The actor: Understandably, Kevin Nealon is permanently associated with Saturday Night Live: He wrote and performed on it for nine years. Since leaving the show in 1995, he's been underutilized in small TV and film roles, but that changed in 2005 with Showtime's Weeds, where he routinely scores some of the show's biggest laughs as a pot-smoking accountant.
Remarkable Power (2007)—"Jack West"
Kevin Nealon: That one, we just finished up. I'd been looking to do some film work, and I'd read quite a few scripts, and this one kind of fell into my hands, and it seemed a lot better than the ones I'd read before. It was just one of those hunches I had that it could be a good film. I didn't know the director, and we met and had lunch and talked for a while, and I thought to myself, "Why not?" I play a character called Jack West, and I'm a talk-show host, and I've lost a lot of ratings and I've been on for a while, and people just aren't watching my show anymore. So I fake my own death to get viewers to watch my show when I get back.
The A.V. Club: Did you base your role on any talk-show host in particular?
KN: Nope. It's probably a conglomeration of a lot of late-night talk-show hosts.
Scarecrow And Mrs. King (1985)—"Guard"
KN: [Laughs.] Oh yeah. I played a security guard, and I think it was in the State Department. Kate Jackson and… I forget his name. The other actor. [Bruce Boxleitner. —ed.] They had to get some information from me. This was my first acting role, really, and I remember rehearsing it on the couch with my girlfriend at the time. I had a real problem with saying the word "incendiary." Most of my rehearsal was spent on pronouncing the word "incendiary." But Kate Jackson and the other actor were very nice to me.
AVC: Were you looking for any work at all on television, or were you just biding your time until you could get into comedy?
KN: I was just looking for any kind of acting, really. I'd been doing some light-beer commercials for Budweiser and Coors, and I was doing stand-up comedy. I wanted to get into the acting world, and my agent sent me on that audition and they liked it.
AVC: Was that the last time you did anything dramatic?
KN: [Laughs.] You mean on the screen?
AVC: Well, yeah. I'm sure you've done dramatic things in real life.
KN: Yeah, well, you know, my life is full of drama. No, I did an Outer Limits.
The Outer Limits (1999)—"Dr. Mark Crest"
KN: That was my other dramatic role, yeah. And you know, the good thing about Weeds now is, I get to play some dramatic parts in that as well. So anyway, The Outer Limits was one of those shows I grew up watching—that and The Twilight Zone—and then they started remaking it… I can't remember how I got the part. I guess I auditioned for it? Anyway, it was shooting up in Vancouver, and it was a whole different scenario for me. It was really like a film: going on location, staying in trailers. It was all drama and action. It was fun. It was a nice change for me.
AVC: Having grown up on it, did you feel like the remake captured the spirit of the original?
KN: Aside from it being in color, I think it did. I think probably my favorite series was The Twilight Zone, though. That one never let you down. The Outer Limits was a little hokier. But The Twilight Zone was full of misdirection and totally creepy.
Roxanne (1987)—"Drunk #2"
KN: Roxanne came along in '86, when I was doing a lot of stand-up. I auditioned for the movie, and of course I was a huge Steve Martin fan, so I really hoped I would get this part. I don't think there was any part in particular that I auditioned for. I just went in and talked with them. There were so many parts in there, and so many comedians ended up getting in that movie, playing different firemen and townspeople. I got to be "Drunk #2." I think I was shooting for "Drunk #1." We went to a little town called Nelson in British Columbia—you fly into Vancouver and then take a small plane into the mountains. It was such a cute little storybook town. Ritch Shydner was "Drunk #1," and he was also a comic. I think he still does some stand-up, but mostly he's writing now. We hung out for like three weeks up there, and rented mountain bikes. They were waiting for the right type of day to shoot our scene, and I guess they mixed the schedule up a little bit, so instead of a five-day shoot, we ended up staying for three weeks.
AVC: Are you a Method actor? Did you have to get drunk to play "Drunk #2"?
KN: [Laughs.] No, I just kind of dipped into my memories of being a yahoo and just let it go.
AVC: How much time did you get to spend actually working with Steve Martin?
