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Published: Sunday, 10/2/2005

'Caveman' explains men to women, and vice versa

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Kevin Burke is one of several comedians appearing in national tours of the one-man show <i>Defending the Caveman</i>, which will be at the Stranahan Theater this week. Kevin Burke is one of several comedians appearing in national tours of the one-man show <i>Defending the Caveman</i>, which will be at the Stranahan Theater this week.
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When Kevin Burke misses his telephone interview to talk about the theatrical show Defending the Caveman, he calls back and apologizes.

He explained that he was taking his children to school.

Accused of just amassing material for his act, Burke laughs in protest. "Nope, nope, I'm the real thing. I cook. I clean. I do laundry, which I separate. Yeah, I just got a lot sexier, didn't I?"

Burke brings Defending the Caveman to the Stranahan Theater for six performances, beginning Thursday. It's the first production of the Theater's League's 2005-06 Broadway season.

Although the one-man show has been around for more than a decade, Burke says people often don't know what it's about.

"The title sometimes makes people think it's going to be Andrew Dice Caveman," he says, referring to the shock comic known for his foul language and misogynistic humor.

"But it's not. It's a show that explains men to women and explains women to men. It's very even-handed and equal, and it's not that either side is right or wrong - it's just that we're different."

Defending the Caveman was written, produced, and originally performed by Rob Becker. He originated the material as part of his stand-up comedy routine, then developed it into a full show that premiered in 1991 in San Francisco. After long-term engagements there, in Dallas, and in Washington, D.C., the show hit Broadway.

"Rob produced it himself, completely outside the usual Broadway production channels," Burke says. It opened at the Helen Hayes Theater on March 26, 1995, and entered the theatrical record books 16 months later, when it became the longest-running solo play in Broadway history, surpassing Lily Tomlin's Search For Intelligent Life in The Universe and Jackie Mason's The World According To Me.

Becker is still appearing in Defending the Caveman, as are at least six other comedians, indicating that over the last 14 years, it hasn't lost its popularity.

"I don't think it ever will," Burke says. "The themes are so universal that I think this show is going to run forever."

The premise is that the differences between the sexes go back to the days of the cavemen, when men were hunters and women were gatherers. Burke, who lives in Indianapolis, says these instincts are still imprinted on us.

"Here's the idea. The skill set of the hunter is that the hunter would concentrate on his prey to the exclusion of everything else in the whole wide world until that prey was dead. Today men are great at that. Unfortunately, that's why, when I'm watching TV, my focus is narrowed and I'm concentrating on hunting TV channels. My wife will come into the room and she'll start talking to me, and I won't hear a word she says. And she's getting madder and madder and madder because she thinks I'm ignoring her. Well I'm not; I'm hunting channels."

Cavewomen - the gatherers - required a different set of skills. They had to notice everything all at once in their environment in order to be able to tell when things were ripe to be picked and to protect themselves from predators, Burke says. That's why today, women can do more things at once than a man can.

Burke offers an example.

"When I read the paper, my wife, Karen, will try to talk to me, because she knows she can talk and read the paper at the same time. I have to put my finger down on the page because I can't read and talk to her at the same time. I have to put my finger down and look at her and go 'Whaaaat? Whaaat? Whaddya want?' "

Burke, 44, earned a degree in acting in 1984 from Indiana University in Bloomington. His career path took him to Chicago's Rush Street, where he followed a time-honored theater tradition: waiting tables. Then he diverged from tradition, ending up as a clown for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Tiring of pratfalls and pies in the face, Burke shifted to the stand-up comedy route and did some television, including ABC's America's Funniest People, where he was awarded the $10,000 grand prize.

He says he was putting on his own one-man show, Born to Goof, about being a stay-at-home dad, when he learned that Becker was looking for comedians to replace him on the Defending the Caveman national tour.

"People recommended me to him and told me that I would be good for the role. That put me into the audition process, and the rest is history," he says.

It's obvious that Burke and Caveman are well suited to one another. Ask him a question and the humor comes flying.

For example, why do men have trouble asking for directions?

"Well, it's because the hunter is territorial," Burke explains. "And he thought it was his job back in the cave times to protect the cavewoman, because she was like this magical creature. She could outthink him; she could do more things at once; she could bear children. So he felt it was his job to make a safe place for her to practice her magic.

"That instinct comes out in men nowadays when you're driving in your car. You've got your territory on wheels. So who wants to pull over and invite a total stranger into your rolling territory at the exact moment you've proven you couldn't hunt down your destination? Especially if it's another guy!

"What are you going to do?" Burke asks, then deepens his voice, pretending he's lost. "Hey, I couldn't make it. Could you tell my wife how to get there? Maybe you could come with us, you big strong manly man.

"But see, because women are gatherers, it seems perfectly natural to my wife to pull over and gather some information."

He says men's stereotypical fear of malls also is linked to the hunter instincts. All women have to do is realize how to work with those instincts.

"Shopping is a gathering activity," he explains. "There are all those colors and shapes and things to arrange and imagine. With the woman's brain having more neuro-connectors, this is a lot of stimulation for them, and it's wonderful. But it will wear a guy right out, because there's no specific goal.

"My wife and I will go to the mall, and she'll say, 'We're going to go buy shoes.' And I'll say, 'OK that's a goal, I can get behind that.'

"As soon as we get to the mall, she veers off into Pottery Barn. And I'm going, 'Hey, hey, I can see the shoe store right down there, there's a whole herd of shoes. We can pick off a pair and be home in time for lunch.' But she wants to go into Pottery Barn. And that's what exhausts a man is a lack of goal."

So here's Burke's advice.

"When you're going to the mall, give your guy a goal, give him something to hunt down: 'We need a package of white crew socks. Go get 'em.' He will be happy as a clam.

"Otherwise, just send him to the video arcade, so he can narrow his focus and pretend to kill things."

Burke says Defending the Caveman is suggested for audiences age 16 and older.

"It's not that we talk about inappropriate topics, but we talk about topics regarding relationships that younger children wouldn't understand, he says. "They don't have a concept of mom wanting to go shopping and dad being completely exhausted in the first three minutes."

And audience members who think that Burke is there simply to entertain them should know that the comedian is having fun, too.

"I watch people, I watch couples in the audience during the course of the show and there's a lot of elbow nudging - 'You do that. You do that. You do that - and by the end of the show they've got their arms around each other and they're walking out, and it looks to me like they've fallen in love all over again.

"Tell your readers that we can't promise that they won't fight any more after seeing Defending the Caveman, but we do promise that the fights will be funnier."

"Defending the Caveman" is scheduled at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 and 7 p.m. Oct. 9 in the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Tickets range from $33.50 to $42.50. Information: 419-381-8851.

Contact Nanciann Cherry at: ncherry@theblade.com or 419-724-6130.



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