I will always remember Kevin Nealon as the tall, straight-faced and wry character on Saturday Night Live (SNL) from the late 1980s through the mid 1990s. Perhaps he’s better known these days as the loveable, dopey dope-smoker Doug Wilson on Showtime’s hit series Weeds, but his straight-laced voice and comic absurdity will always remind me of late night pizza, belly-laughs and Subliminal Man (one of his hit characters from the SNL days, who liked to slip in a hilarious “subliminal” word or phrase after a straight line). He cemented his place in the esteemed SNL cannon with his time as host of the show’s news-send-up Weekend Update, where his catchphrase/send-off was “I’m Kevin Nealon and that’s news to me.” Other hosts include Jane Curtin, Chevy Chase, Dennis Miller, Norm MacDonald, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Jimmy Fallon and current host Seth Myers.
“As far as Weekend Update goes, everyone has their own style,” Nealon offered during a recent phone interview. “It’s like when we get a new President. It takes awhile to get used to. I always kind of emulated Chevy, you know the straight-up newscaster with a touch of craziness. As a stand-up, when you join SNL you really have to change your whole strategy of doing comedy to sketches and catch phrases. Going to the Weekend Update spot is kind of a return to that kind of thinking a stand-up does.”
While the hard-knock live of a SNL cast member is well-documented in magazine stories and tell-all books, Nealon managed to perform for 9 seasons in the high-adrenaline, make-em-laugh-or-leave environment. He attributes his remarkable longevity on the show to not taking things too seriously and a choice bit of advice he received from Curtin upon joining the cast. “She told me, ‘don’t become totally involved with Saturday Night Live,’” Nealon says. “She said ‘you’ve got to have a life outside of the show.’”
Best known for his time on SNL and Weeds (which, much to my chagrin, he insists is over for good), Nealon has also made a name for himself as a comedy writer, author and stand-up comedian. His stand-up bit reveals a lot of his true personality: the goofy buddy with a deadpan delivery, absurdly hilarious observations and a whip-smart mind for pointing out the genuinely funny and beautifull weird things comprising our world.
“Stand-up is kind of like blackjack versus craps,” Nealon says. “I never really bombed on stage because I gave myself two years and I said ‘if I didn’t see any progress I’d return to whatever it was I was doing before. I was just excited to be on these stages that all these great comedians before me had been on. I didn’t ever really expect to do very well at it so there wasn’t a lot of pressure.”
Nealon is one of the nicest people I’ve ever had the good fortune to interview and his quick-wit and strange eye were on full display as we ended our conversation with a series of quick this-or-that type questions.
Boxers or briefs? “Briefs but not too tight, ya know.”
Coke or Pepsi? “I gave up soda a couple of years back.”
Beatles or Stones? “Beatles but lately The Stones if that makes any sense.”
Eddie Murphy or Richard Pryor? “Richard Pryor.”
Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson? “Michael Jordan.”
Bourbon or Vodka? “Vodka.”
Polygamy or Origami? “Origami with a polygamist.”
KKK or Westboro Baptist? “Umm, Westboro Baptist I guess.” (I know, not really a fair question.)
Dana Carvey or Jon Lovitz? “Dana Carvey for a long car ride and Jon Lovtiz to make me feel better about myself.”
Weeds or Saturday Night Live? “Ah, good question. I guess Weeds on a weekday and Saturday Night Live on the weekend.”
Kevin Nealon plays The Funny Bone (17305 Davenport St, Suite 201, Village Pointe Center) on Friday, October 19 at 7:30 PM and 9:45 PM and on Saturday, October 20 at 7 PM and 9:30 PM. Tickets are $25 and the shows are 21 and over. For more info visit funnyboneomaha.com or call 402.493.8036.