Nealon, Not Damon 

Banjo pickin' with the smoking star of "Weeds."

click to enlarge art44_lede_kevin_nealon_148.jpg

You never know who you might meet enjoying a smoke.

Drifting down Cary Street a couple of weeks ago, I spotted none other than Kevin Nealon, taking a break from his four-night run at the Funny Bone Comedy Club. I approached the comic as he browsed Lane Sanson with his wife, actress Susan Yeagley, and they agreed to meet with me later.

When I arrived at the club, the couple greeted me, and we sat down to talk. An hour later, I learned that an unreliable recorder had made much of our conversation a memory, and Nealon offered me another chance. The next day, not wishing to repeat questions, I brought a guitar and a banjo, which I placed in Kevin's lap. He immediately began picking, offering suggestions to improve the instrument.

A comic since his debut at Hollywood's Improv Comedy Club in 1978, he takes his riotous act to clubs nationally and stars in the critically lauded Showtime comedy "Weeds."

Nealon was down-to-earth. A soon-to-be father who showed off a cell-phone sonogram image of the child, he wisecracked: "We don't want to know the sex. Ever." As he picked a bluegrass breakdown Earl Scruggs-style, he asked me to perform one of my own songs.

Style: Congrats on the baby!

Nealon: Thanks. Yeah, we got married in Italy this year, at Lake Como. We wanted to have nice, quiet affair. So we go to this town called Bellagio, and little do we know three weeks before we got there, Matt Damon had been there looking for a wedding chapel to get married in, and there was an article in a local paper saying that an American celebrity was coming there to get married. So we go up to our little wedding hall, and we were surprised because there was all this paparazzi in the square. And I realize they think I'm Matt Damon. So I came out and I apologized. I said, "I'm sorry, I'm not Matt Damon." But they followed us anyway — they got into an argument with our photographer, all these Italians yelling. The next morning we're at breakfast by the water, and I notice somebody reading the local paper. Our picture was on it with the headline, "Non atta Matt Damon," which means, "not Matt Damon." We got four copies. It was pretty funny.

"Weeds" is funny, too. That's one strong ensemble.

Yeah, it's a smart show, and the writers are really good, and they picked a good cast, I think.

You were nominated for a writing Emmy in 1987.

That was my first job for ["Saturday Night Live," as a] feature player and writer. It was exciting to be part of that group. They guaranteed me, I think, seven or eight shows out of the year. Luckily, I got on all of them. The next season they said, you can be a regular cast member, or you can be a feature and keep your writing credit, what do you want to do? So I said I'll be a regular cast member and I'll still write; you don't have to give me credit.

"Weeds" got a Golden Globe.

Yeah, Mary Louise Parker beat out the "Desperate Housewives," which was pretty cool. I was sitting right next to her when she won. And then it got five Emmy nominations this year, and ["Weeds" co-star] Elizabeth Perkins was one, and I think it [won] a couple out of that. [Nominated for four, but did not win any.]

How much ad-libbing happens on the show?

Not too much. I'll embellish some of the scenes, I'll add stuff at the end, or we'll try a bunch of takes. Like there's this one scene where I was sniffing a Sharpie, you know, and then I tried a whole bunch of different takes. One was "Ah, Bridgeport, Connecticut, lifeguarding," because I used to be a lifeguard in Connecticut. Another one was, "Ah, Boy Scouts." So I embellish a bunch of stuff, and they pick the one they want.

Your character Doug doesn't care about city council. What's he doing?

You know, he loves being a city councilman. He's been doing it a long time, and he takes it for granted that he'll always be re-elected. He's also an accountant, a very good accountant. But his primary focus is on getting pot and smoking it, and enjoying it.

What municipal issues rankle Doug?

That he won't get enough pot. That his source will be cut off. Yeah. He's got a whole other set of issues he's concerned about, and that's keeping it growing. But this year, he's part of a group where they have a grow house.

You're could carry a film, yet you take roles where you're not the focus.

Adam Sandler — I've ridden on his coattails for the last ten years or so. It's always something embarrassing. [He mimics Sandler] "Hey, Nealon, I want you to play Tit-Heady Skull. He's got breasts on his head, and you play the gatekeeper of hell." I said OK. There's another one: "Hey, Nealon, I want you to play my lawyer. He's gay, you all right with that?" I said OK.

It's been fun being in his films, and it's always fun being on his set because he's got basketball hoops set up, and he's got guitars around, and we get into these laughing fits. They have to stop the cameras and start them up again.

What's next for you?

Well, I'm trying to move on from the old characters and [into] all the new material I'm trying to build. I like doing the stand-up comedy; it's what I started out doing before anything, you know. One of the highlights of my career [was] doing "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson. I got to sit down on the couch with him. And nothing has really superseded that. Even "Saturday Night Live" wasn't as much of a rush as doing that.

You're very concerned with animals' rights; you've been a vegetarian for 17 years and do extensive work for PETA.

I started reading up on factory farming and the way they treat the animals. It's amazing how much you ignore, the things you don't know. You learn over the years. … I do a lot of work with local animal shelters around Los Angeles. I'm a big proponent of spaying and neutering your pets. There are so many animals that are homeless and in shelters, and they're being euthanized every year, millions of them.

How are you guys enjoying Richmond?

Richmond is great. I love this town. You know, I went down Monument Avenue, I saw the great generals. I saw General Robert E. Lee, I saw Stonewall Jackson, I saw General Arthur Ashe. So many great, great generals. S

Season two of "Weeds" airs on Showtime at 10 p.m. Mondays. "Weeds: Season 1" is available on DVD.

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