Cody Lyman last performed “Defending the Caeman” in his home state in a 2006 run at the Denver Civic Theatre. Photo by John Moore.
By John Moore
Sept. 23, 2013
He’s kidding! He was goaded! But when Durango native Cody Lyman was asked how much better he is than the other seven “cavemen on call” who perform in the worldwide “Defending the Caveman” dynasty, he totally took the bait.
“Oh, quite a bit better,” Lyman said.
Take that, Neanderthals.
Lyman, a graduate of Colorado State University, is happy to be back in his native state performing the one-man show that Rob Becker made famous, and made Rob Becker very wealthy. It’s a theatrical conversation between a modern-day caveman (read: your average husband) and his audience about the ways men and women relate. The show dates back to prehistoric times — 1991, to be exact. It has been performed in 45 countries and translated into 18 different languages. Bet you’d never guess the first one after English was Icelandic. Really. We could tell you that story, but why don’t we just let Cody?
Cody Lyman: I don’t know if it’s true or not, but the story goes that while Rob was performing the show on Broadway, some guy in Iceland transcribed it, and he performed it — and he apparently had some success with it.
John Moore: And did Rob sue the pants off him when he found out about it?
Lyman: I’m sure he would have, but he paid Rob for it. But I think that was when Rob first said to himself, “OK, so maybe I can hire other guys to do the show.”
Moore: So now there are eight of you caveman on call at all times, like doctors. Do you all go to a caveman camp together or something?
Lyman: We rarely all get together at once. There are legal concerns that might arise. Local liquor sales would shoot through the roof. But everyone who does the show has made it their own. We all have the same script, but it really is eight different shows.
Moore: So, in effect, we get to see two shows here in Denver this go-round.
Lyman: That’s right, because I’m doing the first four weeks of this run, and then they are bringing in the J.V. That’s Kevin Burke. … No, he’s phenomenal. And he’s actually been doing it longer than me.
Moore: So how long have you been doing it?
Lyman: Nine years.
Moore: And do you get sick of it, or this the kind of show you could do for the rest of your life?
Lyman: Well, I just got married. I still love this show. I love that it speaks to everybody. One of my favorite things about is that you get people who aren’t your typical theater patrons. You know: Guys who show in jeans. Or were dragged there by their wives. They’re pissed off that they are here, but they end up loving the show.
Moore: Does the script get constantly updated?
Lyman: At its heart, it doesn’t need updating. The only prerequisite you should have to really enjoy the show is to have loved someone enough to have been frustrated by them at some point. That’s pretty timeless. We do update some of the details.
Moore: Why do you think the audience is so steady for these kinds of small cabaret shows that explore relationships? I’m thinking of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” and the two Bob Dubac shows that preceded you here in the Galleria Theatre: “Free Range Thinking” and “The Male Intellect (an Oxymoron”).
Lyman: It is really easy for people to get isolated within their relationships. I get into the dumbest little arguments with my wife, and sometimes I feel like, ‘God, we must be the only people who have this fight.’ But then you go to the theater and you see the exact same story play out. You are sitting in a roomful of people and you are all laughing at the exact same thing … I think there is something really freeing about that.
Moore: I think of this genre of modern relationship comedies as a uniquely American kind of amusement. But then I looked at your site and saw that “Caveman” has played in 45 countries. Do you think that’s about the world’s fascination for all things American, or is this really universal material?
Lyman: I think the inability to understand the opposite sex is universal. I saw a production of this in Germany years back, and I don’t speak a word of German. But I’m sitting in an audience with 300 people, and they are all laughing at the same parts. They are much more visceral about the sexual stuff, but the themes all remain the same. … They laugh with an accent, by the way.
Moore: That confuses me, so I just have to move on. As for the title, in what ways is this show a truly anthropological study of human behavior?
Lyman: Coming up as a young comic, Rob (Becker) was having some success, but what he realized was resonating best with audiences was his couples humor. So that’s when he devoted himself to this ongoing, informal study of relationships. You know, in all of these archeological digs and excavations of caves you hear about, they keep finding these “mother goddess” figures. In our popular culture, we think of the caveman as a brute who beats a woman over the head and drags her back to the cave. But it turns out the caveman actually worshipped women. Their entire culture seemed to be based on goddess worship. So the caveman has gotten a bad rap. And that’s at the heart of the show.
Moore: Coming from Durango, what does it mean to you to be able to come home and check in?
Lyman: It’s so cool. This run, especially. My first exposure to theater was right here at the Denver Center. It was a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in 1993. I still remember the show. So to come back here now makes me feel like I got somewhere.
Moore: You had quite an indoctrination into theater at Colorado State, didn’t you?
Lyman: I did. I went to Fort Lewis for a year, then moved to Fort Collins.
Moore: Who were your mentors there?
Lyman: (Colorado State University theatre professor) Laura Jones is still there. … Morris Burns. … Wendy Ishii at the Bas Bleu Theatre. All of my own friends were a creative and exciting group — at least in our own minds. Dr. Jones definitely gave us a lot of opportunities to experiment. We had an improv comedy group, and Dr. Jones let us perform a fully improvised show for an entire summer as part of their Summer Cafe series. We also got to do a lot of stuff with Bas Bleu. Our improv group had a home there. I also had a performance art group, and Wendy let us use their space, too.
Moore: It’s interesting that here you are doing this comedy, and you just mentioned three of the most respected academic theater-types in Fort Collins right now. How did coming under their influence make you a better comic performer?
Lyman: What they provided was opportunity. It’s such a small program and such a small community up there, but they gave us the opportunity to do a wide range of things. We got to experiment, and we got to play, and we got to do that with some pretty professional guidance.
Moore: I know some people get confused by how to classify this show. What do you cal lit? Is it one-man theater? Stand-up comedy? A lecture? Couples therapy?
Lyman: Well, it depends on who I am trying to sell tickets to (laughs). I say it’s very conversational. It has a lot of stand-up elements, but it has a lot of theatrical elements, too. What is it Steve Martin said? “People want to laugh, they want free parking — and they want to get home early.”
Moore: So how do you know if you’ve had a good night?
Lyman: One of my favorite things to do is to watch how people relate to one another while I am on stage. I love seeing lovers elbow each other in recognition. Most of all, I love seeing them leave the theater arm-in-arm.
"Defending the Caveman"
When: Through Oct. 27
Written by: Rob Becker
Performed by: Cody Lyman through Oct. 13; Kevin Burke from Oct. 16-27
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays.
At the Galleria Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100 or the denver center’s home page
Cody Lyman and his wife on opening night of “Defending the Caveman” on Sept. 20 at the Galleria Theatre. Photo by John Moore.