This "average Joe" American comic would seem an unlikely candidate to become a leading force in comedy, but Tim Allen's family sitcom Home Improvement rose to become one of television's most popular shows. The premise of the series grew out of Allen's stand up comedy act, a celebration and mild critique of man's obsession with machismo, power tools, and impressing women. His traditional style of verbal humor was complemented and sometimes exceeded by an affinity for broad physical comedy, a combination that helped single him out from most other contemporary comedian/actors.
Allen did not achieve his extraordinary success easily. Shortly after graduating from Western Michigan University with a degree in television production, he was arrested for attempting to sell cocaine in Kalamazoo. He pled guilty and cooperated fully with the police. His testimony reportedly led to the arrest of 21 other individuals. Out on bail after 60 days in county jail, Allen and some friends attended a Detroit comedy club. On a dare, he got up and performed stand up for the first time, thereby discovering his true calling. His career had to wait, however, as he was sentenced to eight years imprisonment. More than once, the neophyte comic's quick, verbal wit saved him while behind bars as he amused would-be attackers. Allen utilized the experience to further his education through reading and formulated some goals. He served 28 months before his release.
After leaving prison, Allen secured a day job at an ad agency while working the comedy circuit at night. His exposure got a big boost from the Los Angeles based KLOS radio show, the Five O’Clock Funnies, which aired audio clips from his stand up act and thus, a devoted grunting audience was born.
By 1988, Allen was appearing on cable comedy specials, headlining the first of his own, Tim Allen: Men Are Pigs, on Showtime in 1990. He then took home the CableACE Award for Best Performance in a Comedy Special at the Montreal Just for Laughs Comedy Festival. He had also impressed talent scouts, being offered leads in pilots based on the popular films Turner & Hooch and Dead Poets Society, but Allen held out for a show based on his stand up persona. He struck pay dirt when he began lampooning the kind of men's movement thinking popularized by the best-seller, Iron John: A Book about Men. Allen's material was showcased by his popular sitcom as he played a know-it-all handyman with his own television show, Tool Time, who was actually an overreaching klutz at home with cute kids and a bright, beautiful wife, played by Patricia Richardson. Allen's role on Home Improvement earned him a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Television Series Musical or Comedy and the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Male Television Performer eight consecutive years in a row.
Allen's big jump to screen acting was in Disney's holiday-oriented The Santa Clause in 1994. The film proved a surprise blockbuster, grossing over $144 million domestically. That same year, he also authored the best-selling book Don't Stand Too Close to a Naked Man, published by Hyperion in 1994, in which he humorously examined aspects of his life and career. Allen finished out 1994 with his television series, book, and film all reigning in the number one positions in their respective arenas! He returned to the screen the following year in another Disney film, Toy Story, in 1995. Allen performed the voice of Buzz Lightyear opposite co-star Tom Hanks in what was touted as the first full-length computer animated film.
Allen reprised his role in 1999's Toy Story 2, a record-breaking box office smash. That same year, he also starred in Galaxy Quest, the hilarious spoof about a Star Trek type cast who enter into a real outer space adventure. He also re-teamed with his Home Improvement and The Santa Clause director in 2002 to star in the comedy Joe Somebody.
After appearing as a hit man in the mistaken identity indie comedy Who Is Cletis Tout?, Allen returned to familiar territory in a mainstream holiday season box office sensation, reprising the role of Scott Calvin for The Santa Clause 2 in 2002. In keeping with his reputation as Hollywood's reigning king of the holiday comedy, he joined Jamie Lee Curtis in 2004 in the over-the-top Christmas with the Kranks. He next starred in the remake of the 1959 Disney classic, The Shaggy Dog, in 2006.
Allen upped the goofball factor for his next family feature, Zoom, in 2006, playing the over-the-hill leader of a once prime group of superheroes. After a brief voice role reviving Buzz Lightyear as a car in Pixar’s box office smash Cars in 2006, Allen returned a third time to the holiday role that endeared him to millions of families for The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause in 2006. Allen moved on to costar in Wild Hogs in 2007, a hugely successful ensemble comedy about four men, Allen, John Travolta, Martin Lawrence, and William H. Macy, embarking on a cross-country motorcycle trip to counter mid-life crises.