Defending the Caveman Grunts Back to Life … Again

caveman_kevin_burke_WEBYou couldn’t kill Defending the Caveman with a club.

Once more, this comic embrace of the knuckle-scraping gender has relocated its prehistoric hovel to a new Vegas address. Having opened its first man cave at the Golden Nugget in 2007 (where I first saw it) then updating to Strip digs at Excalibur and then Harrah’s (my second go-round), Caveman has stomped back Downtown, re-launching at The D.

While that arc might suggest it’s heading toward the exit ramp out of town, this jolly jab at XX/XY chromosomal combat still displays three attributes—it’s funny, smart and universal—that makes it one of the sturdiest entertainments on- or off-Strip.

Whether you’re The Honeymooners generation or the Modern Family generation, Caveman—written by actor-comedian Rob Becker—is a battle-of-the-sexes evergreen.

Performance record-holder Kevin Burke is back on this one-man beat (with John Venable stepping in for relief), his affable exasperation intact. Though the set and the script have been tweaked (GPS figures into the gender warfare on the road), the show remains comfortably familiar:

There’s still the opening video of Burke and his wife in silent-movie-style bits of marital aggravations (Burke’s backyard grill misadventure is still the top Chaplin-esque moment); snark from the female side (women’s magazine article: “Penis: Sex Organ or Birth Defect”) and the male side (giving in to the woman’s demand for wedding invitation input: “I think I like the cream-colored more than the off-white”); and the finely observed segments about cooperation (women) vs. negotiation (men) and hunters vs. gatherers. Plus my favorite: men’s shorthand for expressing affection for other dudes. (“Dickhead means, ‘You’re my friend.’ Butt-wipe means, ‘I missed you.’”)

Built on exaggeration and generalization? All comedy is.

What remains appealing about this show is that, more than merely a comic gripe session, Caveman is also a thoughtful, if surface-level, sociological study and anthropological commentary. Never does it tip over into misogyny and is often self-deprecating about male denseness toward female sensitivities. That it’s cloaked in a dressed-up stand-up routine—however much its creator and stars worldwide insist in interviews that it’s genuinely a play—is like slipping vegetables inside a sloppy Joe.

Delivering it with comic gentility—being perplexed rather than angry, as opposed to some straight-on stand-ups who build such material on rage and mockery—is also key to its survival. In that way, though it’s neither a musical nor a multicharacter, plot-driven vehicle, it does mirror its gender opposite, Menopause the Musical, in spirit. That romp also pulls off the dual trick of celebrating its own sex and needling the other camp, but never hints at resentment behind the laughs.

Recalling other Vegas attempts to mine the rich vein of relationship comedy, quickly shuttered Divorce Party the Musical and The D* Word, while never being over the top about it, had a take-that-you-asshole! vibe that left a sour aftertaste. Oh—and they were only sporadically funny and never reflective.

Fortunately, this doesn’t afflict Defending the Caveman, which, in the lingo of my brethren, benefits from hilarious dickhead humor and sage butt-wipe insight.

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