Comedians Al Franken and Kevin Nealon are hiking. The latter holds a camera mounted on a selfie stick, pointing it their way as they walk.
As with Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Nealon’s YouTube series Hiking With Kevin aims to capture humorous conversations between stars outside of a standard setting. In this episode, Franken and Nealon reminisce about their days on Saturday Night Live: Franken as one of the groundbreaking skit show’s performers and first writers, starting in 1975; and Nealon — aka Franz (from Hans & Franz), Weekend Update anchor, and Mr. Subliminal — as a cast member from 1986 to 1995.
While Nealon is a hiker, Franken clearly is not, and as they traverse a relatively flat trail near the polo grounds at Will Rogers State Historic Park in Los Angeles, he asks Nealon if he was the most out-of-shape person on the show to date. Nealon smiles. “Maybe.”
Nealon brings his stand-up act to the Santa Ana Star Casino and Hotel on June 28 and 29.
He played Franz to Dana Carvey’s Hans in a series of skits that propelled “We just want to pump ... you up!” into the vernacular.
“We created these pathetic bodybuilders after watching Arnold Schwarzenegger interviewed on Showtime,” Nealon told Pasatiempo. “We were on a 50-city summer comedy tour with Dennis Miller, and we would break into German accents to entertain ourselves the whole summer. When we got back, we sat down and invented Hans and Franz. ... On Saturday Night Live, I played a lot of numbskulls.”
On Weeds, the Showtime TV series Nealon starred in from 2005 to 2012, his character, Doug Wilson, was a frequently stoned accountant and city councilman. In a 2012 interview with Rolling Stone, Nealon said, “Every time I think of Doug Wilson, I think pathetic. When it comes between something for himself or something for righteousness, he’ll choose himself.” He is currently starring with Matt LeBlanc on the CBS comedy series Man With a Plan, in which the two actors play brothers involved in a not-so-successful house-flipping business.
“I’m always playing a self-centered guy looking for the easy shortcuts in life — who’s not wanting to work that hard. I can play that well,” he said, “but it’s actually the opposite of me. I’m somewhat of a workaholic. Very responsible.”
Although his Weeds character was a stoner, Nealon is most definitely not one. “I get lots of requests for interviews from marijuana industry magazines, but I have to tell them I’m not a huge pothead. I have friends that are. They walk around kind of numb all day long. How are you going to get anything out of life like that?”
Stand-up comedy has always been a way for Nealon to step away from the characters he plays on TV and in movies, and from SNL-style sketches. “I’ve been doing stand-up since 1978,” he said. “I’ve never stopped. I always liked comics like Albert Brooks, Andy Kaufman, and Steve Martin, who were original. I’d say my style is conversational. It reflects where my head is at. Lately, things have been a little dark.”
Still, he describes himself as an optimist.
“I do talk about looking for the good things in life in my act, but it’s always a little twisted,” said Nealon, who is 65. “I’m always thinking about mortality. My son is 12 — I was 53 when he was born. He’s starting to realize that I’m not going to be around for much of his adulthood.”
The act he’s bringing to New Mexico is a work in progress. He’s testing jokes on audiences around the country while he puts together a new TV special. “I’m looking for my next hour,” he said. “It’s been a while.” In late 2009, Nealon’s first hour-long stand-up special, Kevin Nealon: Now Hear Me Out! aired on Showtime. Nealon’s second stand-up special for Showtime, Kevin Nealon: Whelmed, But Not Overly, debuted in August 2012.
The series on YouTube may be Nealon’s favorite career move. He loves to hike. “It’s like a real hike with a buddy who happens to be a movie star,” he said. “They like it because we don’t talk about whatever it is they may be promoting. I’ll ask them what they’re doing later, if they made their bed, when was the last time they vacuumed, random things like that.” The hikers have included Caitlyn Jenner, Hilary Swank, Judd Apatow, Conan O’Brien, and Sarah Silverman. Nealon said he was on 174 episodes of Saturday Night Live, so the Hiking With Kevin, at more than 100 videos, could overtake his personal TV record.
“My show is all about the endorphin rush from exercising and being outside. There’s a certain freedom to it. When we talk, people don’t have an agenda. They’re also more revealing.” He ventured out of Los Angeles recently to interview Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame, taking a fall stroll in Inwood Hill Park, in New York City. Another field trip, and possibly his most out-of-breath interview, involved going snowshoeing with Donny Osmond in the mountains near Provo, Utah. “Do you feel like you missed out on a normal childhood?” Nealon asks him. “Or was it better being famous and adored?”
“Yes,” answers Osmond, smiling while Nealon picks himself up from another fall in the snow. ◀
▼ Kevin Nealon
▼ 7 & 9:30 p.m. Friday, June 28, and Saturday, June 29
▼ The Stage at the Star, Santa Ana Star Casino Hotel, 54 Jemez Canyon Dam Road, Bernalillo
▼ $25-$40; 21-and-over show; 505-771-5680, thestageatthestar.com