Veteran funnyman Kevin Nealon strives to keep current

Many experts argue that laughter is good for you. They say it’s therapeutic to the mind, body and soul, that it relaxes the whole body and even boosts the immune system. If this is the case, comedian/actor Kevin Nealon has been healing millions of people worldwide for decades. From 1986 to 1995, Nealon was hilarious on Saturday Night Live (remember The Subliminal Man? How about Hanz and Franz?); he also had us rolling on the floor with his appearances in such films as Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer and Grandma’s Boy, and he’s currently keeping the laughs going as Doug Wilson, the stoner city councilman, accountant and part-time pot dealer on the hit Showtime series Weeds and as the lead in Glenn Martin, DDS, a stop-motion animated series on Nick at Nite.

One thing that’s stayed consistent throughout his lengthy career is his love for doing stand-up. He says that stand-up came first and then the acting gigs flowed. “That’s what I really wanted to do was stand-up comedy,” Nealon says of his early years. “The acting came secondary. Stand-up was what I loved and then I got on talk shows and then I was in that Roxanne movie with Steve Martin and I got on SNL in 1986, but I never stopped doing stand-up.”

Lucky for us he still hasn’t stopped, and on Jan. 14 and 15, 2011 he’ll bring his act to Tommy T’s Comedy Club in Rancho Cordova. Nealon was gracious enough to take some time to chat with Submerge while in Hawaii on vacation, sort of.

How’s Hawaii? Are you there for fun time or work time?
Well, it’s rest time to be ready for work. Or, you know, to recover from work I guess [laughs]. I don’t know. I had an interesting morning, though. I was at breakfast and this guy starting choking and a friend of mine did the Heimlich maneuver on him. I’d never saw that in person. He saved the guy’s life.

So you were just sitting there watching it all?
I was there just watching and enjoying my breakfast. I didn’t know that there was entertainment with the breakfast.

Talk about all-inclusive.
Yeah, but I’d never seen that actually happen in real life.

I’ve never seen that happen in real life either, but it’s one of those situations that’s depicted in so many movies and TV shows that you feel like you’ve seen it happen, you know?
Yeah and It’s usually in comedies where you see it, you know, where the thing pops out of the person’s mouth and goes flying across the room [laughs].

Probably wasn’t so funny in real life.
No, it was funny.

You’re going to appear in a ton of films this year. For example, Just Go With It, the Adam Sandler and Jennifer Anniston flick. You play a character called Adon, right? What can you tell us about that?
Well, Adon is Middle Eastern, and he’s a plastic surgery junky. He can’t get enough and he’s fairly persuasive to the people around him. He just likes to have a good time and likes to look good.

I saw something on your website about that role that said, “You might not even recognize me.” Was there major makeup involved?
Oh yeah, it was six hours in the makeup chair. I think we shot like three or four days and they only used one scene. That’s the way movies are. It was fun doing the movie though, it was fun hanging out with Jennifer and Sandler and I think it’s going to be a funny movie.

Heidi Montag plays your wife, right? That seems kind of fitting considering she’s a real-life plastic surgery addict. How was it working with her?
It was nice. She was very sweet. It couldn’t have been more pleasant. She was very eager.

How about the Nick Swardson and Christina Ricci porn-tinged comedy called Born to Be a Star. Who do you play in that?
That’s a fun one; I can’t wait until that one comes out! That’s a really funny film. I play Nick Swardson’s character’s abusive roommate trying to connect with Christina Ricci’s character. Nick’s character becomes my roommate because she asks my character to take him in and I’m just totally abusive to him. I don’t think you’ve seen anything more abusive.

Couple more. How about Jack and Jill, the one where Adam Sandler plays, well, Jack and Jill. How do you fit into that one?
Well I just play a doctor at the beginning of that film delivering two kids. And that’s actually Sandler’s sister who’s giving the baby in real life and his brother plays her husband [laughs].

Keeping it in the fam! Finally, there’s And They’re Off with Martin Mull and Sean Astin. Who do you play in that one?
That was a fun movie. My wife and I did that together. It’s more of an improv scene, which was really fun. Martin Mull and Sean Astin were great to work with. It was just a great day, one of those days where it clicks and it just goes by in an instant.

You thrive in improv situations, don’t you?
Yeah, we had a good time doing it. My wife was in The Groundlings for a while, the comedy company, so she loves improv too and she’s a great actress. It was kind of like playing all day, you know, and when you work with Martin Mull and Sean Astin it’s just a real heyday.

You’re a really busy guy! How do you shuffle all your projects?
Well, you know, it sounds like I’m busy, but for example I did that Swardson film over a year ago I think.

So on paper you’re busy?
Yeah, on paper it looks like I’m really busy and people tell me, “You got to slow down,” but really I have so much free time, it’s crazy.

As far as work ethic goes, whom do you look up to in the comedy world?
Well first and foremost Adam Sandler, that guy is a workhorse. He’s constantly working and looking forward to the next project. Sarah Silverman, Gary Shandling was also a big influence for me. If you go back a little bit, Albert Brooks. Steve Martin of course–he’s a genius.

