Kevin Nealon is Whelmed, But Not Overly, to Talk SNL and Political Potheads [INTERVIEW]
Kevin Nealon just seem like a nice guy. I based this assumption on his numerous TV appearances, stint on SNL, random tweets about my home state and everything else I’d read or heard about him over the years.
“Oh, you’re interviewing Kevin Nealon?” my assistant editor asked last week while looking over the weekly assignments. “I met him backstage at ‘Saturday Night Live’ when I was like seven. I just remember him being really nice to me, even though I was a nerdy little kid.”
Nice to a child? Oh, he must be demented.
Kevin called me way too early in morning considering he was in California and had just flown back from the east the night before. Fine, he’s just a nice dude. We talked SNL, politics and his latest Showtime comedy special, ‘Whelmed, But Not Overly’, which is now available on DVD.
How long have you lived in California?
I moved out here in 1978, and except for those nine years I was working in NYC, I would always come back for the summer though, so maybe about 36 years or so.
So when you got the job on SNL, you were already living in CA?
Yeah, I was. I had to go to LA to get a job on the East Coast.
Yeah, it’s usually the other way around.
I grew up in Connecticut– I was always kind of intimidated by NYC as a kid. It just seemed so busy, and metropolitan, and New-Yorky. So I went in there maybe ten times in my whole life before I went to LA.
Once you finally got to the city did you think “Okay, this wasn’t that big of a deal, or was it everything you imagined?”
It was better than what I imagined. Somebody said, “Make sure you find a good neighborhood to live in.” And I was thinking, “What do you mean neighborhood. It’s a city. A whole big city.” I just knew neighborhoods where I used to live. And I learned that there was the Upper West Side, and different streets that were neighborhoods where they had close subway stops and good grocery stores.
You just finished some dates in NYC. I’ve seen some of your shows are just you, but then you’re doing some dates with Dana Carvey and Dennis Miller. How’s that?
We did a tour in 1987 –me, Dana, and Dennis– after our first year on SNL and now we’re going to go out and do it again. We’re going to see how it goes; we’re thinking about six shows or seven shows together right now.
I’m sure life now is exactly the same as is was in 1987.
You know I just found a playbill from our 1987 tour and was flipping through it thinking to myself ‘I can’t believe this much time has gone by already.’
Speaking of SNL, Seth Meyers is leaving, which means there will eventually be an opening on the Weekend Update desk. Is that more pressure because it’s a solo moment on the show? I’ve always heard it’s more pressure because you’re the only person in the cast that says his or her name every week.
I guess it is a little bit more pressure, but it’s also more opportunity. I guess it’s all how you look at it. It’s a really cool and different position on the show. It’s a show within a show. And you’re responsible for it. It’s up to you. People blame you or praise you. It’s almost like the incoming and outgoing president. Some people are going to hate you at first, but then they’ll get used to you, and like you. The fans of the person before you hate you immediately. Everyone’s got their favorites. I have people come up to me, and say, “Hey, you were my favorite Weekend Update guy.” I know that for everyone who comes up to me and says that somebody is going up to the other Weekend Update people and saying the same thing.
When you did Weekend Update you were still performing in sketches. The last few anchors, Tina and Seth, were either head writers or Update was their only job on the show. Do you think it would have been easier if Weekend Update was all you did?
I took over Dennis Miller and he was just doing Update. I remember when I was getting ready for sketches that were coming up like 20 minutes before Weekend Update and he was in his room looking over his notes and getting ready. I wish I had that kind of time while doing Update. I’m jumping in and out of costumes before and after that segment. I didn’t even have a chance to look at the Update jokes to make sure they’re printed correctly. Sometimes I would do Weekend Update and have to run and get changed for the next sketch. Two sketches later I’m thinking “what happened to that joke on Clinton or whatever?”
How long were you on the show?
Nine seasons and I did Update for three seasons.
It felt like you did it longer.
Yeah, that’s the thing. Chevy Chase only did it for one season, but it felt like he was on for five seasons.
You’re leaving soon to shoot a new movie with Happy Madison productions. How many is that now?
I think this will be my twelfth movie with Sandler.
Did you really think when he was on SNL that Adam had at least twelve to twenty movies in him.
He is so dedicated. He loves his work. But at the time, no. You don’t know what anyone will do. I didn’t know that Phil Hartman and Chris Farley would be dead. The experience of SNL was such a whirlwind of activity and excitement that you couldn’t look too far down the road.
You said before with the playbill thing, that you can’t believe how much time has passed. Do you ever look back at old SNL stuff you did and think, “Wow, I don’t remember that at all?”
Yeah, and I wasn’t even doing drugs or drinking. You do so many, once you do your sketch, you forget your lines, and you forget it ever happened. Unless you wrote it. And the one’s I’ve written, I can’t. Sometimes, when I’m flipping through channels, I’ll see an old SNL, and be like “I’m in this sketch! I have no idea what this is about.”
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What moment in your career, not just SNL, do you look back on say, “Wow, I had a lot of fun with that?”
My first ‘Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.’ Probably that. My biggest highlight. Getting to sit down, with his approval.
How old were you when that happened?
I was 30. I don’t remember how many times I did it, but at the time it was really important for a comic to get on the ‘Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.’ August of 1984. It was the first real big thrill. SNL was great too. Getting on that show was more of a surprise. I never expected to be on it; it wasn’t like I was trying to get on it.
How did that happen?
It’s like when you’re not looking for somebody to fall in love with, but it happens. I was living in the Hollywood Hills and doing stand-up. Dana Carvey rented the room over the garage when he came down from San Francisco. I knew him from stand-up and we were friends. We used to sit out in the driveway and just make up characters. He actually got SNL that summer of ’86 and I was excited for him but wasn’t jealous at all. I wasn’t a sketch guy and I didn’t do characters or impressions. I was dating Jan Hooks at the time, and she was up for it, and she got it and I was really excited for the both of them
That summer, Dana called me from Lorne’s house and said that they were looking for another cast member and he told them about me. They wanted to see my tapes. I sent the tapes and flew in for an audition. I wasn’t nervous because I thought I would never get it. I did my stand-up and a couple of things Dana and I used to do in the driveway. A week later they offered me a job on the show. It happened so quickly; I had to move in three days. I didn’t get a chance to tell my friends.
I don’t think Doug from ‘Weeds’ gets enough respect. He was probably one of the greatest characters of all time. The first two seasons alone were awesome. Did you have a great time doing that?
I did have a good time doing that. The character Doug Wilson, when I first got that script, I hadn’t read it yet, and thought it was just stoner show. I’ve seen that. Then I read it. It was good script. I wanted to meet them and audition for it. The part was just really for the pilot, it wasn’t supposed to be a regular character. Then it got picked up, and Jenji Kohan, the creator, liked the character and kept me on as a regular. He just became part of that ensemble. It was fun, fun thing.
It reminded me of those friends when you’re younger and you think, “I can’t believe this person will one day be a semi-functioning adult.” Yet here they are. I look at some of my friends now who were total potheads and worry ‘Oh my God, that guy’s a school principal.’
It’s like Obama’s friends, when he would smoke a lot of pot. They probably can’t believe he’s President of the United States.
‘That guy owes me twenty bucks for weed!’
Same with Clinton, same with Bush. Even Hamilton, he used ride his horse drunk.
So basically, if you’ve got a pothead or stoner friend you should assume they will go into government.
Well, you can’t rule it out.
Kevin Nealon’s latest Showtime comedy special, ‘Whelmed, But Not Overly’, is now available on DVD.