KN: I think we probably shot for two or three days on that one scene with the duel with the tennis rackets and the ski poles. They had a stand-in for him a lot, a stunt man. I remember one time swinging the ski pole, and Steve was supposed to jump over it on the stump, and he didn't quite jump in time, and so I ended up hitting him on the knee. I felt horrible, because I'm his biggest fan, and here I am almost crippling him.
Little Nicky (2000)—"Gatekeeper/Tit-Head"
KN: Well first of all, that was a great time. Any time you do an Adam Sandler film, it's kind of like a boys' club, because you're hanging out and there are guitars around, and basketballs and footballs and electric bikes and scooters and different people dropping by. I think Little Nicky was a divergence from the films he was used to doing, and he was taking a risk. I admire him for doing that. We had a great cast in there. I remember I had these breasts on my head, because I played "The Gatekeeper," a.k.a. "Tit-Head," and you know, I never knew the power of breasts before. Even with them on my head, the amount of attention they got on the set—everybody wanted to feel them, guys and girls. Breasts weigh a lot, too. They had a condom filled with water in each breast, and they must have weighed about 10 pounds. They jiggled and everything. And then at the end of the day when they removed them, once again I was nobody, and nobody cared about me. [Laughs.]
AVC: Did you come away with a new empathy for women?
KN: I did. And I came away with about eight pairs of breasts, too. I kept them and auctioned them off at different charities. [Laughs.]
Grandma's Boy (2006)—"Mr. Cheezle"
AVC: Was this originally supposed to star Adam Sandler, and then he thought he was too big for it?
KN: I don't really know the story behind that. I just know that Allen Covert wrote it, along with Nick Swardson, and I read the script and I thought it was kind of… Well, I wasn't sure it was the type of film that I wanted to do. There were scenes where they were, you know, masturbating on the grandmother and stuff. [Laughs.] I initially passed on it, and then Sandler called me and said [Adopts Adam Sandler voice.] "Nealon, you sure don't want to do this film? I just want to make sure that you really think hard about it, because if it's not a good film, no one's gonna see it, but if it is a good film, I'd hate for you to miss out." I figured he was right, so I did it. I don't think it did that well in the theaters, but since it went to video, I have more and more people coming up to me telling me how much they love Grandma's Boy.
AVC: It does have a sort of cult appeal. Even more now that Jonah Hill is taking off.
KN: Right. And masturbating is very popular too.
Daddy Day Care (2003)—"Bruce"
KN: Of course, that was an Eddie Murphy film, so there was a whole different vibe, working on that film, as opposed to working on a Sandler film, which I'd done a few of. First of all, there were tons of kids running around. I'm surprised I ever had a kid after doing that film. When you put that many kids together, it just becomes a madhouse. I enjoyed working with Jeff Garlin on that movie, and Eddie Murphy was very nice and cordial. I didn't see him that much. He just basically showed up on the set and chatted a little bit and did a scene and then he was gone.
AVC: Were you approached for the sequel?
KN: No, I didn't even know they were doing a sequel until they put up the billboards.
AVC: Have you seen it, or do you plan to?
KN: No. [Laughs] It's hard to see films now. We have a baby, so it's hard to get out of the house.
Hiller And Diller (1997)—"Ted Hiller"
KN: That was the second pilot I did after coming off Saturday Night Live. I had high hopes for that show, because it was Richard Lewis and Eugene Levy, and the writers were Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mendel, Imagine was producing it—it had all the ingredients to be successful. In hindsight, I think maybe… Oh, I know what happened. We used to have powwows about this in our trailer once the show started going awry after the pilot. Me, Richard Lewis, Eugene Levy, we were all very frustrated and disappointed in the direction it was taking, because originally it was supposed to be about writers at work, and then the Powers That Be got involved and shifted it over to it being more of a family sitcom, to be more about the kids. We were all a little perturbed about that, and the show lost its ratings. We missed out on a great opportunity.
AVC: Do you think if that show was being made today—when the traditional family sitcom is more of a rarity—that it would have a better chance?
KN: Well, back then—wasn't Full House on back then? Or not Full House, but the one with Tim…?
AVC: Home Improvement? It was sort of winding down by 1997.
