Interview with the caveman

Rob Becker’s Defending the Caveman

Rob Becker defends the caveman on a set designed by Wilma Flintstone.

Rob Becker defends the caveman on a set designed by Wilma Flintstone.

The creator and star of the wildly successful one-man show Rob Becker’s Defending the Caveman is a lucky guy. The show has made up the better part of his career. In creating Caveman, Rob Becker hit his core demographic dead center, he prospered, and he lived to tell the tale. And he hopes to do so again.

Flash back to the mid-1980s, when Becker started developing the show. He’d already established a modestly successful career as a stand-up comic, even appearing on the Late Night with David Letterman in 1989.

He created Caveman as a one-man piece for theaters (rather than comedy clubs), trying out various jokes in his comedy act. The emerging show centered on the relationship between men and women and blended pop psychology with pop anthropology.

“Men were hunters. Women were gatherers. So, we evolved with very different instincts,” Becker explained. “Hunters didn’t want to talk, because they didn’t want to scare the animals. But women walking together did want to scare the animals. Women saw conversation as a virtual lifeline, because if they didn’t hear another woman’s voice, it meant she’d been eaten by an animal.”

Becker scored a hit when Caveman opened in a dying 160-seat San Francisco comedy club in 1991 (one year before the release of John Gray’s bestseller Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus: A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting What You Want in Your Relationships). Becker’s show got no advertising at the outset but built a following through word of mouth.

Caveman did so well in San Francisco that the show’s management decided to move the show to Dallas, where Caveman likewise revived a failing club. Becker’s show eventually sold out a 1,700-seat theater in Dallas. This scenario played out again in Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; and Chicago. In each case, Caveman opened in a small venue and moved to a much bigger one.

Becker took the show to Broadway in 1995, where it ran for two years. In 1997, Becker appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show. He’s since taken the show to several cities in Florida as well as to Denver, Seattle, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Boston—returning many times for repeated runs.

Becker insists Caveman is largely the same show he mounted in the early 1990s in a small setting. The set involves a sort of stone-age television and a spear (like something out of The Flintstones).

“The show changes a little here or there,” Becker said, “but people who see it want to see the same exact show. If I change a line, people come back and say, ‘You changed a line there. Change it back.’ … The audience really wants it to stay the same. The show works.”

Having ridden a long wave with Caveman, Becker is presently on a farewell tour. The show will continue but with other actors. “This is going to be my last time around the country. I’m having a lot of fun, but I want to go out while the show is still selling out and I’m still having a good time. I’m closing the book rather than quitting.”

Becker is at work on a new show: Cave Dad. It’s as daffy, in scientific terms, as its predecessor. The new show will reflect the changes in Becker’s own life. He is now the father of three children, ages 10, 8 and 5. “[The new show] is going to be about how we parent differently, because I think mothers and dads parent very differently,” Becker explained. “Research shows that mothers approach children with palms down, and that is a very soothing gesture. Ninety percent of what mothers do is calming and soothing.

“But men approach children with palms up,” he said. “They toss them in the air, jostle them. One of the things that helps children develop is tactile stimulation. So, all that jostling is very beneficial.

“There’s some negativity attached to fathers,” Becker asserted. “Almost like we’re on parole. It’s like everything we do is suspect. … If you see a small child crying next to a man, you naturally think, ‘The poor child; the man doesn’t know what he’s doing.’ And even I think that. This is my issue.”

Becker intends to defend fathers the same way he defended the caveman. “The theme of Cave Dad is going to be that I think it’s beneficial to get both [parents]. Fathers do bring something beneficial to children.”