Defending the Caveman, an informal study of psychology, sociology, and pre-history, is the longest running one-man-show in Broadway history. Written and originally performed by Rob Becker in 1981, it became so successful that it is being performed by more than 50 actors in 45 different countries. The actors not only look the part and can act like modern cavemen, but also have the skill of stand-up comedians who interact with a wide range of audiences and make them feel good about themselves and their given roles in life—as men or women.
Henrik: Tell us about the evolution of the Defending the Caveman (DTC) show.
Vince: I’m constantly trying to bring something new to a performance. I was told by my acting teacher, and great friend, Bill Primavera, “You can never repeat a performance. You can only repeat the process that takes you there. So, if you’re living in the moment, every moment on stage, your work will constantly help you find something new to bring to the performance.” I’ve been blessed with excellent Jedi-like training. Carol Fox Prescott, another acting teacher, once told me, “You have one job, to seek the joy of your own experience.” I hope I am doing that every time I step on stage.
How were you chosen?
Funny story. I was in an interactive improv show called the Soapranos. A cast mate, Kim McCall Arber, had joined the touring company for Menopause, The Musical. She heard through the grapevine that they were auditioning Caveman. One trip to NYC, and I was hired soon after.
Todd Grove, the DTC producer, was in my corner from day one. He auditioned me, hired me, and then trained me. I was the fifth caveman hired and the other Cavemen were more than welcoming to me. We have this unique brotherhood. We support each other and have each other’s back all the time.
If I understand it correctly, you had to follow the script, but you and your Caveman colleagues were also given the freedom to improvise by bringing in local and personal aspects.
Yes, we are encouraged to make it our own, so we elected our own cave wives’ names and, as you saw, I added the local sports teams into the vernacular.
At the same time, are there any restrictions on you and all the other actors who perform DTC around the world?
Well, in those shows, one cannot have ANY hostility towards women whatsoever. The audience can sense it IMMEDIATELY. When speaking in your cave wife’s voice, you CANNOT portray her with a high-pitched, stereotypical, nagging wife attitude. She can get mad, but not to the point where you’re talking down to or degrading her.
In most scripted plays, the actors say the same thing night after night. However, in this production of DTC, you ask questions of the audience. You listen to them intently, and you respond.
True. I talk for two hours with the Caveman every night. However, most of the time I like to listen and ask questions. Frankly, I enjoy interacting with the audience, learning something new almost every performance.
How important are live audiences to you, especially for stand-up comedy?
The Arts, as a common denominator, bring us all together, especially the stand-up comedy community. Frankly, it takes a lot of work to get to see a performance. It’s a process—booking the tickets, picking your seats, getting a baby sitter, in some instances even putting away money every week to save up for the tickets, etc. It’s not easy. However, it’s really easy to be entertained these days by clicking on Netflix and binge-watching Fuller House in your pajamas, whereas a theater audience has made a great effort to get there and support your art—and as artists, we must honor that.
How are you, as a professional actor, supporting the arts in the area?
I try to get out and support the arts as much as possible—not just colleagues that are in productions or doing a tight 10 at a local comedy club, but everybody—[by] spreading the word to get people who might just want to rent a movie from Redbox and order a Papa John’s pizza to get out there. I tell them, “It’s worth the effort. Trust me.”
Stage actors in general and stand-up comedians in particular often have a following of friends and supporters. Tell us more about those relationships.
A lot of people have helped me along the way, but they’ve asked for nothing in return, nothing. Giving back–to me, and many of my colleagues—is important. I try my best to return the generosity.
I never compare myself to other actors and what they have done or are doing. We are all on our own paths, and I think success is about being happy. I am the happiest caveman on the planet. If it all stops tomorrow, I have had a great run. Frankly, I never would’ve thought that I would be doing a show like Defending the Caveman.
Given the show’s overarching theme of a stereotypical male, a modern caveman if you wish, how aware, sensitive, and empathetic are you in your own life?
Oh, I am very aware. I am a fan of women. My mom always asked me, “How do you think that person feels?” I can remember vividly, in 3rd grade, when a new kid came into our class. And there it was, my mom’s voice asking me, “How would you feel being the new kid, in a new town, in a new school?” So I took it upon myself to make him feel welcome. The same thing happened in high school.
Thankfully, I’ve been surrounded by strong, smart, funny women my whole life. Thanks to my mom, my aunts, my grandmothers, my sister-in-law, and all my female cousins and female friends, I am armed with a love and respect for women. They are the glue that holds the family together. If it wasn’t for them, the guys in my family would be sitting around watching the Eagles games and wondering why there isn’t any food left in the fridge.
My dad and my uncles taught by example to respect the women in our lives. My grandpop, at 82 years old, still opened the car door for my grandmother and helped her on with her coat. My family taught me that ALL relationships are give and take. I hate to even use the word “take”—it’s more like “receive graciously.” No one is keeping score. You do because you want to do—out of love.
Share one thing with the readers about you that only your best friends know.
I am not actually the slob that I portray in Caveman. There is no way I would wear dirty clothes out of the hamper. My place is immaculate. I even eat most of my meals with cloth napkins at home. And I know that Steve Madden [the footwear fashion designer] is not John Madden’s brother [the former NFL player and winning Super Bowl-winning coach].
I would just suggest for everyone to support the arts as much as possible, no matter what it is. Not only will it help artists to put food on their tables, but it allows creative persons to express themselves. There’s a famous quote by Winston Churchill. When asked to cut arts funding in favor of the war effort, he replied: “Then what are we fighting for?” That sums it up for me.
Just think what the world would be like if the artists ran the world.
Defending the Caveman by Rob Becker with Vince Valentine plays at The Hanover Theatre, in Wooster, MA, on May 14, 2016.
For the interview originally published by DCMetroTheaterArts, click here.