BIRMINGHAM, Mich. —Tim Allen is one of America's favorite comics.
He's the guy who parlayed years of stand-up into the top-rated "Home Improvement" sitcom and "The Santa Clause" and "Galaxy Quest" films.
So why does the 56-year-old funnyman turn all serious when asked about his latest project? Maybe it has something to do with his level of involvement.
Allen makes his directorial debut in the comedy "Crazy on the Outside," which opens Jan. 8. He also stars in the movie.
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"I've got a lot on the line here. I financed this thing — private financing," Allen said. "I used Kevin Costner's model. He helped me through this — on how to direct it, how to put it out."
Besides Costner, Allen also consulted with director Barry Sonnenfeld and read books on directing written by Francis Ford Coppola, an Allen favorite.
Not only did he seek out advice from industry pals about working behind the camera, Allen also persuaded friends to get in front of it.
Sigourney Weaver, who worked alongside Allen on "Galaxy Quest," and Allen's "Wild Hogs" co-star Ray Liotta have prominent roles in "Crazy," which also features Kelsey Grammer and Julie Bowen.
Liotta said the "Crazy" set was "loose and fun."
"He surrounded himself with great people," Liotta said. "If he called me again, I would definitely do it."
The movie opens with Allen's character being released from prison and follows him as he deals with life post-incarceration. Weaver plays his sister, Liotta his former partner in crime, Bowen his ex-flame and Grammer her fiance.
Allen is pleased with the finished product, calling it "a great romance" and "a very high-end comedy."
"I really worked hard to make it special," he said.
Allen also worked hard to promote it.
He traveled to eight cities over 10 days last month, doing his stand-up act before screening "Crazy on the Outside."
It was a unique twofer. After all, how many directors do stand-up?
The last stop on the tour was at a movie theater in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham, not far from Allen's boyhood home.
There, he had the audience — including family members — in stitches, riffing on everything from President Barack Obama and Congress to bodily functions and superheroes.
The idea was to generate buzz by showing the film ahead of its release to comedy fans in select cities, but Allen found his plan may have backfired a bit.
"I'm almost hurting my movie," he said in an interview ahead of the Birmingham event. "In Minneapolis, I was so funny. I tried to explain to them, 'The movie's funny, but it ain't this funny.' Light comedy is a different laugh.
"The movie's a movie," he said. "It doesn't start out with a pie in the face."
2010 is shaping up to be a big year for Allen.
Three days after his film opens, "Home Improvement" begins a regular rotation on the cable network TV Land. And several months later, he'll begin promoting the release of the third installment in the animated "Toy Story" series, which is set to open June 18.
Allen says "Toy Story 3" is "a wonderful story" with a script that's "stronger and more interesting and more powerful than the other two."
But that's about as far as he'll go in discussing the film, the first "Toy Story" flick in a decade.
"I can't say anything. I could tell you everything right here and wreck the movie," said Allen, who is the voice of Buzz Lightyear. "I feel such great power right now!"
Meanwhile, he's busy promoting his own film.
He told the Birmingham audience: "Two years of my life I put together a movie. Please sit back and enjoy it. If you love it, tell everybody. If you don't like it, tell everybody that it's the new Tom Hanks movie."