Best known for his stint on “Saturday Night Live” in the 80s and 90s and for his role on Showtime’s “Weeds,” comedian Kevin Nealon has been a staple in the comedy world for nearly 30 years. During a phone interview with me, Nealon, 59, talked about where a show like “SNL” fits into the current TV landscape and which of his former SNL cast members he thinks could make a comeback to the show today.
You’ve never really stopped doing stand-up comedy over the course of your career. What is it about the craft that has kept it part of your life for so long?
It’s just something I have a passion for. I did it during my years with “Saturday Night Live.” I did it while I was doing Weeds. It’s what I did even before any kind of acting work.
Is stand-up still as fun as the first time you did it or have you managed to squeeze all the enjoyment out of it over the years and get it down to a science?
I’ll never have it down to a science. It’s a lot more fun in a different way because it’s not as angst ridden. I’m not pacing and sitting on the toilet an hour before I go on.
Will you be watching the Oscars this weekend?
Yeah, I will be. I love watching the Oscars. I’ll probably be Twittering during it.
You’ve starred in a couple of movies with Oscar winners – Jack Nicholson in “Anger Management,” Nicole Kidman in “Just Go With It.” Did you ever think Jonah Hill, the guy who sucked on a breast for the duration of his screen time in another of your movies “Grandma’s Boy,” would now be labeled an Oscar nominee for his role last year in Moneyball?
(Laughs) You know, I never did. When he was in “Grandma’s Boy” I had just met him. I had never heard of him before. He went on to do a lot of great work from there. It’s great to see that.
Since leaving “Saturday Night Live” in 1999 the show has gone through a lot of changes. Do you still watch?
I watch it once in a while. I’ll DVR it and then fast forward through it, especially if I hear it was a good show.
I do the same thing. I rarely watch it live anymore. I’ll just get on Hulu and flip through the skits.
Yeah, I don’t think anybody watches it in real time anymore. It doesn’t have to be live.
Where do you think the show registers in today’s TV landscape now that cable is such a big player when it comes to original content?
The thing about “Saturday Night Live” is that it’s such a unique show and has held up for so long. It’s had its peaks and valleys. Certainly now there is more competition with cable. But I think “Saturday Night Live” is sort of a mainstay for certain people and generations. It has just about everything you need. It’s topical. It has music, comedy, and the hottest hosts. It still has a winning formula, I think.
In the entertainment industry, we are seeing a lot of actors who are getting older come back to what they know best. For example, Bruce Willis just did another “Die Hard” movie. Arnold Schwarzenegger is back to doing action movies. From your class at “SNL,” who do you think could successfully make a comeback to the show today? Or has the comedy evolved too much?
I think from my original cast probably Dana Carvey or Adam Sandler or Mike Meyers or David Spade.
Is it interesting to see when people leave that show how some of them find success in the film industry and some just can’t seem to break through?
You never know who’s going to come out of that show with heat on them. It’s something that is still so unpredictable. But you know who the likeable people are and who is talented and who has a pretty good chance of going further.
The last “Saturday Night Live”-based movie was “MacGruber” in 2010, which didn’t do very well at the box office. Before that was in 2000 with “The Ladies Man.” Do you think “SNL”-inspired movies are a thing of the past now?
It’s hard to know because they’re taking a sketch and trying to make a movie out of it. We had actually written a movie for Hanz and Franz called “The Girly Man Dilemma.” Arnold [Schwarzenegger] was co-producing it and co-staring in it. Sony paid us to write it. I wrote it with Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigel and Dana Carvey. It was a really funny movie. It was actually a musical. It never got made because Arnold got cold feet. He had just come out with “Last Action Hero,” which kind of parodied himself. He had six other movies on the docket he had to choose between. I think it could have done well.
Since it would’ve been Hanz and Franz’s first foray into feature films, were you and Dana willing to work out and give your characters some natural muscle mass or did you still plan to stuff your sweatshirts?
(Laughs) Oh, we would’ve totally stuffed.
Have you started to have any “Weeds” withdrawals now that the show is over?
(Laughs) Not yet. I’ll probably show up at the studio later this spring and be like, “Oh, that’s right. It’s over.” It was a good run and really fun to hang out with all the people there. But I think it ran its course. You can only smoke so much pot.