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COMEDY REVIEWS : Male Shtick Threatens to Get Stale

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It was a good 15 minutes into his set before Tim Allen uttered his trademark “men are pigs” line at the Celebrity Theatre on Saturday night. Accompanied by the requisite porcine grunt, it sent the crowd into an appreciative roar.

“Oh, you’ve heard this before?” Allen replied. “Welcome to the Rocky Tim Allen Picture Show.”

The comparison is valid. Like the cultists who have made “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” the ultimate midnight movie, Allen’s audiences revel in ritual. New ground need not be broken--the familiar will be just fine.

In the second of two sold-out shows Saturday, Allen was only too willing to oblige. The show differed little from his first appearance at the Celebrity, more than two years ago. It’s hard to say whether he just has trouble coming up with new material or if he’s pandering to his audience’s expectations, but what once was a fresh approach to old male-female dichotomy is threatening to get a bit stale.

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The basic premise still holds up: Men, Allen argues, are essentially non-literate animals raised for only two purposes--"lawn care and vehicle maintenance.” They have an almost mystical attraction to things mechanical--tools, cars, motors.

Even when men don’t understand what something is, they respond to the jargon. Any time Allen mentions a piece of machinery, be it a Corvette or a lawn mower, he automatically digresses into a litany of options and features that dissolves into a series of excited grunts.

Though obviously a blanket generalization, Allen’s take on maleness works. He is an excellent physical comedian, and much of his act’s appeal is nonverbal. He is a likable performer. What’s more, he seems to have struck a chord. Audiences love him, and now his shtick has been translated to the small screen in the biggest new comedy hit of the TV season, “Home Improvement” (he plays the host of a TV home improvement show, a la “This Old House”).

Still, the set-pieces at the Celebrity all were familiar: His tendency to rewire all the appliances in the house to make them more powerful, the mythic pilgrimage to the Sears tool department, the adroit analysis of why men lie.

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Of the new material, the funniest bit was a take on high school shop teachers. “Why do we listen to shop teachers when all of them are missing fingers? Would girls listen to a home ec teacher who was burned beyond recognition?”

There was also a brief but funny bit on the horrors of Irish and German cuisine (Allen is of mixed Irish and German heritage). On German food: “If you can’t shove it into an animal casing, you don’t eat it.”

Allen still has a tendency to pad out his set with low-rent scatological filler, juvenile gross-out material beneath a comic of his talents. He also seems to have turned the profanity up a notch, perhaps in reaction to the restrictions of TV. But Allen, alas, is no Richard Pryor; he spews dirty words in random bursts like a 12-year-old trying them out for the first time.

There was a strong opening set by Kenny Rogerson, who marries a nice, loopy sensibility to a relaxed, engaging stage presence.

In one bit, he wondered why the Bible never mentions Jesus in his adolescent years. “They never say if he played Little League,” Rogerson notes, leading into imagined sniping by the other kids: “The only reason he’s on the team is because of his father.”

He confessed a lingering desire to order a pizza from a car phone, to “let that kid chase you around town for a while.” Rogerson’s whimsical sense of the absurd marked him as a comic worth watching.


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