Kevin Nealon's long career in comedy includes a 12-year run on "Saturday Night Live," where he anchored "Weekend Update" and created characters such as Mr. Subliminal and Hans and Franz. More recently, his prominent role in the hit Showtime series "Weeds," had him playing the pot-smoking, eternal frat-boy/book-cooking accountant Doug Wilson.
That series came to an end in 2012 after eight seasons, but Nealon's stayed busy, taping hilarious field segments for "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," where he's done everything from convincing a random couple to let him marry them, to showing up unannounced at homes for pre-Halloween, adult trick-or-treating.
We caught up with Nealon by phone from Los Angeles to interview him before his performances at the Tampa Improv Friday and Saturday.
So what's Kevin Nealon up to on a typical Tuesday morning? Are you living the Hollywood lifestyle?
Oh yes, let's see. I walked my son to the bus stop, he's almost 6. I came home and spent some time with my wife talking about what we're going to do today. We talked about the Lance Armstrong interview coming up. I sent some tweets. And now I'm doing this interview. Oh, and I have to go to the doctor later. I had surgery on my bicep a while back and he wants to look at it. Also, I have a guy coming over to try to find some files on my computer. Pretty exciting stuff.
You had a chance to take some different career paths, including almost becoming a punter in the U.S. Football League. Do you think you were destined to end up as a comedian?
I think I definitely would have ended up in some kind of show business. I was very interested in music when I was younger. This was back when Crosby, Stills and Nash were around. I was really into the folk rock stuff, but I was too embarrassed to get on stage and sing. It just seemed too vulnerable and too revealing for me.
Really? I feel like trying to make people laugh is as vulnerable as it gets.
With music you're laying it all out there. They're judging you right away and you can lose them quick. With the comedy you've always got another joke to redeem yourself. Or, even if you've only got one joke, at least the punch line is at the end. Then they have to at least pay attention until the end.
What's the process like to get on "Saturday Night Live"?
I was friends with Dana Carvey. He recommended me the same summer he got hired. I never thought I would get on, because I just did standup, and the show is all sketches and characters. But I auditioned and they liked it and made me an offer.
Do you remember what you did in your audition for Lorne Michaels?
I did some standup and I did some of the stuff that I used to do messing around in my driveway with Dana Carvey. Dana used to rent an apartment over the garage in this house I rented in the Hollywood Hills with a few other comics and we'd always be in the driveway doing sort of characters. One of the ones we did was where we were two porno actors, and they'd be talking about regular mundane things. But every now and then they'd refer to the makeup artists who were working on them, and they'd be like "hey, make it look good down there for the people." It was always for the people. We'd be like "hey put some pin stripes on it for me, will ya? And put some sparkles on the side, just to keep people awake." I wasn't nervous about getting on the show. I really had no thoughts about it at all, because I never thought I'd be right for it.
Does it take a long time to write a joke?
Sometimes it does. Like there's one I've been wrestling with for a long time and I just can't make it work. The general idea is that a guy is a lip reader who is confused because he can't read the persons lips because the guy is chewing gum while he's talking. There's an area there, I'm just not sure how to word it.
Do people still confuse you with the character you played on "Weeds"?
Yeah sometimes people come to my standup show and they think they're going to see Doug Wilson. Or they see me on the street and they call me Doug Wilson. I've been offered pot tons of times and I don't smoke.
Are you like Doug Wilson at all then?
I probably have a lot of the same thoughts that he does, but I just don't act on them. You know what I mean? We all want to have a good time, but most people choose to do the right thing.
You seem like such a relaxed guy on stage, like you're just hanging out. Is that how you really feel up there, or is that a great act?
I think it's a combination of both. My adrenaline is definitely going, but it's mostly my real, laid-back persona carrying over on stage. When I first started I was nervous, I'd be really high energy and I'd be sweating. Now it's just my job. It's like a machinist who goes to work every day and uses the same drill bits. He's not worried about taking his finger off.