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Kevin Nealon talks standup, ‘Hiking With Kevin,’ working with other comedians

By Ed Condran For The Spokesman-Review

If Kevin Nealon was an animal, he would be a shark because he’s in perpetual motion. Ever since the cerebral actor-comic became a Not Ready for Primetime Player on “Saturday Night Live” a generation ago, Nealon has been working on a TV show or film or delivering standup.

Nealon, 65, who performs Friday and Saturday at the Spokane Comedy Club, co-starred in the dramedy “Weeds” on Showtime and had a recurring role in the CBS sitcom “Still Standing.” The animated entertainer has appeared in a number of his pal Adam Sandler’s vehicles, including “The Wedding Singer” and “Happy Gilmore.”

Nealon, who has acted in his share of independent films, is a regular on the CBS sitcom “Man With a Plan.” The humorist also is the host of the YouTube show “Hiking With Kevin.”

In a recent interview, Nealon talked about what he would be doing if he weren’t an entertainer and why his YouTube show isn’t a rip-off of Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” The former college quarterback also revealed which of his friends passed on the lead role in films including “Big,” “Back to the Future” and “Top Gun.”

(Hint: This actor did star in 1985’s coming-of-age movie “Vision Quest,” which was filmed in Spokane.)

What inspired “Hiking With Kevin?”

It happened organically. I was hiking with my friend Matthew Modine, who is an actor. He was in “Full Metal Jacket.” He’s in “Stranger Things.” I like to hike in the canyons in Los Angeles. One day Matthew and I were both out of breath hiking in L.A. while we were on a challenging hike. I thought it would be a funny doing an interview while being out of breath.

What surprised you during your chat with Matthew?

I asked him what roles he turned down that he regretted. He turned down the leads in “Back to the Future,” “Wall Street,” “Top Gun” and “Big.”

Those are some of the most successful movies of the ’80s!

Well, Matthew was really well-regarded after “Full Metal Jacket.” He received a lot of offers and turned down some films. You can’t do them all.

What projects have you turned down, Kevin?

I’ve turned down nothing, Ed. I’m not picky. The truth is that I used to do every independent movie thrown at me. I always thought, “Maybe I’ll be in this great little film.” But I’ve turned down some independent movies.

Your show smacks of Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”

I’ve heard someone else say that it reminds them of Seinfeld’s show. What we have in common is that we’re doing our interviews outside of a studio, but I’m not getting into a car getting coffee with a comedian. The show isn’t like Jerry’s show since we never drive around the canyon. We’re always hiking.

A big difference between “Hiking With Kevin” and “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” is that fans will come up and interrupt you. Jack Black was interrupted a number of times when you were hiking together. How often are you bothered while hiking?

Yes, fans occasionally will interrupt our hike, which is fine. It adds to the color, but I can tell you we will never get in a fender bender. The interrupting actually doesn’t happen very often unless we are hiking on a weekend and with someone super famous.

What led you to develop the concept into a show?

Howard Stern is a huge fan. He told me that this was something I should develop, and so I started posting them on YouTube, and the response has been so positive. Who doesn’t like to hike?

There are so many cool places to hike in Spokane. Any interest in a local hike while you’re in town?

I would like to do that. For me hiking is like meditation. The creativity that flows through me while I’m hiking is amazing. I think an endorphin thing is going on. Maybe that’s why the interviews are so good.

What guest has surprised you the most?

Kate Beckinsale. I didn’t know her sense of humor was so naughty. But not everyone who I interview on these hikes is someone I know well. Yes, I’ve shot a number with good friends, but I’ve done my share with people like Kate, who I don’t know well. But that’s how it goes with interviewers. Not everyone knows their subject well.

For an actor-comic, you really are a surprisingly strong interviewer. Is that because you’ve been a guest on so many chat shows?

I think that has something to do with it. I’ve done practically every talk show that ever existed going back to Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin. I’ve enjoyed being on with (David) Letterman and Conan (O’Brien).

Conan was part of one of your hiking episodes. It was surprising how open he was.

Conan and I have a certain synergy. Conan revealed how anxiety has run in his family for generations.

Conan started as a writer on “Saturday Night Live” when you were an established Not Ready for Prime Time Player, correct?

Yes. Conan told (“SNL” creator and producer) Lorne Michaels that I was his favorite cast member. We wrote together. We were good friends from the start.

What did you write with O’Brien that never reached fruition?

We wrote the film version of the “SNL” sketch “Hans and Franz.” Dana Carvey and Robert Smigel also helped write it. Some things don’t happen in Hollywood.

It seems as though “Saturday Night” alums have at least one indelible memory. What’s yours?

One thing that stands out is when I was about to do the character “Mr. Subliminal” for the first time. It was my first time on “SNL.” There were seconds to go before I went on, and Lorne Michaels came up to me and kiddingly said, “Are you sure this is what you want?”

You’ve been part of so many television shows and films, and you’re on “Man With a Plan.” Are you sure working on another sitcom is what you want?

It’s the perfect job when you have a family. It starts on Monday with a light table read, and I’m usually done by 4 p.m. It’s great working in a studio with a live audience. I love working with Matt LeBlanc. He knows every facet of a sitcom. I learned so much from him.

What are some of the subjects you’ll talk about in Spokane?

My act is evolving. I’m gearing up to do another special. I’ll be talking about my personal outlook on life and family. What I talk about has taken a dark edge. I talk about death a lot. I’m going to the dark side.

During your hike with O’Brien, you mentioned that dark comedy goes over better these days. Why?

I think it’s because we’ve covered every other area, and a lot of people can relate to it. I think about life and death a lot because I have a 12-year-old.

What would your vocation have been if you didn’t enter the world of entertainment?

It probably would have been advertising writing copy. That seems to be a pretty creative area.

What’s your favorite memory when you look back at “Weeds”?

Getting to work with Albert Brooks. He was a huge influence on my standup comedy and one of the reasons I got into standup. He had a recurring role on the show one season, and we sat around a bunch and just chatted about comedy. So great!

You’ve been in a bunch of Adam Sandler films. David Spade once told me that Sandler is so successful since he just grinds it out and throws as much up at the wall as possible. What’s your take on Sandler’s spectacular success?

There are many reasons. He’s ambitious, creative, energetic, well-liked, and he knows what works for him. Oh, and he’s really talented!

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