Still Dealin' the Laughs
By Aaron Barnhart,
Kansas City Star - 11/12/05
Alot of people don't know I do
stand-up," says Kevin Nealon. No, most of us remember Nealon
as the suave, understated fake-news anchor on "Saturday
Night Live" in the early 1990s.
In fact, though, the tall comedian
came to the attention of "SNL" producer Lorne Michaels
after a stellar routine performed on the biggest stage of all,
"The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," in 1984.
"I did a good set, I got
to sit down with Johnny, and nothing has been able to surpass
that in my career, even doing 'Saturday Night Live,' " Nealon
says. "The thrill of doing 'The Tonight Show,' that natural
Nealon is in town at the new
Improv at the Majestic Theatre, performing at 7:30 and 9:45 tonight
and 7 p.m. Sunday. That means he'll be competing with a new special,
"Saturday Night Live in the '80s: Lost and Found,"
airing at 8 p.m. Sunday on NBC, which features him prominently.
Nealon joined the cast of "SNL"
in 1986 at a decisive moment in its history. Since its original
cast members left in 1980, the show had been rudderless. Some
weeks it was brilliant, other weeks unwatchable. At one point
NBC seriously considered canceling "SNL." But that
class of '86 - which also included Dana Carvey, Jan Hooks, and
Dennis Miller - restored "SNL's" luster and its future.
Besides touring, Nealon is working
on a comedy book for superstar editor Judith Regan and was in
the cast of "Weeds," a series that aired this fall
on Showtime. In "Weeds," Mary Louise Parker plays a
suburban mom who sells dope to make ends meet. The show has had
critical praise and enough viewers to eclipse Showtime's overhyped
Kirstie Alley comedy "Fat Actress."
I interviewed Nealon at the Improv
after his Thursday performance. What have you heard about
a second season of "Weeds"?
Still waiting to hear. Critics
liked it, and I think it was Showtime's No. 1 show. So it has
a pretty good chance.
Were you surprised that no
one seemed to object to the show being about marijuana use?
I was. I thought there was gonna
be letters, protests ... but I think people liked the show because
it was so real. "Desperate Housewives" is a good show,
but it's fictitious. But what really goes on in the suburbs is
infidelity, eating disorders, alcoholism, pot ... it's all that
stuff, passed on from the parents to the kids.
Now, if you had been with
"SNL" in the 1970s instead of the '80s, you could have
said, "And we had all that on the show."
Yeah, people ask me, "When
you guys went on 'SNL,' were there drugs?" And there was
absolutely nothing. That's because the show was at the nadir
of its existence, and we all wanted the show to work. For the
most part we were all responsible people. Some of us were married
with kids. We were just trying to revive the show.
The story is that Lorne Michaels
offered you the job ...
... and I said, "Well, give
me the weekend to think about it." And he said, "OK,
you think about it, and we'll see you in New York on Monday."
There's a clip of you at the
end of this TV special that's airing Sunday. You say that for
a lot of the comics, "SNL" was just a launchpad to
another career, but for you it was the pinnacle of your career.
When you look back at where a lot of those comics wound up, I
think you may have the more realistic outlook.
I didn't see it as the pinnacle
of my career, but I did see it as a career. Working with talented
writers and all these great hosts and musicians, it was a great
job. Why leave? You've got a sure thing. It's fun, it's exciting,
it's live TV in New York City - who wants to leave that?
Some people went in there and wanted to be overnight stars. And
if they weren't, they weren't getting sketches on, they'd throw
furniture, complain And I would just be sitting there. I was
like the guy in prison who was a survivor, you know? I knew how
to sell the cigarettes and smuggle stuff in. I just didn't have
that kind of ambition or desire.
Well, it worked out pretty
well for you.
I've done all the things I wanted
to do. I've just been offered - have you ever heard of "Dancing
With the Stars?"
No kidding! They asked you
to do that?
Yeah. I'm not a dancer, I'd have
to go learn. But first I want to learn who else is going to be
on the show. So far I think they have Jerry Rice, Robert Wagner,
Lisa Rinna and Nick Lachey, he's got a brother, Drew Lachey.
So if it's a lot of people like that, I'm not sure I want to
be part of it.
Oh, you could take all those
(Laughs.) It's not a matter of
taking them, it's a matter of not being scrutinized too much.
It's like when I play "Celebrity Poker Showdown." I
don't want to be the first one out. I don't want to look like
an idiot. Or clumsy. But I think it'd be fun.