Kevin Nealon didn’t set out to take Los Angeles’ comedy scene by storm.
Not long after graduating from Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, he talked a buddy into taking a road trip to California, began hitting as many open mic nights as he could and ended up staying after building his reputation as a funnyman.
In the years since, he has served as host of “Saturday Night Live’s” popular “Weekend Update” segment (1991-94); appeared in a collection of Adam Sandler movies (“Doin’ the bull dance, feelin’ the flow — workin’ it,” he mused in the 1996 comedy “Happy Gilmore”); and provided comedic firepower in “Weeds.” Last weekend the hit Showtime series ended an eight-season run.
This weekend, he’ll perform stand-up on Friday and Saturday at the Kansas City Improv at Zona Rosa.
Ink caught up with the comedian by phone to talk stand-up, big breaks and life after “Weeds.”
Q. You still remember your first time on stage?
A. It was at the Improv in Hollywood, it was at about 1:30 in the morning, and there were two tables of drunks in there. But just getting on and doing my act, I was hooked. It was such an adrenaline rush being on that stage where all those famous comics had worked.
What was your first significant break in the business?
My favorite thing was “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. Once you get on there, it’s kind of validating you. It’s like passing your bar exam for lawyers.
Do you have fond memories about your time doing “Weekend Update” on “Saturday Night Live”?
Dennis Miller had just done the “Weekend Update,” and he did a good job at it, and he did it for a long time. And whenever you switch “Weekend Update,” it takes people awhile to get used to (the new guy). Some people are relieved, some people want the old guy. But it was fun, and it kind of got me back to writing regular jokes again.
How did “Weeds” come about?
“Weeds” was a script that just kind of landed in my hands from my agent, and when I saw the title, I thought “ ‘Weeds’? Ugh. I don’t want to do a stoner show.” We’d kind of seen that already. But then I read it and I thought, this is really good. The characters are really fleshed out, the writing’s great.
So I went in and met with the creator and auditioned for it, and they liked me, and I did the pilot as a guest star, and a couple of months later, they said it got picked up — and I barely remembered it — and I thought, “Great.” And they said they were going to make me a regular on the show.
Is doing stand-up still a thrill for you?
It really is. I love doing it. I’ve never stopped loving it, and I never stopped doing it. If I don’t have to go out a lot, it’s more fun. I can do like two weekends a month, usually, so it’s not like I’m really tired of the road.
Do you have any new projects in the works?
I’m writing a pilot right now that my wife and I created. It’s a half-hour sitcom, and it’s loosely based on our life, with some exaggerations. I think it’s really funny. We have some meetings next week with the studios.
So you’d be playing the husband?
Yeah, I’d be playing myself, and she would be playing my wife, and it would take place at a Southern California beach community.
Are you feeling good about the show’s chances of getting picked up?
I’m cautiously optimistic. It’s so hard to get a pilot done in Los Angeles, so I’m hopeful that it’ll get on, and I think it has all the right components and it’s funny. I’m really excited about it.