Kevin Nealon spends much more time in Nashville than you realize. His wife is from the Music City, and he’s been a regular here for nearly two decades. Currently, Nealon can be seen on the CBS sitcom Man with a Plan alongside Matt LeBlanc, but maybe you remember him from the Showtime series Weeds. Or maybe you remember him from any number of his film appearances, many of which were alongside his friend Adam Sandler, like Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer, Little Nicky, Blended and Sandy Wexler, to name a few.
The nine-year veteran of Saturday Night Live is eyeing a new standup special, and this weekend, Nashville will be the first city that gets to hear the material. He recently talked about what he’s working on, what the future may hold and reflected on his career.
Certainly this can’t be your first visit to Nashville. How long has it been since you’ve been to town?
Oh gosh, we come here a lot! My wife is from Nashville and her parents live here. So we come, probably, a couple of times a year; over the last 18 years,
What are your favorite things about the city? What do you do when you come to town other than spend time with family?
There’s so much I like about Nashville! I have some friends here, too, and I visit them. I like the history. My wife and I went into the Woolworth last night over on 5th [Avenue] and just kind of got a whole history on John Lewis during the civil rights movement. That was interesting. For the novelty, we walk down Broadway and see the saloons with the bands playing. I must say that it’s looking more and more like Mardi Gras these days.
What can we expect from the live show?
My act is always evolving, as it should; like life. I do a lot of personal stuff with twists and exaggerations. My material has kind of gotten a little dark these days. My new tour is called “Silent But Deadly,” because my friends said, “You know what? Your material sneaks up on people. And they kind of get it a second later.”
It’s hard to explain what your material is like; sometimes it’s better to let someone else describe it. And I think that’s probably what I hear a lot of; that it kind of sneaks up on you.
You’ve spent the past several years in more traditional sitcom roles. How vastly different is what you’re doing on stage from what you’re doing on television?
There’s so many differences. It’s immediate. I’m in control; it’s my material. I’m not saying somebody else’s lines. And there’s the interaction with the audience, one-on-one, the live thing. That’s what I really enjoy doing.
The multi-camera sitcom – there hasn’t been that much of it until the last couple of years. There were a few shows that didn’t last long over the years. This has been fun, and the schedule is great.
What sends you out on the road this time? How long is the tour?
The tour starts at Zanie’s on Saturday and it’ll go until the middle of August, possibly into December.
I haven’t done a special in seven years; I’ve done two already. But I have so much material and things to say now that I’m hoping to do another special, so I’m getting ready for that.
Is that deal done? Do we know where it will air when it’s finished?
Not yet. I haven’t figured that out yet, because I wanted to go out on the road for a bit first.
I guess that means you’re finished taping other obligations – Man With a Plan and such – when does that start back up?
Yeah, we finished taping a couple of weeks ago. We did 13 episodes that will begin airing in February. If it gets picked up again, it’ll start back in the middle of August.
We also have a hiking show that I do called Hiking with Kevin on YouTube, and between the writing and editing and casting of that, it keeps me really busy.
How did that idea come about? Was it something that you came up with on your own? Was there a team behind it?
No, it was totally random and organic. I was hiking with a friend of mine whose an actor, Matthew Modine from Full Metal Jacket and Stranger Things; he’s a great actor. I say to him, “Hey, Matt, you wanna go for a hike behind my house?” And he says, “Yeah, sure.” So we’re hiking up this steep trail and we’re talking and catching up and we’re both so out of breath. I thought, “This would be a funny interview. You can hardly understand what we’re saying because we’re both so out of breath.” So I did that, and decided, “Well this could be fun to do as kind of a weekly web series.” I started calling up my friends: Adam Sander, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, actors like Owen Wilson, all these people. I did a hike every week and I’d post it on my Instagram and Twitter.
I was talking to Howard Stern once and he said that he was a big fan of those posts and that I should make them longer. I thought that was a good idea, so I started a YouTube channel, and I post them on the YouTube channel every Thursday.