You had a stand-up DVD out a while back called Now Hear Me Out. When can we expect another one?
I am actually working on one, yeah, that’s one of the reasons I’m doing so much stand-up is to come up with another special. That was my first one-hour special after all those years of doing stand-up. I figured it was time to do one. I’m such a perfectionist in a lot of ways, and I keep waiting to come up with better material, but you know what, that may never happen [laughs].

How tough is it for comedians to compile an hour’s worth of solid material to do a full-on special like that? It seems like it’s the equivalent of writing an album for a musician, or a screenplay for a writer, or a book for a novelist or something like that.
It is intense depending on the comic and how often they try their new material and write. Some of these comics come out with a new special every year, and they’re kind of not as good as their first special, because that’s when they had all of their material. Unlike musicians. I was just reading “The Beatles: 100 Greatest Songs” in Rolling Stone, and they had deadlines when they had to come up with songs, so they were kind of like forced to write songs by a certain time. Sometimes they came up with a great song, sometimes not so great, but they had record deadlines. But comedy has to be a little more organic, you know? You have to really find the material and hone it down. I’ve done stuff on talk shows, and I look back on it now and I think, “What happened to that hunk?” but I didn’t have the other half of that bit at that point.

When it comes to writing new material for your stand-up routine, where do you usually find your inspiration?
A lot of it is based on my life, you know, an exaggeration of my life. Or you know it’s me sitting with friends, talking and me coming up with something funny because I’m relaxed and loose. Like I was thinking about how people meditate, and I was thinking my New Year’s resolution would be to relax more, so I thought, “Maybe I should start meditating.” I tried that, but it becomes more of a worrying thing for me, I just start worrying. Then I thought maybe that’s because my mantra is, “Ohhhhh noooooo.”

Did becoming a father change the way you write your stand-up material?
Well, he’ll [Gable, Nealon’s son] be 4 at the end of January. Anytime you have a big life change like that, it kind of shifts your thinking pattern. It really was an influence on my writing, but I don’t have a lot of material about being a father. I had a lot of material about going through the pregnancy, in fact I wrote a book about it. As far as being a father, I haven’t really dissected that too much. I’m just kind of enjoying it. Some club owner told me once, “The best way to kill your career is just to do stuff about being a father.”

So that’s really stuck with you?
It has stuck a little, but I don’t know if it’s always true. I haven’t seen Seinfeld’s act lately, but I’m sure even he’s doing stuff about being a Dad. I mean Bill Cosby based his whole career on it.

Have you showed your son any of your movies or your stand-up DVD yet? If so, how did he react?
Oh yeah, he’s seen me in a few things. He’s watched Glen Martin, DDS and he heard my voice and recognized it. He points and he laughs and he goes, “Look it’s Daddy.” I think he thinks I go down to a Walmart or something and just put myself in a movie [laughs].

Weeds has had a ton of success; and in my opinion, your character, Doug Wilson, is one of the funnier ones on the show. How do you prepare for that sort of “stoner-ish” role? Because contrary to popular belief, you don’t smoke pot, do you?
That’s right. I think I go in with the attitude of a friend of mine who smokes a lot of pot, in that he basically doesn’t really have any concerns about the rest of the world. It’s kind of like he’s just looking out for what he enjoys doing, and if he has to make a decision between what’s right and what’s good for him, he’ll usually pick what’s good for him [laughs]. So I think it’s that kind of mental attitude that my character assumes, and he’s basically just out to have fun.

I bet you get people coming up to you all the time like, “You’re on Weeds, let’s go smoke a doobie!” That’s probably annoying, huh?
[Laughs] We went to Haight-Ashbury about a year ago, and you wouldn’t believe the amount people gave us. We were walking around, my wife and I, and I just had a hand full of pot.

I’m always curious about this with comedians: what makes you laugh?
Um, usually the Heimlich maneuver.

So this morning you were set, then huh?
Yeah, I fell off my chair. Real people doing unpredictable things makes me laugh. You know, Candid Camera used to be one of my favorite shows. You know what I mean, though, people not trying to be funny and it just happens. Or kids–kids are really funny. Just their rationale and thinking is just so funny because they are just so innocent. I like dry humor, you know, like Flight of the Concords and Eastbound and Down.

You just seem to be getting funnier with age. You’re like a fine wine or something. How much longer do you see yourself making people laugh?
Well yeah, I don’t think I’ll ever retire because I enjoy doing this. But you know, I start thinking about that as I get older. I think the most important thing is to kind of stay connected and relevant and to stay on top of things, so you can kind of relate to people that are younger than you.

With close to 1.3 million Twitter followers, I’d say you’re pretty on top of things.
[Laughs] Yeah, I guess so. Anyways, that’s my objective: stay current as much as possible.

If you missed Kevin Nealon when he was in Sacramento you can see him on Feb. 26, 2011 at Montbleu in South Lake Tahoe.

    Jonathan Carabba

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