Most people first got to know Kevin Nealon when he was one of the funniest members of one of the funniest casts that “Saturday Night Live” ever had. Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Mike Myers and Jon Lovitz were among his cast mates during his nine years on the show.
Others saw him first in “Weeds,” the hit Showtime series on which he co-starred with Mary-Louis Parker for eight seasons.
But for Nealon, his career peaked years before either of those shows.
“The highlight of my career was doing stand-up on ‘The Tonight Show’ with Johnny Carson in 1984,” Nealon said in a phone interview from Los Angeles. “Nothing has exceeded that, for excitement. Not ‘Saturday Night Live,’ not all the movies. Nothing has been better than that.”
So even though most of us think of Nealon as a sketch comic or a comic actor, he has always thought of himself primarily as a stand-up comedian.
“Stand-up has always been my passion,” he said.
Nealon will be in Sarasota doing what he loves best this weekend. He’ll be at McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre for four shows on Friday and Saturday.
That “Tonight Show” gig was Nealon’s network TV debut. He was supposed to do his bit and go home, but he apparently impressed Carson.
“I went behind the curtain and the talent coordinator told me that Johnny wanted me to go out after the commercial,” he said. “He called me over and I talked to him on the couch. I was over the moon about it.”
His work in films and TV series has to be pretty tightly scripted, but his stand-up is more fluid, based around his life experiences and observations. Every show’s a little different than the last, though people who saw his act a year ago might recognize a bit of the same material that has stayed in the show in a different form.
“It’s kind of like a jazz musician,” he said. “It’s pretty loose.”
He still does plenty of work outside of stand-up. He’s plays Matt LeBlanc’s brother on “Man With a Plan,” a CBS series now in its second season. LeBlanc plays a stay-at-home dad. Nealon is always trying to help, but his schemes end up backfiring.
“Matt’s the man with a plan,” he said. “I’m the man without a plan.”
He has a little side project too, a series of videos on Instagram and Twitter that he calls “Hiking With Kevin.” In each video he goes on a hike with a different celebrity while he interviews him or her. Guest hikers so far have included Matthew Modine, Rosanna Arquette and Nealon’s wife, “Parks and Recreation” actor Susan Yeagley.
Nealon performs in this area fairly often. He was at the Palladium in St. Petersburg last year, and at McCurdy’s in 2014. It’s a date he always looks forward to.
“I really like McCurdy’s,” he said. “And my parents live in Fort Myers so I always go see them when I’m down there.”