Tim Allen to infinity

Tim Allen to infinity

In May 2021 Hillsdale College staged its one hundred and sixty-ninth Commencement Address, and the speaker was actor/comedian Tim Allen.

I’ve often thought that selecting a speaker for commencement addresses is an interesting and potentially perilous undertaking, because in addition to an absorbing speaker you have to find some relevance beyond mere celebrity. I have now discovered that Tim Allen, in addition to the huge menu of work in his resumé, in addition to being the voice of Buzz Lightyear, is the voice of Michigan in the state advertisements entitled Pure Michigan. Hillsdale College is in Michigan.

Nevertheless I suspect there’s a lot more for us to learn.

The speaker for an event of this profile should have a very senior introducer, and Larry Arnn the college President does the honours. We’ve seen him introducing before. He takes no prisoners. Does Tim Allen have any idea what’s coming?

Nope! He is overcome! “How in hell am I supposed to follow that?”

He’s neatly identified my problem here. How in hell am I supposed to critique this?

The fact is that being a comedian – a proper one with a Vegas routine that his agent warned him not to use here – he is comfortable with narrating a stream of consciousness. At least it comes across as a stream of consciousness whereas it conforms to an orthodox structure – chronology. He’s telling his life story with the emphasis, because he’s talking to a college, on his stressful relationship with his teachers. Anyone could follow that structure, but what makes this special is that he colours it all with his over-the-top personality. He’s a comedian – a proper one – and this is lovely stuff.

He’s even funny about how he went astray and wound up in a penitentiary for two years.

To the wider world he’s undoubtedly more famous for his acting because movies get more butts on seats than even the vast auditoriums in Vegas, but he’s a little dismissive of that part of his work. It pays the bills, it pays a hell of a lot of bills, but it doesn’t have audience contact. This is an artist who relishes audience contact and it shows.

The better they are the pickier I get. The least effective sections in this talk are when he moves into worthy areas. He probably thinks he should, and and he’s probably right, but it feels to me as if he’s strayed out of his back yard. But that’s very picky indeed.

I loved this.