KN: Maybe it was. Maybe that was kind of the end of the family sitcom. But yeah, maybe Hiller And Diller would have a better chance now. It seems like all the sitcoms on now, the families are kind of dysfunctional. Two And A Half Men and… Actually, I hardly watch any network TV anymore. I'll watch some of the talk shows if there's a guest on I want to see, but mostly it's Larry King, CNN. I like HBO and Showtime.
AVC: Do you still keep up with your Larry King impression?
KN: [Laughs.] Not really. You know, I was never really an impressionist. If there was somebody within my range, maybe I could work on it and do a little exaggeration of them—which I think is really the way to do an impression. You don't want to be dead-on. I think the way Dana [Carvey] did George Bush was great, kind of taking it to the hilt.
Dharma & Greg (1998)—"Mr. Clayborn"
KN: I liked Dharma & Greg. I think Chuck Lorre's a good producer, and I liked working with Jenna Elfman and the rest of the cast. I think they used me pretty good on that show.
AVC: Did you get to witness any of Jenna Elfman's special Scientology powers?
KN: [Laughs.] No. She seemed pretty laid-back then. Pretty together.
World's Funniest Commercials (2006)—Host
KN: I went to school for marketing and advertising, so I have a special interest in good and funny commercials and why they work and why they're funny—which is one of the reasons I, like many people, like watching the Super Bowl, besides the game. I did a couple of those on TBS and the ratings were really good, and they wanted me to do another one in the summer with my wife [Susan Yeagley], which I thought would be fun. We did one in Venice, California last year, and then this year we went to Paris, France and did one. People really seem to gravitate towards that show.
AVC: What made you get out of marketing and into comedy?
KN: You know, I never really got into marketing. I went to school for it, but never pursued it once I got out. Instead, I went to Europe for about two months, just traveling around in youth hostels and Eurail trains with my friends. I came back to Connecticut for a little while, then decided to move to California and get into stand-up comedy. I think I sent out some résumés for marketing jobs, and they all came back in the mail because I didn't have enough postage. [Laughs.]
AVC: When was the last time you considered falling back into marketing?
KN: I never really came close to considering it. The hardest thing about moving to California from Connecticut was just missing my family. If I went back, it would be just because I was homesick.
Weeds (2005)—"Doug Wilson"
KN: Weeds is one of those once-in-a-lifetime scripts. As an actor, you're always reading scripts looking for something good, and this came along, and I was a little bummed because it was a Showtime thing, and I thought, "Oh, nobody really watches Showtime." But the script was really good, and my part really seemed to fit me well. I was only hired as a guest star, but then we found out it got picked up, and they wanted me as a regular. And lo and behold, Showtime started getting more and more viewers. I'm glad to be on Showtime now. It's a great network to be on.
AVC: You have kids now, so how would you address drugs with them?
KN: I have one son who is seven months old, and we've actually been talking about that a lot lately. I've told him time and time again, "Just say no." So he can shake his head "no" now when I wave a doobie—a fake doobie—in front of him. We practice. I say, "Hey dude, you want some of this?" And he shakes his head "no." So I don't think we'll have to deal with that problem.
AVC: After a long day of pretending to get high, how do you relax?
KN: I gotta tell you, that stuff we use on the show is pretty relaxing. It's a honeyrose herb. They roll it into a reefer and we smoke it. I don't smoke pot or cigarettes, so inhaling smoke as a non-smoker—it doesn't matter what it is, it's going to make you lightheaded. It kind of makes you just crash on the couch, where it's difficult to get up. Some of the other characters have been addicted to honeyrose herb, so this show is perfect for them.
AVC: Do you get a lot people asking you to get high with them now?
KN: This season, I've noticed a surge when I go out somewhere, or if I'm doing stand-up. Invariably, somebody will come up to me afterward with a joint and go, "Hey dude, you wanna go toke this up out back?" They assume that because I'm on the show that I smoke weed. Like, what about the guys on The Sopranos? Do the guys on The Sopranos go out to dinner, and then afterward, somebody comes up with a gun and says, "Hey dude, you wanna go whack someone after dinner?" [Laughs.] I don't think so.
AVC: So do you just politely decline, or do you call the cops?
KN: [Laughs.] I smile, and I'm gracious, and I tell them I'm not a pot smoker, but go have a good time.
