Kevin Nealon is best known for his nine seasons of Saturday Night Live and his role on the hit Showtime series Weeds. But what some don't know is that Nealon has been a steady stand-up comic throughout his career, doing bits on things like how he doesn't actually smoke weed and his fear of chimp attacks. Nealon will be filming his second Showtime comedy special tonight at Comedy Works South (with additional shows on Saturday). We caught up with the comedian on his new special, his wine-drinking fans, and his teenage stint in garage bands.
Westword: I read that your original ambition was just to do stand-up, not acting.
Kevin Nealon: Yeah, that was my original goal and I didn't even think about acting; stand-up was what I wanted to do and the acting came secondary. So I started taking workshops and studying acting and continued to do my comedy at the same time. And I never let go of the comedy, even throughout my years on Saturday Night Live and Weeds I still continued to do stand-up comedy in clubs in my off-weeks and on my off-nights.
What do you like about stand-up that keeps you doing it?
I like it because I'm in control and I like the immediate response from the audience; you don't have to wait like a sitcom for it to go into production and be shown later, or a movie. And you have that immediate interaction with the audience as well, and you can be topical as well.
What's your process of writing?
I have a lot of different processes. Comedy comes from a lot of different avenues, like sometimes I'll be with my friends and we'll just be loose and we'll be talking and laughing about things and I'll come up with something and I'll kind of write it down in my iPhone so I remember it. Or I'll just sit down and start writing about a topic and try to come up with something that way. But it just happens naturally. That's the most organic and I think the most pure comedy.
How do you know when the material is ready to start filming for a special?
Well, you know, I used think it was never ready. But that's why it took me so long to do my first special, because I never thought my material was ready enough, because I always wanted something better, or newer, so I would hold off for a long time and then one day I decided it was just time to do it. Because a lot of people didn't know I do stand-up comedy, because I'd never done any specials and I never do it on talk shows, so I thought that was the appropriate time to do a special and kind of document my material and put it out there for people to enjoy.
Was that material that you've been doing your whole career?
It was more the recent material, but when you're developing an act you discard old material and replace it with new material and to this day I'll still have people come up to me and say "Hey, remember that joke you used to do about such and such?" And I'll go "Oh, yeah yeah yeah! That was my`favorite joke!" And I completely forgot about it because I had replaced it with new material.
Do you still watch SNL?
Occasionally I do, yeah. I DVR it every week and I try to get around to watching it.
What actors and skits do you like?
I like Fred Armisen, I like a lot of the actors on there, you know, Kristin Wiig, I just don't watch it that much where I'm on top of you know, what's going on with the show. I loved the one with Melissa McCarthy hosting. That was my favorite I think. I've only seen a few this year.
Do you ever miss doing SNL?
You know, not really. Not really. I miss living in New York City. Well, I was on that show for nine seasons so I really got my fill of it.
It sounds like it's a pretty grueling lifestyle.
It's as grueling as...you know, as much pressure as you put on yourself makes it grueling, because you have this great opportunity to come up with characters and sketches and if you don't jump on that you kind of beat yourself up, so I think that's how it becomes grueling. But if you kind of just pace yourself and know that the writers with kind of look out for you and you know, enjoy the ride. I think that's how you stay on that show for a while.
How is doing something like Weeds different from SNL?
Weeds is, well, first of all it's not live and you don't have an audience so you're not feeding of the audience. And you don't have that immediacy of having to get everything in the right place by the live show, you know. Shooting Weeds is a little more laid back.
How did you end up on Weeds?
Weeds, even though you don't smoke weed.
Do people bother you a lot?
Not really. I'm in a pretty good position right now. I have friends who are big celebrities and they have a lot of trouble going anywhere, they have to stop all the time and sign autographs and take pictures, but I'm at a pretty good level where people think they recognize me but they're not sure. Maybe I shop at their grocery store, or they know me from their bank, you know, so it's kind of a good level for me.
Is there a specific type of person that's a fan of yours?
Well, it's interesting, because you know when you go into the comedy clubs the owners kind of tell you know, you have a good crowd, you have a nice crowd. Or the waitresses will say "You have a really nice audience." So I think that my audience is has more of a sophisticated side; they're wine drinkers, according to the club owners. Some of the blue-collar comics, you know, they have the beer-drinking crowd, the chicken wings. And then I have more of a wine drinking crowd.
Why do you think that is?
I think because well, first of all, I'm on Showtime, so you have to pay for that and usually people that have more the white collar jobs drink wine, they know their wine. I'm not saying I don't get any beer drinkers, because that's a portion of my audience, too. But I think a lot of my material is kind of thinking material--you have to think a little bit about it, so it's not like short attention span kind of stuff.
You're also working on a pilot?
Yeah, it's called Isabel, it's for NBC, I'm starring opposite Marcia Gay Harden, I play her husband. And it's a half hour, single camera comedy and we have this child, one of three, has extraordinary mental powers that we're discovering she has.
Are you going to continue to do Weeds as well?
The plan is I'll do another season of Weeds, the 8th season, and we don't know if we're getting picked up for another season after that, but if this show Isabel gets picked up for the pilot I'll go right into that after taping my 8th season of Weeds, so that'll be the end of Weeds for me. But if it doesn't get picked up and Weeds gets picked up for another season, I'll do another season of Weeds.
You play banjo and guitar. Does that ever make it into your stand-up?
Not really, no. [Laughs]. I like to play at home, it's more for just fun. It's never really made it into my act.
Did you ever play in any bands? I used to play in garage bands when I was 16. We had names like The Hallucinations, Soulful 6, um, Stained Glass. We just played a bunch of songs that were topical at the time. We would do cover songs like The Beatles and James Brown.
What's your dream job? What kind of parts would you like to get in the future?
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I'd ideally like to create my own sitcom and produce that and star in that. That's really my dream job.