After eight seasons of playing a debauched stoner on Weeds, most people assume Kevin Nealon is high all the time. "When I do my standup, I’ve heard people were disappointed because I wasn’t the crazy, profane Doug Wilson character," Nealon says. "They think I’m a big pothead. But I don't smoke – it just doesn’t do anything for me. I’ve been vegetarian for 24 years."
Before Weeds, Nealon spent nine seasons on Saturday Night Live anchoring Weekend Update and creating weirdo characters like Subliminal Man. "A whole generation of people that didn’t know me from SNL recognize me from Weeds now," the 58-year-old comedian says. "People recognize me once in a while and appreciate the work. It gets a little embarrassing but it's good. If you work as an accountant, you don’t have people coming up to you in the streets saying, 'Hey, great job on tax statements!'"
How do you feel about Weeds coming to an end?
It's kind of bittersweet. I'm grateful for how long it went on, but I'm looking forward to other things. I'm going to miss working with all these people and the crazy and exciting storylines. For this last season, the writers are really cranking it up all the way – anything they haven't done before, they're doing this season. I don't know the whole storyline yet, but I do know that the finale is going to be a good train wreck. I don't think these people are going be arrested – at this point maybe the only thing that could happen to these people is they could all just explode somehow.
In the first episode, your character Doug feels up Nancy (Mary-Louise Parker) while she's in a coma. That's pretty low, even for him.
Oh yeah. Doug is that sleazy. 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.
People are really on the fence about Weeds. They either love it or they hate it. Why do you think that is?
When a show has been on for so long, you lose fans, you gain fans. I remember this from Saturday Night Live. I was talking about this with Chevy Chase once because, every couple years the critics will come out and say "Saturday Night Dead." Chevy told me, "People don't really remember the original years. They remember it fondly, but maybe one out of every three shows then were good. People just remember the good stuff." When you have a series that's on for so long, you're going to have times when people don't like it. But Weeds has committed writing. They've picked a direction and they're sticking with it. They're not trying to please everybody. That's how something stays on for a long time.
So the show has never changed what it's really about...
Yeah. And the nice thing about being in this business for so long is, I don't take it personally when people don't like something. I'm just glad it's been on for this long and I'm working. I look back at Saturday Night Live and I think, some people didn't like me doing Weekend Update. Who cares? A lot of people did. When you're reaching that many people, you're not going to have everybody like you.
It's interesting that you bring up SNL, because a whole bunch of the cast left after this past season. What's SNL like when the cast sort of goes through on an overhaul?
I was there for nine seasons. I was there for a lot of gradual cast changes. I was like an inmate doing the ten to 20, years and people were doing like five-year stints.
And Lorne Michaels was the warden?
Yeah. [Laughs] That's not really what it was. I enjoyed working there. It was a great experience for me. I know some people didn't have as great experiences, but I loved the whole setup. I loved the excitement. The show has been amazing the way it's endured all these seasons and generations almost. Chris Elliot was on the show, and now his daughter [Abby Elliott] is on the show. I'm sure we might be seeing some more of that stuff down the road. The comedy on it now isn't like it was when I was on, because comedy has changed. But new characters, new cast members, new people keep coming in and pumping more life in.
Did you feel like you made it when you were cast on SNL?
No, to this day, I haven't felt like I've made it. I'm waiting for them to pull the rug out from under me. I kind of feel like George Plimpton; I'm just experiencing this whole business with the really talented people.
How has your comedy changed over time?
As a comedian, you're kind of like a blues musician, you have to live a little bit. Right now a lot of my comedy is based on my real life, just twisted a little bit and exaggerated. So a lot of my standup is talking about fears that I have.
What's your biggest fear?
Well, death. I think of it constantly all the time.
So you're making jokes about that?
Yeah, on my comedy special, Whelmed but not Overly, which is on Showtime this August, I talk about some close calls I've had and horrible ways to die. Like, I think a chimp attack would be the worst way to go. You know, they rip your face off, then they go for the crotch. But at least they get your eyes out first so you don't have to watch them get your crotch.
I talk about when I really thought I was going to die, when I was carjacked once. I was very foolish. I told the guy, "You don't understand. I have a deal with Hertz that I would be the only driver of this car. You know, because it's a rental and I like to follow rules." I talk about my thoughts on chimp attacks versus a shark attack. Like for me when I stand by the ocean, if you're too close to shore there's a possibility of a chimp reaching in and pulling you out of the ocean. But there's a chance for shark attack a little further out. Then there's Somalian pirates further out. And then even further out, there's North Korea. So these are the thoughts that go through my head before I go into the ocean.