RIO RANCHO, N.M. — There was a time when Kevin Nealon, growing up in Bridgeport, Conn., thought about someday being a park ranger or a pilot, which is quite a shift from his life as an actor and stand-up comedian.
For a short time, he thought about joining a band, but decided being on stage in that format would be “too intimate.
“My father said if I was a dentist, I could afford a convertible,” Nealon said in a recent telephone interview, prior to his upcoming “gig” at The Stage.
Yes, he’s been in New Mexico before, having done stand-up in a comedy club – he doesn’t remember the name – about 30 years ago.
What comedy club would stand the test of time like an appearance on the “Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, who prefaced his nearly eight-minute routine in August 1984 by telling the audience Nealon possessed a “really bizarre sense of humor”?
“That was probably most exciting night of my life,” Nealon said. “He called me over to the couch; that was the biggest high — for me that was a home run.”
There was only one Johnny Carson — and only one “Saturday Night Live,” still running since its debut in 1975, when Steve Martin hosted the first show.
Nealon said he was a big fan of that “wild and crazy guy,” as well as of comics like George Carlin, Bill Cosby, Andy Kaufman, Albert Brooks and Freddie Prinze.
Nealon said he turned to comedy because, “I liked making people laugh.”
He recalled going to a show at Catch a Rising Star in New York City, but decided it was a “scary, brash crowd; L.A. was more laid back.” So he headed west.
He caught a break and began performing as a standup comedian in the late ‘70s while working as a bartender at Hollywood’s Improv.
Most people know him from his nine-year stint (1986-95) on “Saturday Night Live,” where he anchored the “Weekend Update” news desk, and did the popular “Hanz and Franz” routine with Dana Carvey.
“There’s a lot of highlights (from SNL),” he said. “Hanz and Franz, especially when (Arnold) Schwarzenegger came on (in 1989). And working with some of my idols, Steve Martin and Chevy Chase — it was a great opportunity to hang out with those people.”
How did he remain focused in the limelight and not succumb to excesses like Chris Farley, John Candy, John Belushi and others from his generation?
“All those people had trouble controlling the excesses — they were all larger-than-life people,” he said. “(Other) people saw it coming.”
He’s had roles in some of his SNL mates’ movies, such as Adam Sandler’s “Little Nicky” and David Spade’s “Joe Dirt.”
“I’ve had ideas for shooting movies — something missing in my life,” he said, adding that when he gets that chance, it’ll be a dark comedy.
Today, Nealon co-stars with Matt LeBlanc on CBS TV’s “Man with a Plan.”
That’s where his dry humor comes into play. In one recent episode, LeBlanc’s character, Matt Burns, tells his brother Don (Nealon), “You’re a genius.”
“I get that a lot,” Nealon replies.
Attendees at his four shows at The Stage will find him likeable and not about to overwhelm them with “F-bombs.”
“I’ll be trying out a lot of new stuff, getting new material, fleshing out everything coming in my head,” he said.
To get local material, he said, he’ll ask his driver what’s going on in the metro area and catch up on scandals.
“My act is really clean, (but) there’s innuendos,” he said.
If you go:
Who: Stand-up comic Kevin Nealon
When: 7 & 9:30 p.m., June 28-29
Where: The Stage in Santa Ana Star Casino
Cost*: Tickets are $25, $30 and $35.
More info: santaanastar.com
(* show is for ages 21 and older)