Champs (1996)—"Marty Heslov"
KN: Champs was the same kind of disappointment that Hiller And Diller was. I'd just come off Saturday Night Live, and leaving to go do Champs, I thought I was going to diversify a little bit. It was being produced by Dreamworks as their first TV show. Gary David Goldberg had written it, and he had created Family Ties and Spin City and that show Brooklyn… something [Brooklyn Bridge]. Anyway, I thought he was a clever writer and good guy, and we did this show with Tim Busfield and Ed Marinaro and a bunch of other great actors. The same type of thing: Great time slot, all the ingredients that would make a show great, and it just got pulled after like eight or 12 episodes. Ultimately, it was one of those shows that the network just didn't have patience with. It was kind of soft in the beginning as they were developing the characters.
AVC: "Soft" in what way?
KN: They were taking a while to develop them and letting the audience get to know them a little bit. I don't know if the landscape of the viewing audience changed or something. Maybe they needed more quick scenes, like the audience's attention span wasn't as great as people believed it to be. For whatever reason, it didn't make it, which is too bad. I really liked that show. I thought it had a lot of heart.
AVC: Did you catch any of Timothy Busfield's last show, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip?
KN: I caught a few of them, yeah. I enjoyed it.
AVC: Did you think it bore any resemblance to working on SNL?
KN: It had a resemblance to… not the panic, but the immediacy of getting the show on the air, like when you had a deadline to get it there and there was a lot of chaos behind the scenes. Other than that, it didn't really resemble it.
AVC: What did you think of the show-within-the-show sketch comedy, like the faux-"Weekend Update" segments?
KN: Yeah. [Pause.] I don't even remember that part. I guess I was more focusing on the behind-the-scenes stuff. But… it was kind of similar. I guess.
Saturday Night Live (1986-1999)—various roles
KN: Saturday Night Live was a show that I never thought I would be on, because I didn't do sketch comedy and I didn't do impressions. I was a stand-up. I remember in 1986, Dana Carvey—who was actually renting a studio apartment over the garage in a house that me and another comic and a writer lived in, and I knew Dana from the comedy clubs, and we used to run a lot together and work out—he had gotten the show that summer, and he was moving to New York that fall. I was very excited for him. I was dating Jan Hooks at the time, who was also up for the show, so I was excited for both of them. I remember reading Saturday Night: A Backstage History Of Saturday Night Live at the time and they were talking about John Belushi and all those guys, and I was reading this never thinking I would be any part of it. In the meantime, Dana went to New York in the late summer and met with Lorne Michaels and the other writers, and I guess he recommended me for the show. They were looking for one more person and my name was thrown into the mix.
Dana called me from the back room of a producer's house one night and said, "Hey they're looking for one more guy, so I threw your name in there. I don't know if it will work out, but do you have any tapes you could send?" I said I could, never thinking it would go anywhere—because you kind of get used to that kind of thing in this business, so you don't want to get your hopes up. So I sent some tapes of my stand-up in, like I had done Letterman and Carson on The Tonight Show. Then [Carvey] called me a couple of days later and said he thought they'd liked me tapes and they were going to fly me in for an audition. Sure enough they flew me in, but there were 20 other people auditioning, so I still never thought I'd get it.
Then a week later Lorne Michaels flew out to L.A. and had a meeting with me to offer me a job as a writer and featured player on the show—which would guarantee me like seven episodes a year. I actually told him, "Let me think about it over the weekend," and being the shrewd person he is, Lorne said, "Okay, you think about it over the weekend and we'll see you in New York on Monday." [Laughs.]
And then the next year I was a cast member. I liked doing that show. You know, a lot of people get frustrated on that show and want to be a breakout cast member within a year or two and if they're not… It's a competitive show, and there's only so many pieces of the pie, so you just try to get your sketches and characters on. I kind of knew it was a marathon, not a sprint. I enjoyed living in New York City, I liked the premise of the show, I liked working with a different host every week and different musicians. I always thought, "This is great. I never expected to get this in the first place, so I'm just happy being here."
AVC: Which of your sketches or characters are you most proud of?
KN: I think my favorite sketch was "The Bathroom Attendant," the one where Harvey Keitel was hosting. And I gotta say, Dana Carvey and I had a great time doing Hans and Franz. We laughed so much just writing those characters, because they're so pathetic.
