Kevin Nealon doesn’t have to tour, but he still wishes to; the itch to return to stand-up will not leave him be.
The “Saturday Night Live” veteran who now co-stars on CBS’ “Man With a Plan” with Matt LeBlanc is taking time away from the sitcom to perform around the country, including Friday evening at the Kennedy Center.
“Stand-up is really my passion and what I started out doing almost 40 years ago,” Mr. Nealon, 63, told The Washington Times. “It’s hard for me to kind of describe what my stand-up is. A lot of my friends say my comedy sneaks up on you.”
Much like his jokes, the actor has enjoyed a lengthy career as a sneaky awkward foil who is just this side of turning any situation explosively hilarious. His suburban-husband-gone-rogue Doug on “Weeds” was played for laughs on the long-running Showtime black comedy, and he would often pepper his straight-man “Weekend Update” segments with “subliminal editorials,” an idea he crafted with comedy writer and now Sen. Al Franken.
As a young man, Mr. Nealon idolized Jerry Lewis, Steve Martin and Andy Kaufman. Before he was old enough to write his own material, he would often memorize jokes printed in Parade magazine and then recite them at parties as a way to find his voice.
“I was personalizing them as if they were my own,” he said, adding that he has refined his comic tone over the years to be “conversational.”
That attempt to find one’s own personality on stage is key, he said, for comedians to differentiate themselves from the crowded field. That and continual practice.
“People are interested by things they’re not hearing from other comics,” Mr. Nealon said, saying his own routine focuses on family, current events and other topics. “There’s so many stand-ups out there now. Try to be unique and different, [and] people will remember you.”
When he was coming up through the club circuit in the ‘70s, Mr. Nealon said the business was fairly homogenous, with “Italians, Irish, African-American and Jewish comics.” But as the culture has diversified, so have the comedians.
“Now you go into the comedy clubs and it’s like every country in the world — Iranians, Indians, you name it,” he said. “Everybody is doing stand-up now. It’s become much more ‘acceptable’ and accessible.”
Another change is that TV talk shows have become more informal, Mr. Nealon said. On Monday evening, Mr. Nealon was on Conan O’Brien’s TBS show, in which he and the red-haired host — who have known one another since they were both on staff at “SNL” — seemed to be not so much having a conversation as tossing jokes at one another as if without an audience.
“You’d do Johnny Carson [in the 1980s], but you would never be that loose, because he was the king of the late-night talk shows,” Mr. Nealon said. “It’s different now because all of these guys [Mr. O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel] are my friends.”
Mr. Nealon was last at the Kennedy Center when Eddie Murphy was bestowed the 2015 Mark Twain Prize for Humor. Although he won’t have much time to see the sights during his trip this weekend, he is nonetheless looking forward to the capital stop on his tour.
“I’m so excited to go there,” he said. “I think people will have a lot of fun.”
• Kevin Nealon performs Friday at 8 p.m. in the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater. Tickets are available at Kennedy-Center.org.