Theatre

A Heart to Heart with Saturday Night Live Alumnus Kevin Nealon

Thursday, March 14, 2019

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With his successful new web series Hiking With Kevin quickly finding followers, veteran comedian and Saturday Night Live alumnus, Kevin Nealon returns to his stand-up roots on April 26 at Flato Markham Theatre.

Nealon is an American actor and comedian who got his first break on network television in 1984 on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Two years later he joined the cast of Saturday Night Live.  Nealon's best known SNL characters include Mr. Subliminal or Subliminal Message Man, and Franz of the Hans and Franz duo with Dana Carvey (co-star of Wayne’s World). From 2005 to 2012, Nealon appeared as Weeds series regular Doug Wilson. In 2018 he returned to his role of Don Burns for season three of CBS sitcom Man With A Plan opposite Matt LeBlanc of Friends. This formidable funny man recently talked in earnest about life in the comedic fast lane.

What was that first childhood or teenage experience to set you on a comedic course?

I can’t cite a specific time, but my family and I would go on road trips in the car; three of us kids would be sitting in the back and we would always crack jokes to try to make each other laugh. And I always liked doing pranks – like the fake throw up with ice cream and getting reactions from people.

Seemingly there’s some French-Canadian connection mixed into your mother’s lineage. What’s the story there? 

Well my grandmother taught in a one room school in Kent near the Canadian border while she was parenting my mother. They were northerners. But I don’t know how much influence Canada had on her. My grandmother was quite a woman. She lived in a three-story house across from the school. She began teaching when she was 16 years old, worked hard and lived to be 101 years old. I guess she stayed healthy by climbing all those stairs.

What do you think your Weeds character Doug Wheeler would say about Canada’s recent pot legalization? (Doug was a city councilor, accountant and giant stoner at the start of the show; a big pot-head accountant who cooked the books and became an entrepreneur/partner – selling marijuana cigarettes called Puff Dragons – at the conclusion).

I think Doug Wheeler would probably move to Canada and get himself a nice home outside of the Laurentian mountains.

Based on your standup experience, how would you describe Canadian audiences? Canadian humour? 

I have a real affinity for Canadians and Canadian comedy. A lot of Canadians are funny and if they’re not funny, they’re connoisseurs of comedy. Across the board, from Vancouver to Montreal, I’ve experienced it a lot and I’m really looking forward to this one in Canada. I don’t know why Canadians are such a good audience.

When you’re not “on” what’s your guilty pleasure?      

I enjoy sketching and doodling as a pastime, it’s relaxing for me. My work is posted on Instagram: Kevinnealonartwork. I also play guitar, I’m learning to play piano, and I like salsa dancing.

Have you ever gone too far? 

Umm I haven’t but I’m not opposed to it (laughs). I’m looking at that, looking at subjects outside of my comfort zone and that of the audience. What those subjects are outside of the comfort zone is something I’ll share when I get to Markham. I’m ready to present a different type of standup. Usually when I perform, I try to please everybody; I don’t want to offend anybody. I’m interested in the potential to be something some may not find funny, but the rest of the audience does.

In your Hiking with Kevin series, you wear the interviewer’s hat. Is there a question you’d like to ask yourself? 

Ummm – (pause) I think the question I think a lot of people are asking themselves is what do they want? What makes them happy? What is out there that can really rock their boat and make them feel excited about themselves? I don’t know that I have that answer. I don’t know what that is.  I think for me it’s coming up with something in my material that might be a little uncomfortable for the audience. I want to have good material, but also say something that will stay with people when they leave.

In The Guardian, British comedian Steve Coogan recently said that comedy, by and large, is a young man’s game. What are your thoughts?

I think there are aspects to it. Traveling on the road a lot is challenging when you’re older and married and have a family. It’s different when you’re young and single. But overall, it’s all how you look at it. What your approach is. What you’re trying to convey, your message. And to get the laughs through your material.

There’s a lot of stamina needed in comedy. You live in the club every night doing standup. That’s where you learn. How you grow. But you also have to have a life to draw from.

As a young man coming of age, I had my parents and siblings as a resource. But that eventually ran its course. Then I started talking about relationships. But then, when you start having a life, you’re more whole and have more relatable things to offer. I now travel a lot, I have a son, a wife, a home. I ski, I golf, and from that I draw the comedy.

How does it feel when you land a strong audience reaction; what does it compare with?

If it’s the first time it’s like a shot in your vein of happiness. There’s nothing like it. When you’re trying out something new and it’s a crowd pleaser that’s a rare, incredible feeling. It’s connecting with your audience and fooling them. In a sense it’s misdirection, verbal magic, catching the audience by surprise. Saying something they hadn’t thought about, no matter how absurd it is.  It’s kind of like coming up with an invention. Each new bit is like an invention, and the audience appreciating that. There’s nothing like it. There’s no more immediate gratification than standup.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

The word amazing. I need to find a thesaurus, another adjective. Maybe fabulous, fantastic, sublime, mind boggling…?

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? 

Funny, I was talking about that just the other day. I would probably take more time to relax and not feel like I have to constantly create content and be growing in every way. It’s okay to sit back, to watch a movie – which I do – but I also tend to work a lot, although it’s not like work, I love doing it. 

Any last observations or thoughts? 

Well, I’ve been thinking lately about humanity and life on this planet and what it’s all about. How we have religions. How we have organizations. And I’m coming to my own conclusion that we will never figure it out because we are such a small spec in the universe. People are trying to find something to make themselves feel comfortable. It just seems easy to say there’s a god and that’s why were here. Is that all were capable of handling? What else could be out there? Guess we’ll find out in the next act.

