Kevin Nealon is not your typical comedian. While many comics sport outrageous personalities onstage, he's a regular guy with a laid-back personality, making him very relatable to audiences.
"I think my style is nonthreatening because it's more conversational," says Nealon, 59. "Audiences don't feel intimidated that I'm going to jump all over them by yelling or picking on them."
This "Saturday Night Live" alum comes to Governor's in Levittown on Sunday delivering humor with his signature dry wit.
You have such a calm demeanor. Where does that come from?
When I was a kid I wanted to be an airline pilot, so my father told me that I couldn't get excited about every little thing. Actually my wife chides me that I never get excited about anything. I could win the lottery and I'd say, "Oh, that's cool."
You've been doing stand-up since 1978. What's your perspective on the gig 35 years in?
I think the best comedy has soul to it. I remember when I first saw Richard Pryor I was blown away by how powerful he was because he talked about himself and his inadequacies. It was more memorable because it was deeper. When you release pain with humor, it's so much more potent. I'm trying to be more truthful and personal about my own life but with kind of a silly tone.
You worked as a bartender at The Improv in the late '70s. What did you draw from that experience?
It was invaluable. There I was in the comedy hub of the country. I'd go to the bathroom and see Robin Williams talking with John Travolta in the hall, and I thought: "This is the place to be! This is where it's all happening!" It was fantastic because I got to meet all the comics I watched on the "Merv Griffin Show" and the "Tonight Show." Plus they would put me on stage if a comic didn't show.
You have 1.5 million Twitter followers. How has tweeting sharpened your comedy?
I love tweeting out jokes. It helps me to be concise and get to what's funny instead of being too wordy. When people retweet it, I know it's good. It's a way to test out material.
Were you and Dana Carvey nervous when Arnold Schwarzenegger came on "SNL" because your characters Hans and Franz were based on lampooning him?
We were stymied as to why he wanted to be in a sketch with us because we were making fun of him. Then we figured he was coming on the show to kill us. But actually he was very nice. In fact when we first met him he said, "Hello, fellas! Now how am I supposed to do the accent?"
Is it true Dana referred you to Lorne Michaels to be cast on the show?
Yes, he actually called me from Lorne's house in Amagansett saying they are looking for one more cast member. I sent my tapes in, but I never thought anything would come of it. The next week Dana called and said: "They liked your tapes. I think they are going to fly you in!" It just didn't seem possible to me. I wasn't a sketch player, I didn't do characters or impressions and I wasn't even in an improv group. When I auditioned I wasn't nervous because I never thought I'd get it. Everybody else was petrified. But a week later Lorne offered me the job.
Were you nervous about anchoring "Weekend Update" on "SNL" because of the people who had successfully done it before you?
I was excited and a little anxious because it was a high-profile position on the show. It's kind of like being the president. When you come into the position, you are going to have a lot of critics, and people are used to the last person doing it. It takes a while to get comfortable.
"SNL" is a high-pressure competitive atmosphere. How did it work for you?
When it's working great, you're flying high, but if you don't get in a sketch or if your sketch gets cut, you're pretty depressed. After a while, I realized it was more of a marathon than a sprint. I learned how to pace myself. But it came full circle because by the end of my run I was so complacent and at ease that I'd go into a sketch chewing food in my mouth from the craft service table.
Were you upset when Darrell Hammond (14 seasons) beat your record (nine seasons) as the longest-running cast member?
Yes and no. If you stay there too long it's kind of sad. But on the other hand I loved that job, and it was a nice record to be the longest. It was surprising like: "Wow, somebody stayed longer than me? I guess they didn't want to leave the nest."
What's the "SNL" sketch you'd put in a time capsule?
There was one I did with Harvey Keitel where I played a bathroom attendant in a very small bathroom with one open toilet, no stall and there's barely enough room for me to be in there. I'm wearing a tuxedo and I say to Harvey when he comes in: "Will you be going number one today, sir or are you dropping anchor?"
Because you played Doug Wilson on "Weeds" do people think you're a stoner?
They really do. But these are the same people who think the actors on "The Sopranos" are actual killers. Over the years I've been offered pounds of marijuana. I don't smoke so I have to just politely decline.
You have a big birthday coming up in November. How do you feel about turning 60?
It's not as bad as it seemed when I was 40. When you finally arrive there, it feels like: "This place isn't that bad? I'll stay for a night."
WHO Kevin Nealon
WHEN | WHERE Sunday, 7 and 9:30 p.m., Governor's, 90 Division Ave. in Levittown
INFO $36-$66, 18 and older, 516-731-3358, govs.com