This GEICO caveman is gorgeous in real life
John Lehr’s hilarious turn as one of the original and most frequently appearing GEICO cavemen has been etched in our minds ever since the auto insurance company’s popular commercial series first hit airwaves in 2004. Alongside its quotable slogan — “GEICO: so easy, a caveman could do it.” — the well-known advertisements placed evolved Neanderthals, who are naturally offended by this punchline, within a contemporary setting. Readers may recall Lehr’s memorable performances in the early “Boom Mic Operator” and “Therapy” spots. However, underneath all that caveman makeup, prosthetics, and hair lies of one of the most famous and well-liked commercial actors you’d probably never recognize as one of GEICO’s best.
As an actor, writer, comedian, and producer, Lehr’s been hiding in plain sight in showbiz for over two decades, while cultivating an impressive, multi-faceted career in television, film, and theatre that goes far beyond the scope of GEICO’s popular commercials. So, what do you need to know about the real life of John Lehr? Well, he’s pretty easy on the eyes, for starters.
He set the bar high for other GEICO cavemen
John Lehr already had an impressive resume of commercial spots prior to scoring his GEICO caveman gig. In collaboration with the same advertising team, he promoted products from the likes of Pepsi and Tostitos early on in his career, according to his conversation with Interviewing Hollywood. However, the performer still can’t quite believe just how big of a pop culture phenomenon this particular series became. “I’m stunned,” Lehr told the website, adding, “I mean, it’s huge! My wife just recently googled GEICO caveman blogs, and it’s unbelievable. There’s a whole bunch of people out there who are fascinated with these commercials.”
We’re pretty sure Lehr’s own performance has something to do with that, as he undeniably set the bar high for future GEICO cavemen. “@JohnLehr is the ONLY caveman,” writer-director Justine Bateman tweeted in 2019. “All other cavemen just follow his standard.” For his part, Lehr thanked the insurance company on Twitter around that same time after a fan noted, “What do you know… your Geico caveman commercials are making another run. Good to see.”
A surprisingly perfect gig
After studying at Northwestern University, John Lehr got his start in improv comedy in Chicago, Ill. (via DanaRoc.com). Considering his comedic roots, performing as a GEICO caveman was a surprisingly fitting gig. “It’s the perfect job for somebody like me, a character actor, because I make a lot of money on these commercials and nobody knows it’s me,” he told Interviewing Hollywood. The comic added, “It kind of fit with my sense of humor, in that it’s kind of, you play it for real but it’s totally absurd, which is basically my cup of tea. And it worked out.” What’s the one downside to being a GEICO caveman? That prosthetic makeup. “It’s a little disconcerting to have two men touching your face for three hours or two,” Lehr admitted, but noted that overall, “[It’s] the easiest job.”
Joe Lawson, who co-created the commercial series, was inclined to agree with Lehr’s first point. “I love John Lehr in anything,” he told Esquire in 2007. “He’s just a brilliant actor and an amazing improvisational artist. With him, the script is just a jumping-off point, he always comes up with better dialogue.”
He’s been working steadily in showbiz
John Lehr began scoring on-screen work a decade before he found himself hidden beneath that infamous caveman makeup. After appearing on Friends and starring alongside Christina Applegate in the ill-fated sitcom Jesse during the ’90s, he and Applegate reunited in the 2002 rom-com The Sweetest Thing. The actor’s additional appearances on the big screen have included director Noah Baumbach’s films Kicking and Screaming, Highball, and Mr. Jealousy. However, he managed to mostly avoid ABC’s extremely short-lived Cavemen sitcom in the late 2000s.
“I did a small part in the pilot where I played the weatherman, just a really quick appearance,” Lehr told Channel Guide Magazine in 2008. Citing another gig at the time, he said, “They wanted me to be involved in it and I couldn’t.” After explaining that he supported the actors and creative team involved, the multi-talent added, “I hope the show makes it, but I don’t know.”
While Lehr continued to work steadily in the industry, his most successful and longest-running gigs have ultimately been through his own produced work … but more on that later.
His journey toward sobriety
After struggling with alcohol abuse and drug addiction, John Lehr has maintained his sobriety for over twenty years. As the comic told The A.V. Club, his long-held demons stemmed from deep insecurities and self-loathing. However, an arrest in 1996 forced him to change course. In 2003, Lehr recalled sitting in the back of a cop car while under the influence of LSD, during an interview with the Jewish Journal. “This kid just stopped and stared at me, and suddenly I saw myself through his eyes. I’d thought of myself as a guy who, yes, used drugs, but who also had talent and a career. But to this kid, I was just a criminal,” he said. “That was a very heavy moment for me.”
Since then, Lehr’s experiences with addiction have fueled some of his comedy work, including one-man shows like The Lehr Curse and Cold Sober Comedy. Regarding the former, Lehr told The New York Post in 2004, “I tell lots of stories about my days of drinking — which are hilarious!” When asked whether he kept any of this personal info on a need-to-know basis, the comedian quipped, “No, not that I can think of.”
He switched religions
A major part of John Lehr’s journey toward sobriety was his conversion to Judaism. Prior to marrying author Jennifer Lehr (née Schlosberg), his interest in the religion began with a desire to learn more about his soon-to-be wife’s faith. “My wife is Jewish, and her family, they’re conservative,” he told the KC Jewish Chronicle in 2009. “I knew I wanted to marry my wife when we were dating.” Noting that he “didn’t want to be the goofball goy” at family gatherings, Lehr said, “I wanted to know a little bit about what I was getting into.”
