In comedian Kevin Nealon’s new web series for AOL “Laugh Lessons,” the “Saturday Night Live” alum invites some of his Hollywood friends, including Adam Sandler, Dana Carvey and Chelsea Handler, to see if it is possible to teach kids the art of comedy or if being funny is a gift bestowed to babies once they pass through the birth canal. Along with his new AOL gig, Nealon, 60, is still doing stand-up like a madman. He makes a tour stop in San Antonio Oct. 17-18 at the Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club. Earlier this week, he spoke to me about some sad news he received on a friend last week and where the idea for a web show like “Laugh Lessons” originated. We also broke some news to Nealon and suggested he stay as close to his phone as possible in the coming weeks. The first four episodes of “Laugh Lessons” can be seen at on.aol.com.
First and foremost, I wanted to give my condolences on the loss of your friend, former “Saturday Night Live” actress Jan Hooks. I read your tribute to her in Time Magazine. It was very touching. I can’t imagine how difficult it was to write, especially knowing how close you two were at one point.
It was difficult. She was like family. I’ve known her for so long. We were friends for a long time. We dated for a while. We worked together. I hadn’t seen her too much in the last decade or so, but I would talk to her at least a couple times a year. I knew she was sick. It’s tough. You never know it’s that imminent. And then they’re gone.
I, of course, remember her for her stint on “Saturday Night Live” with you, but here in San Antonio, I think most people will remember Jan for her role in “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.” She played an overly enthusiastic tour guide at the Alamo, which hits close to home.
(Laughs) Oh, yeah, she was really great in that! That is definitely a movie I’ve been hearing people mention recently.
Because of that movie, two questions tourists probably have visiting the Alamo are whether or not there really is a basement there and if they going to run into a tour guide like Jan Hooks.
(Laughs) I doubt they will. I don’t think we’ll ever run into someone like [Jan] again. She was one of a kind.
Now, if I’ve counted correctly, you’ve been in 13 movies that have either starred or were produced by your friend Adam Sandler. Is it safe to assume that with the new deal he has with Netflix to create four new movies exclusive for them that you’ll be involved somehow?
You know, I never assume what he’s going to do, but it always seems to happen. If I was a betting man, I would say I would be in at least one of those movies. And you know, I actually haven’t even heard about that deal. That’s very interesting.
Oh, really! Yeah, you’re phone should be ringing soon. The deal was signed earlier this month. It’s going to be an interesting experiment to see if this sort of streaming entertainment can be successful with someone as popular as Adam.
Yeah, I think you’re right about that.
Well, if you didn’t hear about that news, maybe you haven’t heard about this more recent news: “Joe Dirt 2” has been confirmed to go into production for Sony’s Crackle (crackle.com), another streaming website like Netflix.
I did hear about that.
Any reason to think you’ll be reprising your role in that one?
(Laughs) I haven’t received any offers, but…probably not.
Also, congratulations on your new web series “Laugh Lessons.” You talk about this a bit with Adam Sandler on the first episode, but do you think you can teach someone how to be funny or is that a gift you some people get when they’re born?
You know, that was kind of the experiment here – to see if you could teach kids how to be funny or if you have to be born funny. Nature versus nurture. If they can be funny, how can they use that to get them out of difficult situations in life? I think we found out that a lot of kids are born funny, but it may not surface right away. It may come later in life. I think you can teach a kid how to be funny, but they won’t be naturally funny. They’ll act out the joke instead.
Where did the idea for “Laugh Lessons” originate? It sort of has a “Kids Say the Darndest Things” feel to it.
You know, about four years ago [comedian] Garry Shandling came over to my house. My son was around three at the time and he tried to teach him pratfalls by hitting him with a pillow. He said, “I’m going to hit you soft, but pretend I hit you really hard and take a big fall.” My wife and I thought it would be a good idea for a show where we have a comedian come out every week and try to teach kids comedy. A lot of the time it’s hard to tell who is more immature, the comics or the kids.
How did you decide which of your comedian friends would join you on this web series? I mean, Chelsea Handler isn’t what most people would consider kid friendly.
That was the fun thing about it. She was the first [comedian] we taped. She teaches the kids sarcasm in her episode. The kids caught on pretty quickly with the sarcasm. Maybe kids are born with sarcasm and not comedy.
Well, I don’t know if you’ve ever watched the Disney Channel, but a lot of those shows have a lot of characters – especially the girls – who are very sarcastic and catty. Maybe that’s where they pick it up.
You know, you’re right. Those shows where the characters are coming of age, they are really sarcastic and cynical.
You mentioned earlier using comedy in difficult situations. Do you think kids should use comedy, say, if a bully is picking on them at school or something to that degree?
That’s a question we try to pose, too. It always helped me. I found comedy sort of disarms people. I think people like being entertained, even if it’s in that sort of raw form of doing something funny or telling a funny joke. It’s kind of a way of being accepted.
What about a kid who ends up being the class clown? Do you think that’s taking it too far?
I think that’s more of an issue when the kid is a class clown and constantly needs attention. That’s something else. That’s when you need to de-program the kid from comedy.