Kevin Nealon Takes a Hike
SNL veteran comedic/actor is back on the standup trail
He's best known as a regular on NBC's Saturday Night Live for his classic bits as Mr. Subliminal, Weekend Update host and as pumped-up weightlifter Franz (along with old pal Dana Carvey as Hans) but Kevin Nealon's first love is stand-up comedy. Since season two of his current gig on the CBS sitcom Man With A Plan has wrapped, he's back out on the road this spring, hitting the City Winery circuit.
When he's not busy with television duties, Nealon posts regular installments of his Hiking with Kevin internet interview series and recently posted a low-budget but well-made comedic-horror spoof "The Water Closet."
On a recent morning from a tour stop in Chicago, Nealon spoke with INsite as he walked through the city on his way to a radio interview.
A comedy tour is an increasingly rare event for you.
Yeah, I just wrapped season two of Man With A Plan and I hadn't been working on the road that much until a few weeks ago. Now it's been non-stop. It really tests your endurance. I don't know how these politicians do it when they're campaigning. When I get tired and stuff, I think, 'If these old politicians can do it, then I can do it.'
Will this tour lead to a new special at some point?
Ultimately when you have new material it leads to a special at some point. But specials aren't even that special anymore, are they? Everybody has one. It's more just a way to document your material. I think the key is trying to find a way to really stand out, so it truly is a special and not just another stand-up show.
One thing that is separating you from many of your peers is the quality of the material on your You Tube channel. "The Water Closet" is a pretty impressive short film.
I have fun doing those little iMovie things. You know I do the Hiking show so I started editing with that. I was going to be away for a week up in Maine at my grandparents' house and I thought it would be fun to do a little short film there. You know, you can go on iTunes and download all these sound effects and then just sit in a room and build this little thing.
It turned out great. What do you plan to do with it? Submit it to film festivals or comedy channels?
Nah, I just did it for fun and posted it. I'm learning how to edit and it's kinda fun practice. I've written a fill-length film that I want to direct so this just practice for that. It's hard to get money and find people to back films. The funny think about films is if you leave them around long enough, they go through so many transitions and they evolve so much.
In your case, you can have a whole DVD of short films in the time it would take to finance a feature film.
That's true and it's fun too. I just stick the cellphone on the end of a selfie stick and I'm my own director. It's great.
So the house in the film is actually in your family?
Oh yeah, and it's over 300 years old.
And still in standing and in relatively good shape. I bet it has plenty of stories to tell. Do you personally believe in haunted houses?
No. I do believe in haunted minds, though. I think people have minds that are kind of haunted. They're seeing things that don't exist and they can kind of psych themselves out. But I'd believe it if I saw it.
The hiking show is so cinema verite and of-the-moment. A very intimate experience. Do you have a film crew?
It's just me, the guest, my selfie-stick and phone. It's hard to edit those because there's so many good things to leave in, but I try to keep them at 18 minutes or so. It's cool when you have a talk show host on. I've had Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Kimmel and Chelsea Handler, too. You really don't have to ask too many questions.
It looks very free-form. Do you prepare a list of questions for each conversation?
I like to be pretty off-the-cuff with it, but just in case I blank out, I do have a list of a few questions I really want to ask. Like when I hiked with Caitlin Jenner, I really wanted to ask her: 'If there's one thing you'd change about yourself, what would it be?' So I wrote that one down, just to kind of glance at.
You've turned out a number of interesting episodes. Any favorites so far?
It's hard to say. The Robert F Kennedy, Jr. one was good because he talked about his father a lot. I liked the Conan one because he was very open about the anxieties that run in his family. It's hard to pick a favorite. It's kinda like what mood am I in that day, you know?
Are you planning this as a weekly series?
I try to get one out every Thursday, but some weeks I don't have anyone lined up. The hike itself is the easy part, it's the editing that takes a long time. I'll come home or if I'm on a plane, I'll just work on it. And I'm getting publicists who want to get people on there, so I feel like, 'Wow, maybe I'm on to something here.'
That immediate intimacy of the hike has made it eclipse Comics In Cars Getting Coffee for me. Do you have enough outtakes for a blooper reel yet? Any trail mishaps?
Well I've slipped and fell a few times but I don't show those. But nobody has sprained an ankle or anything yet.
So it hasn't turned into a Bear Grylls moment with someone scaling the side of the mountain.
No we're just in the canyons of Los Angeles although I did one in the Smoky Mountains. But the first time I hiked in the canyon near my house, I was still on Weeds at the time. I thought Id get up early in the morning and bring my script, so it was dawn and the sun wasn't up yet. I knew I was the first one on the trail because I'd be hitting cobwebs, unless there were shorter people on the trail. I got about a half hour up the trail and I heard a really deep, guttural growl, so low I could feel it in my chest. It was off to the side and down a little - maybe 20 yards away. I thought, 'Oh that doesn't sound good.' I froze. Then when I didn't hear it anymore, I continued walking up. By the time I came down, there were more people coming up. But you know what? The next day they caught a 200-pound mountian lion on Sunset near the trailhead, so that must have been what I heard.
How's Man With A Plan going? Have you heard about the third season renewal yet?
We haven't yet, but maybe in a couple of weeks. But I'm hopeful. I think we did pretty well this season â€“ unless they have some crazy idea. I hope we get picked up.
I hope so too. It looks like a lot of fun to shoot.
It really is. The group is really great. It's nice to be on a show where there's no idiots and everybody's nice to work with. Matt LeBlanc is pretty amazing when it comes to sitcom work. He's such a pro because he's done it for so long. He knows about story and structure and characters. He'll fix a scene if he feels like it's missing something. He's got everybody's back and makes sure it's balanced.
Any room for improv in a show like that?
There's not too much room for it because the cameras have to be at certain marks since we shoot in front of a live audience. But we can embellish and pitch ideas to the writers and the showrunners. A lot of times I'll bring stuff in.
You've been doing TV now since the '80s and your trajectory from your first Tonight Show shot in '84 to Saturday Night Live regular two years later was amazingly short.
It really was. I have a lot of friends doing standup now and everybody always compares their path, which can be dangerous. But mine happened pretty quick.
Looking back, what do you remember about your Tonight Show debut appearance?
Oh man, it was the highlight of my whole career. More than SNL or Weeds or anything. My intention was to be a stand-up comic and to get on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson is like passing your bar exam. It was phenomenal. I've never had a more natural, higher high than that.
Kevin Nealon performs May 11 and 12 at City Winery. For more information, please visit citywinery.com/atlanta.