Being married for 14 years (three legally), there is one thing I know – we love to talk about our relationship. We love to compare and contrast why and how we do things. Defending the Caveman takes this never-ending conversation topic and puts a prehistoric spin on the true nature of our relationships. Cody Lyman, the star of this production, took some time off from his hunting and pulled up a rock to drag knuckles with me.
What is it like to be in a show that holds the record for the longest-running solo play in Broadway history?
Performing Defending the Caveman has been a real blessing for me. The records are both secondary to, and a testament to, the soul of this show. This show, in broad strokes, reminds people why they fell in love. I believe that the honesty of this show is what has allowed it to earn such distinctions [Broadway, longest-running Broadway show in Vegas, 45 countries & 18 Languages], and I feel pretty lucky to be able to continue telling the story. Of course, it helps that it’s as funny as it is!
Tell me about Clownbox Productions.
I went to college at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. We had an adjunct professor who introduced us to short-form improv in 1996 and ignited a small fire. I, along with several other founding members, soon began teaching & performing around northern Colorado. We were largely self-taught, and were piecing together from Spolin, Johnston—basically learning how to earn a laugh. I fell in love with improv during this time and moved off to Chicago to go through Second City’s program. Since then, I’ve gone through the Groundlings program and studied with Improv Olympic as well.
How did you develop your improv skills?
I believe that everyone has a skill for improv. The best (and often most hilarious) improv occurs when you are surrounded by your friends just enjoying one another. Now, bringing that to a stage can often be a challenge. I came at improv from a theatrical background, and I have always believed that the stage is a sacred space. For me, it comes down to honesty and listening—the art of improv isn’t getting the laugh, but being open. This has meshed extremely well with Defending the Caveman. The show is very conversational and laid back, and it’s important to stay honest to the moments.
You worked with Second City – how was that experience?
Second City was great—both in experience and opportunity. It expanded my stance on improv and performance in general. Plus, I got a red t-shirt out of the deal. Through connections at Second City, I landed my first professional work, performing long-form parody improv with The Free Associates. I can trace a line of connections between studying at Second City to being cast in Caveman, but it’s hazy and boring.
I was born in Chicago and was born into Cubs fandom. Please, don’t hold that against me. It’s funny because the essence of being a Cubs fan has shifted. Cardinals fans know what it feels like to root for a winner—you’re used to it. This is an entirely new sensation for us. My son is not yet two and for the entirety of his life, the Cubs have been World Champions. How am I ever going to share with him the true essence of what it means to be a Cubs fan? I’m a fan of the game as well. In fact, the last time I was in St. Louis with Defending the Caveman, I was able to take in a game in the old stadium. I plan on taking in at least one wild card game—but will it be here in Denver, or out in St. Louis? We’ll see!
You have been with the show since 2004. Have you been doing this show consecutively for that long?
There have been busy years and lean years, but I have defended cavemen every year since 2004. It’s a long time to be with a show. I have held on to some ideological ideals that live theatre is important and has the possibility to impact and transform on an individual level. Caveman has allowed me to live those ideals. Over the years there have been countless couples or individuals who have felt that it was their story, people who remember the show and can quote it to me. That matters to me. Often, a show has its run, and you carry the experience and memory with you, but Caveman allows me to live with and carry its impact on people. Also, it has allowed me the unique perspective of experiencing second-rate hotels all across the nation.
The show focuses on the differences between men and women. What do you think is the biggest difference?
In the show, I discuss how we’ve evolved differently. Prehistorically speaking, men were hunters, and women were gatherers. The experience of hunting and the experience of gathering shaped our interactions differently. Gathering was a very social and communal activity whereas hunting was a solitary and often silent one. You still see these traits today. My wife can call her friends to just talk. If a guy calls me, I owe him money.
Is it always the same show for you or have you had to change it up on the fly?
Over the years, we have cleaned up and updated the script a bit to keep the show fresh and current. We introduced a new set a couple of years ago, and some new scenic elements, but the heart and soul of the show have remained unchanged since the Neolithic age. Of course, there are times that the show takes a strange twist or turn, that’s the nature of live performance.
Often, the most challenging aspects of a one-man show happen away from the stage. We run a pretty tight ship, so we don’t travel with production managers, so things like laundry can sometimes be a challenge. Laundry is challenging for me in the best of circumstances. Being on stage alone is a treat. I mentioned before that the show is conversational, so I don’t really feel alone, and I feel like the audience is right there with me.
What about your own relationships? How do you maintain them while touring?
My wife is a performer as well, so we have a unique understanding about traveling for work. If our schedules allow, and the show is in an exotic location like St. Louis, we will sometimes travel together. It’s tough to be away from the little cavecub, but FaceTime helps. My wife and I have had a Wednesday phone date set up for years, so no matter where we are or what we’re doing, we always touch base—and we make sure to be present while we are.
What is your favorite acting credit?
Acting is a strange business. Your job as an actor is always finding your next job. I’ve had a lot of fun jobs over the years and have had a lot of experiences that I would not give back. I’ve had performances that I’ve been extremely proud of, and some that make me cringe to remember. I’ve worked for free and had a blast, and have had to swallow my pride for a paycheck. But at the end of the day, Defending the Caveman has been my favorite acting credit. It’s where I feel that I am really giving something of value on stage.
If you weren’t an actor what would you be?
First baseman for the…Cardinals. | Jim Ryan
Defending the Caveman plays the Playhouse at Westport October 10th – 27th. For show times and ticket prices, visit www.playhouseatwestport.com.
Follow me on Twitter @TheJimRyan.