’s doing both, while I’m putting my finger down going “What? What, what is it?” I can’t do it all at one time.
Becker: We’ll do the same thing when we drive, we lock in on the front of the road. A guy will miss his exits.
Becker: And your wife says, “There goes your exit.” “Errrahhh, what happened?” We lock in on the front of the road, we tend to lock in on things, and it makes the woman feel like she’s being ignored. How often do you say, every guy in a relationship spends 10% of the relationship going, “Honey, I’m not ignoring you, I’m really not ignoring you.
Harris: I was watching the game, it was an important play, now what is it?
Becker: See, when hunters were going hunting they had to be quiet. It’s a silent pursuit. And you have to be aware of the other guy. So we know that the women are there, we are aware of them, we can feel them in the room. We’re just not necessarily able to talk at the same time we do something else. Because as a hunter you couldn’t talk and hunt at the same time because you would come home with nothing, cause you would be scaring away the animals.
Becker: So conversation among men is very low on the totem pole as far as importance. You never hear a guy say to another guy, “Hey, we don’t talk enough. How come you never call?” Women will call Erin to make dates to go talk. I ask where she’s going and she’ll say they’re going to this place to talk.
Becker: If a guy calls me just to talk, I owe him money. While women on the other hand, when they were gatherers, they wanted to maintain conversation. In fact with everyone joining in at once, that’s how they kept track of each other and they wanted to scare away the other animals. So for women conversation is like a lifeline. If you’re not in a conversation it’s almost like you don’t exist. So we mean something totally different now when we say, “I’ll call you.” If a woman says she’ll call you it means when she gets home.
Becker: If a man says he’ll call you it means before he dies.
Harris: Rob, congratulations on all the success. I’m proud of you, and thanks for coming back in this morning.
Becker: Thanks for having me.
Harris: You know normally somebody steps on us on the way up and then they forget about us on the way down. But he’s still at the top and he still remembers me.
Becker: And I’m still stepping…
Harris: …on my fingers! Thanks, Rob.
Becker: Thanks, Paul.
Copyright 1997, Paul Harris.
Transcript by Nicci Murphy.