It’s been 30 years since Kevin Nealon made his stand-up debut on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” and the comic has continued playing on the road through a career that’s also included a nine-year run on “Saturday Night Live” and what seems like all of Adam Sandler’s movies.
In recent years, Nealon has had two hour-long comedy specials air on Showtime. The most recent, 2012’s “Whelmed … But Not Overly,” he taped in Denver.
“I could’ve taped my special anywhere and I chose Colorado because I seem to connect the best with those audiences there,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s the pot thing or what.”
The “pot thing,” of course, stems from his memorable stoner character, Doug, on the series “Weeds.”
“A lot of people assume I’m a pothead because of that show, but I’m not a pot smoker,” he said, adding with a laugh: “It’s just good acting I think. I’ve had people offer me tons of pot over the years.”
So keep your pot to yourselves when Nealon returns to Aspen for a two-night run at Belly Up this weekend. Dave Metcalf, the hunchbacked Mormon comic from Utah and self-proclaimed “funniest man on the short bus,” opens both nights.
Through his long career, Nealon’s stand-up routine has been bolstered by his keen eye for the bizarre and his lighthearted take on life and current events.
“My set is always evolving, and I’m always looking for new things,” he said. “When you first start out, you’re emulating someone. So when I first started out, people were doing Richard Pryor or Steve Martin or David Letterman. You get to a point where you discover your style – once you find that you keep evolving, because you’re living your life and evolving. So it’s always changing. But mine is more reflecting on my life and how I see things.”
After he became a father, in 2007, his stand-up material including riffs on his wife’s pregnancy, kids and fatherhood (it was also the subject of his 2008 memoir, “Yes, You’re Pregnant, but What About Me?”). The 2012 special brought him back into the realm of spot-on observational humor and included bits on getting food poisoning (“I wish when you threw up the sound told you what the food was that you ate, so you could pinpoint it”), one on seasonal sleeping habits, another on driving while talking on a cell phone and a memorable story about crop-dusting Jack Nicholson on the set of “Anger Management.”
Nealon said he can never predict the demographic of his crowds because he gets a mix of longtime fans from his stand-up and his “Saturday Night Live” days and housewives who know him from his regular appearances on “Ellen” alongside the “Weeds” fans and guys in the cult following of “Grandma’s Boy.”
“I’m lucky in that way,” he said. “I get an eclectic group of people.”
Through his time in the entertainment business, hitting the road to do stand-up has been the only constant.
“It’s what I got into the business to do, and I never let it go,” he said. “Even when I was doing ‘Saturday Night Live’ and ‘Weeds,’ I never stopped doing it. Sometimes people ask, ‘What’s it like getting back into stand-up?’ But the truth is I never left. It’s really my passion.”
Though it’s been nearly two decades since he left “Saturday Night Live,” he said, he still gets people on the street asking him to do “Hans and Franz” (his bit with Dana Carvey, recently revived for an insurance commercial) or “Mr. Subliminal,” or chatting him up about his stint as host of the show’s “Weekend Update.”
“A lot of times I’ll hear, ‘Hey, I grew up watching you,’” he said. “It’s pretty amazing and flattering that people still remember that stuff.”
He has disengaged from the show in the years since he left, though.
“I don’t even know what the current cast is, I couldn’t tell you what they’re doing,” he said. “I DVR it and I try to keep up, but the problem is there’s too much good TV now. You have to binge-watch everything. And then that sets you behind on everything and you’ve gotta, like, binge-brush your teeth.”
A regular Colorado visitor, he’s worked skiing into his routines here and there, including a memorable bit he performed on “Conan,” playing with ski jargon double entendres like “white powder,” “grooming” and “black diamond.”
“I was in Colorado and I pulled into this convenience store and I said to the guy, ‘What’s the best mountain to go skiing at round here?’ He said, ‘I like Copper Mountain, but a lot of people don’t like to go there because of all the blacks.’ I thought, ‘Wow, racist.’ And then he said, ‘I don’t mind the blacks, I have a lot of fun with them, but they will beat you up.’”
Nealon has played Aspen a handful of times over the years, including with the cast of “Saturday Night Live” at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, doing remote spots for “The Tonight Show” and doing stand-up last winter at Belly Up.
On his last trip here, Nealon was one of the eyewitness to the Jan. 5 plane crash at the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport, and among the first to report it via Twitter.
“I want to erase that memory with some new memories,” he said.