With his successful new web series Hiking With Kevin quickly finding followers, veteran comedian and Saturday Night Live alumnus, Kevin Nealon returns to his stand-up roots on April 26 at Flato Markham Theatre.

Nealon is an American actor and comedian who got his first break on network television in 1984 on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Two years later he joined the cast of Saturday Night Live.  Nealon's best known SNL characters include Mr. Subliminal or Subliminal Message Man, and Franz of the Hans and Franz duo with Dana Carvey (co-star of Wayne’s World). From 2005 to 2012, Nealon appeared as Weeds series regular Doug Wilson. In 2018 he returned to his role of Don Burns for season three of CBS sitcom Man With A Plan opposite Matt LeBlanc of Friends. This formidable funny man recently talked in earnest about life in the comedic fast lane.

What was that first childhood or teenage experience to set you on a comedic course?

I can’t cite a specific time, but my family and I would go on road trips in the car; three of us kids would be sitting in the back and we would always crack jokes to try to make each other laugh. And I always liked doing pranks – like the fake throw up with ice cream and getting reactions from people.

Seemingly there’s some French-Canadian connection mixed into your mother’s lineage. What’s the story there? 

Well my grandmother taught in a one room school in Kent near the Canadian border while she was parenting my mother. They were northerners. But I don’t know how much influence Canada had on her. My grandmother was quite a woman. She lived in a three-story house across from the school. She began teaching when she was 16 years old, worked hard and lived to be 101 years old. I guess she stayed healthy by climbing all those stairs.

What do you think your Weeds character Doug Wheeler would say about Canada’s recent pot legalization? (Doug was a city councilor, accountant and giant stoner at the start of the show; a big pot-head accountant who cooked the books and became an entrepreneur/partner – selling marijuana cigarettes called Puff Dragons – at the conclusion).

I think Doug Wheeler would probably move to Canada and get himself a nice home outside of the Laurentian mountains.

Based on your standup experience, how would you describe Canadian audiences? Canadian humour? 

I have a real affinity for Canadians and Canadian comedy. A lot of Canadians are funny and if they’re not funny, they’re connoisseurs of comedy. Across the board, from Vancouver to Montreal, I’ve experienced it a lot and I’m really looking forward to this one in Canada. I don’t know why Canadians are such a good audience.

When you’re not “on” what’s your guilty pleasure?      

I enjoy sketching and doodling as a pastime, it’s relaxing for me. My work is posted on Instagram: Kevinnealonartwork. I also play guitar, I’m learning to play piano, and I like salsa dancing.

Have you ever gone too far? 

Umm I haven’t but I’m not opposed to it (laughs). I’m looking at that, looking at subjects outside of my comfort zone and that of the audience. What those subjects are outside of the comfort zone is something I’ll share when I get to Markham. I’m ready to present a different type of standup. Usually when I perform, I try to please everybody; I don’t want to offend anybody. I’m interested in the potential to be something some may not find funny, but the rest of the audience does.

In your Hiking with Kevin series, you wear the interviewer’s hat. Is there a question you’d like to ask yourself? 

Ummm – (pause) I think the question I think a lot of people are asking themselves is what do they want? What makes them happy? What is out there that can really rock their boat and make them feel excited about themselves? I don’t know that I have that answer. I don’t know what that is.  I think for me it’s coming up with something in my material that might be a little uncomfortable for the audience. I want to have good material, but also say something that will stay with people when they leave.

In The Guardian, British comedian Steve Coogan recently said that comedy, by and large, is a young man’s game. What are your thoughts?

I think there are aspects to it. Traveling on the road a lot is challenging when you’re older and married and have a family. It’s different when you’re young and single. But overall, it’s all how you look at it. What your approach is. What you’re trying to convey, your message. And to get the laughs through your material.

There’s a lot of stamina needed in comedy. You live in the club every night doing standup. That’s where you learn. How you grow. But you also have to have a life to draw from.

As a young man coming of age, I had my parents and siblings as a resource. But that eventually ran its course. Then I started talking about relationships. But then, when you start having a life, you’re more whole and have more relatable things to offer. I now travel a lot, I have a son, a wife, a home. I ski, I golf, and from that I draw the comedy.

How does it feel when you land a strong audience reaction; what does it compare with?

If it’s the first time it’s like a shot in your vein of happiness. There’s nothing like it. When you’re trying out something new and it’s a crowd pleaser that’s a rare, incredible feeling. It’s connecting with your audience and fooling them. In a sense it’s misdirection, verbal magic, catching the audience by surprise. Saying something they hadn’t thought about, no matter how absurd it is.  It’s kind of like coming up with an invention. Each new bit is like an invention, and the audience appreciating that. There’s nothing like it. There’s no more immediate gratification than standup.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

The word amazing. I need to find a thesaurus, another adjective. Maybe fabulous, fantastic, sublime, mind boggling…?

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? 

Funny, I was talking about that just the other day. I would probably take more time to relax and not feel like I have to constantly create content and be growing in every way. It’s okay to sit back, to watch a movie – which I do – but I also tend to work a lot, although it’s not like work, I love doing it. 

Any last observations or thoughts? 

Well, I’ve been thinking lately about humanity and life on this planet and what it’s all about. How we have religions. How we have organizations. And I’m coming to my own conclusion that we will never figure it out because we are such a small spec in the universe. People are trying to find something to make themselves feel comfortable. It just seems easy to say there’s a god and that’s why were here. Is that all were capable of handling? What else could be out there? Guess we’ll find out in the next act.