No need for sneaky messages from Subliminal Man to convince me that Kevin Nealon is one of the funniest dudes out there. With his honed wit and trademark dry, straight delivery, Nealon has made a name for himself as an understated observational comic who still comes off as the nice guy you’d want as your neighbor. A veteran of Saturday Night Live (where he not only anchored Weekend Update, but also created trademark characters as Franz, Tarzan and – fifty dollars – the aforementioned Subliminal Man), Nealon currently keeps us all rolling with laughter weekly with his portrayal of perpetually-stoned Doug Wilson on the award-winning show Weeds.
And now we lucky kids in Colorado get to be part of his next move.
Nealon is in town this weekend, filming a special for Showtime at Comedy Works South at Landmark Village. I caught up with him for a quick Q&A. He’s an easy man to talk to … and his crisp, sarcastic wit had me feeling like I was part of the act at times (especially when he threw in bits from previous performances.) In addition to talking about his upcoming show, we discussed social media, pot laws, the correlation between blues musicians and comedians, and, um, his irrational fear of chimpanzees.
(First things first, however. Nealon will perform four shows Friday and Saturday at Comedy Works South. For tickets, please call (720) 274-6800 or purchase online at www.comedyworks.com)
The following are excerpts from our conversation:
Laura: You have to be one of the busiest guys in show biz right now with Weeds, Glenn Martin DDS, the new pilot Isabel, and now stand-up. What drove this return to performing live? It certainly seems like you have lots to occupy your time.
Kevin: Well I’m not really returning to stand-up, I’m really just doing another special. I’ve always done stand-up – it’s what I started out doing, and it’s my passion. Even throughout my years on Saturday Night Live, I never stopped doing it. So I’m just continuing with it, and have been doing a little bit more of it in the last six months to get ready for the special … first of all you need to come up with new material, you know? It’s going to be an hour special so I’ve been on the road for the last six months developing new material and getting a feel for what I want the special to look like.
L: Where do you get most of your material?
K: A lot of it comes from real life. I think being a comic is a lot like being a blues musician. You have to kind of live life and experience a lot of things before you can create a good soulful act. So I get my material just from living life and from the things I go through. As I look at my act, as it’s accumulated, a lot of it is sort of fear-based. I guess the things I talk about the most are the things that affect me in that way. Experiences I’ve been through … whether it’s surgery on my arm or a fear of chimpanzees.
L: So you’re truly afraid of chimpanzees?
K: Yes, I have a fear of chimpanzees. You know, since all these chimpanzee attacks starting happening…(laughs)
L: Yeah, those sneaky things, on tricycles, with horns, you know. (note to readers: see video here if you’re thoroughly confused…) I know you’re pretty active on social media, Twitter (@kevin_nealon) in particular. Do you use it to test out new material and gauge reactions? And how has it changed the way you develop material?
K: You know what? I do actually. I’ll tweet out a joke or an area that I like and see how many people re-tweet it, and then I’ll know if it’s funny or not. But you know the advent of the Internet has really created a whole new landscape for comedians. With YouTube, blogs, Twitter and Facebook, it’s a whole new avenue, and I think if you want to be successful you really have to adapt to that and evolve with it.
L: One of my favorite bits of yours is “The Little Things People Say” from (2009 Showtime special) Now Hear Me Out … it absolutely cracks me up. What can we expect at this new show … are you going to be taking some of your old material and adding to it in this special, or do you have a whole new slate of material that you’re bringing to Colorado?
K: It’s a whole new entrée. It’s really a prix fixe. It comes with the appetizer, the entrée and dessert. It’s all new material.
L: One of the things you’ve talked about, even in Now Hear Me Out, is that people assume – mainly because of your Doug Wilson (Weeds) character – that you’re an avid marijuana user. You’ve said publicly that you’re not. I’m sure you know many in Colorado somewhat consider the state to be a capital for medical marijuana…what do you expect to find here?
K: Because I am on Weeds, I do get a lot of people who partake in pot coming to the shows hoping to find a compadre. Don’t have anything against it, except for that it’s illegal, but I do believe in medical marijuana. I think medical marijuana should be legalized everywhere, just for medicinal purposes, and for recreational purposes.
You know, we have a lot of medical marijuana dispensaries here in Los Angeles too. They always seem to be next to a bail bondsman place.
L: …or fast food
K: Yeah, or check cashing places.
L: I work in an office that shares a wall with a dispensary. Sometimes you can tell when they’re trimming next door because the office gets a little pungent…and coworkers start hitting the snacks a little harder.
K: I guess it’s not hard to get a card. You just have to tell a doc you’re kind of depressed.
L: Yep. In Colorado it’s a little harder. I think we only have seven things you can get them for. In California, I think you can go in with a hangnail and say you’ve got ‘major pain issues’ and they’ll give you joint and a card.
K: (laughs) Really? I’ll have to look that up and see if I can come up with something for the show.
L: You’d get a lot of laughs for that here in Colorado for sure. Now I know we have to wrap up here pretty soon, but talk to me quickly about the new pilot you just filmed called Isabel. What can people expect?
K: This is a script that kind of fell into my hands a couple of weeks ago, that’s how fast it all happened and I really liked it. And what is interesting too is of course there’s still another season of Weeds to do, so my manager and agent figured out a way for me to do both. So we shot the pilot – and it’s a really fun show. It kind of tickled me like Weeds did when I first read Weeds. It’s a dark and dysfunctional family but a normal dysfunctional family – they could probably each have their own marijuana medicinal card, you know…(laughs) But I’m married to Marcia Gay Harden’s character, Francis, and she likes her wine and her father is on his death bed. And he has a lunch truck business and I’m dying to take it over – quit my insurance salesman job – and so I have it repainted and I’m hoping he kicks the bucket sooner rather than later. And our daughter is able to communicate with him in his coma, because she has this extraordinary mental power where she can be in touch with most things people can’t be in touch with, so we’re kind of dealing with her. It’s really one of the better pilots floating around Los Angeles.
L: This sounds so…weird. And so fun. When is it going to make it to TV?
K: Well if it gets picked up, it will be on NBC. My fingers are crossed and hope I’ll go right from shooting Weeds to shooting this now.
L: which brings me to this final question…you’ve done a lot of things with stand-up, and obviously SNL where you got your big launch. But then there are movies, dramatic productions, TV, comedies, and you’ve even written a book. Do you have something that you prefer? And if so, why?
K: You know what Laura, for me it’s nice because I kind of get to do it all and I don’t get tired of one thing. If I was just doing stand-up I’d probably get antsy being on the road all the time. But because I have Weeds to go to, where I can act, and films once in a while, where I’m hanging out in one area for like three months, it’s fun. I did a film in New Zealand a while back where I took my family there for 2 ½ months and got to see that part of the world. And writing a book was very cathartic because you really get to just emote a string of feelings and get them all in order and put them on paper, which is nice. So, yeah, I like doing it all.
Kevin Nealon will perform four shows this weekend at Comedy Works South in the Landmark Village:
Friday February 17, 7:15 and 9:45 p.m. and Saturday, February 18th, 7:15 and 9:45 p.m. Advance tickets are available. Please call (720) 274-6800 or purchase online at www.comedyworks.com
For classic Nealon (and one hell of a Swayze mullet) click here.
Laura Keeney originally became a professional writer because she was too
cheap broke in college to pay for concert tickets. She’s obsessed with The Clash, gets easily distracted by politics and shiny objects, and thinks Spock is sexy. She blogs and writes for 303′s print edition about various things. Follow her on Twitter at @onnabugeisha.