Kevin Nealon talks Johnny Carson, SNL and his favorite comedy memories

Kevin Nealon SNL

Despite performing top-of-the-line, brand name sketch comedy (as he did on “Saturday Night Live” for 9 years, 1986-1995) and prime series acting gigs (the already seminal “Weeds,” the currently running “Man with a Plan”), what Kevin Nealon seems to love and value most are his times as a darkly observant  stand-up comic. That’s something for Philly to fathom as Nealon is appearing at Helium Comedy Club for a three-night-stint (Aug. 9-11), this weekend.

Kevin Nealon talks favorite comedy memories

Kevin Nealon Philly comedy

The fact is that even his very favorite memory of being a comedian and a comic actor – including acting gigs in films and television series with his “SNL” buddies such as Adam Sandler, David Spade, and Andy Samberg – revolves around stand-up and his first appearance on “The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson,” in 1984. “It’s not when I hit ‘SNL,’ but rather being on Carson’s stage, then ‘getting’ the couch and sitting next to him, that I realized that I had made it,” says Kevin Nealon, from Los Angeles, of the honor of being waved over to the treasured “Tonight Show” couch from Carson himself, a long desired accolade for any comedian. “To this day, there was absolutely nothing like it.”

That debut Carson gig stands out in his mind as the second thing in his professional life that was worth making him nervous. “The job that made me the most nervous? Throwing out the first pitch at a Chicago Cubs game. I hadn’t thrown a hard ball since childhood, so that morning I had to find a park in Chicago where some guys would catch a ball from me – maybe find a father playing catch with his son.”

Since he is always changing forms and finding new vehicles, Kevin Nealon, “happily, never has had a chance to be bored,” he says. “I don’t even have to push my agent to find me things, because I am so fortunate to find great work, whether on camera, or live. That keeps life interesting.” Currently, the thing that does push Nealon to pester his agents, is to find investors for his even newest venture: a semi-autobiographical script, penned with his writing partner and wife, Susan Yeagley, called “The Pleaser.”

Nealon is over-the-moon about writing with the woman he’s been married to since 2005, with whom he had his first child in his early 50s.”That’s what we wrote about,” he said, with a laugh. “My wife was a jewel right under my nose when it came to writing and acting, and we work well together on both counts. We have chemistry. We have symmetry.  And together, we’re spinning the story of a couple trying to get pregnant, and the wife invites her gay mother – a fertility expert – and her partner to live with them at their home within a beach community to help them get pregnant.” And laughs ensue.

Nealon is used to the freedom of writing, not just with his wife, but when he was part of the “SNL” writing room. “That was really a boot camp. I never wrote characters or action before that, as I was just a stand-up when I got there. Oddly enough, ‘SNL’ was something I went after. Once I was there, It was more like a school, and you learned fast. And as competitive as it was, what with people working fast and trying to get their sketches on, it was truly an opportunity to promote yourself if you had something good.”

What’s good for Nealon now, as a stand-up comic, is a brand of comedy that is darkly absurdist and weirdly wild; not “Waiting for Godot” existentialist, or “Bald Soprano” avant-garde, but certainly askew. “I love keeping things unpredictable, to keep audiences on its toes, and listening hard,” he says.

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