AVC: You said you used to work out with Dana. Did you come up with those characters while in the gym?
KN: No, I never worked out with him.
AVC: Oh. I thought you said you used to work out with Dana in L.A.
KN: Oh, with Dana Carvey! I thought you meant Arnold Schwarzenegger. [Laughs.] We just went running a lot together, like around the Hollywood Reservoir. No, we came up with Hans and Franz when me, Dana, and Dennis Miller were on tour after our first season of Saturday Night Live. We were at a Red Lion in Des Moines, Iowa, and I was watching Showtime, Up Close And Personal With Arnold Schwarzenegger. I told Dana he should watch too, because it was kind of funny, you know, with his accent and everything. They ask him what he does when he checks into a hotel, and he says [Adopts Schwarzenegger accent.] "You know, I like to slip into a nice, light cotton shirt and then go out on the town, and then I come back to my room and I slip into the nice, light cotton sheets, and things like that, you know." So Dana and I were talking like him for the rest of the tour, and we thought we should come up with some characters like that before the end of the season. So we got together and hashed it out and came up with Hans and Franz.
AVC: Do you still get asked to do Hans and Franz?
KN: It's getting less and less, just like Mr. Subliminal, but people still remember. Especially the gym rats. Arnold, of course, loves it, and he's still a huge fan of it.
AVC: Do you often talk to him?
KN: Very rarely. He and Maria [Shriver] sent my wife and I flowers after we got married, and Maria called to see if Dana and I would do Hans and Franz at Arnold's 60th birthday party in his backyard. We didn't do it because Dana was out of town and I was doing something else. My big thing was to do something else after SNL so that wouldn't be my so-called legacy, you know? That's why I'm liking Weeds now, because it's something people are taking notice of.
AVC: While you were making that, did you think, "This is what I have to look forward to? I'll have to do Hans And Franz: The Movie?"
KN: [Laughs.] I never thought about that. At the time, I think there weren't a lot of movies being made out of SNL characters. Coneheads, it had been a while since they had been on TV, so at the time, I thought it was odd to be doing something about the Coneheads. I wasn't really thinking about doing movies based on SNL. That surge came a little bit later, maybe after Wayne's World.
AVC: Considering how long it took for the Coneheads to get to the screen, and since Dana Carvey still seems willing to do those characters at the drop of a hat, do you think we might someday see a Hans and Franz movie?
KN: It's funny, you know, we actually wrote a Hans and Franz script. It was me, Dana, Conan O'Brien, and Robert Smigel. We had a deal with Sony to produce it, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was going to co-star in it and co-produce it. It was a musical called Hans And Franz: The Girly-Man Dilemma. The script came out great, and it was really funny, but when it came down to it, I think Arnold got cold feet because Last Action Hero had just come out, and he didn't want to parody himself again.
AVC: And now that he's governor, he probably especially doesn't want to do that.
KN: Well, he may want to after his governorship ends. [Laughs.] But by then we'll all be pretty old. We did a Hans and Franz Where Are They Now? for VH1 where we had old-man makeup, and we were out in Venice Beach. Apparently Hans and Franz had had a big falling-out, and they interviewed each one separately, and they found Dana on the boardwalk. It was kind of sad. He was reading buttocks—you know, instead of palm readings? [Laughs.] I forget what Franz was doing.
AVC: Speaking of Hans and Franz, you played a version of them for a ride at EPCOT Center called "Cranium Command."
KN: Oh yeah!
AVC: So what are the perks of being a star of an EPCOT ride?
KN: I haven't seen any yet. [Laughs.] The perk, I guess, is you're part of the EPCOT world and a lot of people see you. It was an informative kind of display. I think we played the heart muscles in the body. They had these elaborate muscle suits made for us. I don't know if it's still there or not.
AVC: It is, actually. It's been running for almost 20 years.
KN: Is it? That's funny. Man, it's amazing how fast time goes by. It's been almost 21 years since I went on Saturday Night Live.
AVC: Considering that ride has been running almost every day for almost 20 years, playing to thousands of people a day, is it possible that this is your most famous role?
AVC: [Laughs.] Probably, yeah!