You were a pioneer in some ways with Weeds, doing the premium channel series when that wasn’t really as commonplace as it has become. And now, things are moving to other platforms like YouTube, and you’ve followed suit. Is it easier having so many ways to be creative these days or does it sometimes make it feel more difficult?
I think it’s great. I wonder how my career would have been different if I had had all the social media when I was starting out. People can post their lives online and it can be seen by anybody. When I was coming up, you could only be seen in the clubs. People can have their own channels. I think it spurs people out to be more creative.
When you left Saturday Night Live, you had the longest tenure of anyone in the show’s history. Obviously some people have passed you since then. Why do you think that longevity has increased for cast members over the past 15-20 years?
That’s a good question. I’m not sure. I think maybe they realize it’s a good job, and they don’t look at it as a stepping stone. It’s a really solid, fun job. You get to work with a different host every week and bands that you grew up watching. It’s topical. What’s better than that?
You and Dana Carvey came in at the same time, and you had the ‘Hans and Franz’ sketch. Was that something that you guys had in your back pocket from working with each other before the show or was it something you came up with after being hired?
‘Hans and Franz’ was something that we came up with when we were touring after our first year on SNL; it was me, Dana Carvey and Dennis Miller, and we were doing a Swatch Tour – it was sponsored by Swatch. We were at a Red Lion Inn in Des Moines, Iowa and I was watching Showtime – Up Close and Personal with Arnold Schwarzenegger – they’re interviewing him and I call Dana and say, “You’ve got to watch this; it’s so funny.”
So on the tour, Dana and I are mimicking Arnold Schwarzenegger and we decided we’d come up with something for the beginning of our second season at SNL. Around September or October, we got together and got into a room and just started hashing it out. I used to live in Germany, so I [had a bit of the accent down]. And we ended up with these two guys that were pathetic. They would berate everybody, yet they never lifted a finger themselves.
Recently, I saw you on Lights Out with David Spade and you had a roundtable with other former Weekend Update hosts. What are those things like for you? What’s your actual relationship like with those guys? Do you chat often?
It is really fun to get together with them because I don’t see them all that often. I see Spade around quite a bit, and Dana Carvey. But other than that – Dennis [Miller] lives a little ways from me, so I don’t see him that often. Norm MacDonald lives close but I don’t see him that often; we golf once in a while. So, yeah, it’s good to see them, and it’s interesting to see how old we’ve all gotten compared to a lot of the younger comics out there.
How do you feel about how Update has evolved? Do you still enjoy that segment?
I don’t watch the show that often. I’ll DVR it, and check things out if I hear about something. But with Weekend Update, it’s always evolving, it’s always changing, depending on who’s coming on. Sometimes it takes adjusting to get used to the new people coming on there, but people always get used to it and they like it. It’s the pivotal point of the show. It’s definitely has always been one of my favorite portions of the show.
Do you have any forthcoming projects? Any new TV? Or is the focus right now what’s on the table with Man with a Plan and Hiking with Kevin?
Definitely those two. I also have a short film that I’d like to direct if I can get a window. My wife and I and another friend have written a short film and filmed it. We hope to enter it into a film festival in a couple of months.
Can you tell me anything about that film?
It’s called Behind Janice and Keke. It’s about two mothers who had created a monsterous, hit TV show back in 2007. It’s a documentary on those two women and what came to be and the demise of that show.
Is that something you’d like to do more of? Producing and directing?
Yeah, and we were talking earlier about all of the platforms that are out there now and social media. And this is just an example of that. I take my cell phone and film it, direct it and edit it and then we’re able to post it and take it to a film festival. The social media thing – technology has really made things much more accessible.
Kevin Nealon kicks off his “Silent But Deadly” tour at Zanie’s on Saturday, January 4 at 5 p.m. Doors open at 4 p.m. Tickets are $30.