The multi-talent ended up taking conversion classes at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, and later completed a Jewish meditation class. The latter experience, Lehr told the Jewish Journal, “Provided the first nanoseconds of relief I’d felt from my ‘sober alcoholic’ insanity.” Not long after, he was encouraged by his wife, therapist, and sponsor to convert. “I’m married, I’m sober, I believe in God and I’m a Jew,” Lehr told the publication. “And for the first time in my life, I’m happy.”
He hosted I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!
According to his 2013 interview with Zocalo Public Square, John Lehr had set his sights on Saturday Night Live early on in his career. However, his experience with live television went a little differently than originally planned. In 2001, the actor hosted I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!, an ill-fated ABC reality TV show starring D-list celebs.
While calling it “one of the worst reality shows ever to be broadcast into people’s living rooms,” Lehr told Interviewing Hollywood that there was one major perk. “It was primetime, 15 nights in a row, during sweeps — and it was live,” he said, adding, “I had never done live television … the fear is such a rush. I mean, it was unlike any experience I’ve ever had in my life.” As for why “the show itself was terrible,” Lehr placed part of the blame on a last-minute change. “They hired me to be funny,” he said, but explained that he was told to be “very serious” and “speak with gravitas” literally seconds before going live on-air. “I think if I had the job now,” he admitted, “I probably wouldn’t have taken the note.”
He’s written and produced his own material
For a long time, John Lehr struggled to truly find his footing in showbiz. “I’m like an odd duck, I think,” he told Interviewing Hollywood. As a stand-up comedian whose material is based in storytelling, and as an actor who’d rather improvise than follow a script, Lehr explained that he found himself “in the in-between world.” This turned out to be an issue when it came to fitting in and finding work. “I’ve kind of had to forge my own way,” the he continued, saying that he eventually branched out on his own to combine his acting and writing talents on both stage and screen. He added, “I love producing. It’s a big part of who I am.”
Lehr’s first solo effort in this vain was a one-man show Off-Broadway called The Lehr Curse (via Playbill), which changed the course of his career in 2004. “I just started to get a taste of the fact that I had something … specific to say to an audience,” the actor-writer-producer told Interviewing Hollywood. “[And] that it was okay for me to be out front, to be the lead.”
Howler Monkey Productions
After appearing in Nancy Hower’s mockumentary TV movie Memron in 2004, John Lehr teamed up with the writer-director to create Howler Monkey Productions. Their production company allowed the duo to write and produce their own improv-based works in film and television, including the TBS workplace comedy 10 Items or Less (2006-2009) and the 2011 Crackle series Jailbait, both of which starred Lehr himself. However, the culmination of these writing, producing, acting, and improvisational efforts was the popular, yet unfortunately short-lived Quick Draw. This Western comedy series, which ran for two seasons on Hulu beginning in 2013, saw Lehr star as a Harvard graduate-turned-sheriff named Henry Hoyle in 1875 Kansas.
“My goal all along is to do theater on TV, to do something powerful and true to a smaller audience who loves it,” Lehr told Zocalo Public Square. Having explained to DanaRoc.com that he was always on the look-out for fostering “real and authentic” experiences in his life and career, he noted that on a smaller show, “I can help to create the environment that I have always wanted to work in.”
He’s a family man
After John and Jennifer Lehr tied the knot in the early 2000s, the couple welcomed two kiddos into the world, daughter Jules (born in 2006) and son Hudson (born in 2008) (via People). While opening up about fatherhood in 2010, the proud dad jokingly told Macaroni Kid, “I am constantly stunned that I have parented them well enough to keep them alive this long.” However, it turns out his training in comedy has come in handy, as he added, “I love the look of delight on my kids’ faces when I deliver ‘Chim Chimney’ in my over-the-top cockney accent.” Talk about #DadGoals.
As for married life, the Lehrs seem to share a perfect union — but it took years of hard work to foster that connection. “We went to two and a half years of couple’s therapy before we got married,” Jennifer Lehr told DanaRoc.com in 2006. “I love that we did that. We were really miserable and yet, we stuck it out and did the work.” However, it sounds like it was well worth the effort. She added, “Now I feel like we are one of the, if not the, happiest couples I know, in terms of a relationship.”
He’s keeping busy
John Lehr has come a long way since donning hours-worth of makeup and prosthetics as a GEICO caveman in the early 2000s. At the time of this writing, he’s as busy as ever balancing his acting, writing, and producing efforts through Howler Monkey Productions, including HBO’s dark comedy The Loop (via Deadline) and MTV’s workplace comedy The Hippo (via Variety). While we wait for updates on those pending projects, he and Nancy Howler are also hoping to bring Quick Draw to the big screen. In February 2019, Lehr tweeted, “We have a feature script and are trying to make that happen.” Alongside his continued stand-up work, Lehr also gives lectures to aspiring comedians and one-on-one coaching lessons to Hollywood hopefuls.
When asked about juggling these roles back in 2008, Lehr quipped to The A.V. Club, “Sounds impressive doesn’t it?” He added, “I used to be so much about ‘I’m going to do this and I’m going to make it happen no matter what.’ And I’ve become much more successful with just following what’s in my life.”
With such an interesting, multi-faceted career, it looks like this attitude has served Lehr well. We can’t wait to see where it takes him next!