When Kevin Nealon nervously approached Andy Kaufman on the sidewalk in front of The Improv in Hollywood back in the late ‘70s, it proved to be a surreal moment – one he vividly remembers.
Nealon, who would later become a star on “Saturday Night Live” and “Weeds,” was tending bar at the Improv while also cutting his teeth on stage at the renowned comedy club. Though, his memorable meeting with the “Taxi” star was more awkward than sidesplitting.
“I didn’t know Andy that well but I’d see him coming into the Improv to perform,” Nealon said. “He was very elusive, like a lot of comics are, and quiet. I knew he was into transcendental meditation, so one day out in front of the Improv I asked him about it just to get a conversation going.”
While Nealon, now 58, would soon have encounters with celebrities every week on “SNL,” back in his rookie days he was still in awe of comedy legends.
“Andy talked about it for over an hour in front of the club,” Nealon said. “I didn’t really listen that much to what he was saying because it was all so foreign to me. I just kind of stared at his face and said to myself, ‘Wow, that’s Andy Kaufman right there.’”
In 1984 Kaufman succumbed to his battle with lung cancer. That same year, Nealon debuted on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.” Two years later he joined the cast of “SNL,” where he stayed for nine seasons, working alongside Adam Sandler, Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey and Chris Farely.
Nealon put his stamp on the show with his characters Mr. Subliminal, Franz (of Hanz and Franz), and his time hosting the Weekend Update, where he’d sign off with, “And that’s news to me.”
“I had a good time working there,” he said. “When we first came on to that show it was about to be cancelled because the ratings were so low and people didn’t like it … We were kind of living out of our suitcase week-to-week not knowing the future of the show. Luckily the ratings picked up and it got better.”
Even with the success of “Weeds,” writing books and his busy family life, Nealon goes back to his Improv roots: stand-up comedy. He recently released Now Hear Me Out, his first hour-long stand-up DVD. But Nealon said his upcoming performance at LaughFest in Grand Rapids will not be a repeat of that material.
“It’ll be mostly different, probably about 95 percent different. I’m working on a new special right now, so I’ll have a whole new act of new material – possibly even newer material that I don’t even have yet.”