You don’t understand how much I wanted to like Kevin Nealon’s new CD, “Whelmed...But Not Overly.” I've always been a fan of Nealon and his gentle, subtle approach to comedy. When he took over Weekend Update duties from Dennis Miller on Saturday Night Live, I recall it being a rough transition for him. He simply wasn’t Dennis Miller and many people who had come to love Miller’s sardonic, head-bobbing outlook on current events seemed irate that Nealon wasn’t Dennis 2.0. While people took to the streets in outrage, I seemed to be in the minority of people who liked Nealon’s contrasting persona. He didn’t take the news quite so seriously. Instead of trying to do what Miller did, Nealon drew from Chevy Chase’s time behind the desk, opting for fewer obscure Chaucer references and instead going with sheer light-hearted silliness. There was also an air of good person-ness that bled through.
Kevin Nealon has that nice guy aura that most celebrities hope they are projecting. He’s one of the few people you see on television or in the movies that you feel is genuinely a Good Guy in real life. I imagine if I ran into him at the grocery store or on the street and, surprised to be bumping into Kevin Nealon!, stumbled through some sort of “Oh my gosh, I’m a huge fan, you’re really funny” mini-rant, he would smile and say “Thanks, I appreciate it,” and I would feel as if he genuinely was thankful and he really did appreciate it.
Which is why I was somewhat crestfallen to not fall in love with his surprisingly appropriately-titled album. What really seemed to stick the knife in my gut and twist it is I think it falls flat because Nealon is a nice guy. There’s no bite, no anger or ill-will or spite that is sometimes so necessary in stand up. Nealon makes some good observations but he doesn’t seem to have an opinion about them one way or another. He just points out observations. It may sound nit-picky but it makes a big difference.
I think it’s a fair statement to say Jerry Seinfeld wouldn't be categorized as an "angry comedian." But, for example, when he observes how small the packages of airplane peanuts are, the humor came when it irked him a bit. I feel if Nealon had a bit on airplane peanuts, he would just happily say they’re small. Again, I may be splitting hairs, but I think it turns out to be a key factor. It’s akin to comedy from Ned Flanders. He’s just too nice.
Another factor that stood out to me was the very-obvious laugh track present throughout much of the album. The producers didn’t seem to attempt to cover their tracks and there were more than a couple of occasions where it was so glaringly obvious, I wondered what they were covering up (maybe an audience that also wanted more?). As Nealon approaches his material on relationships, he mentions that communication is key. And there’s a HUGE roar from the crowd that screamed out, CANNED LAUGHTER. Huh? Why there? That’s not a joke, that’s part of a setup. Why they would sweeten a spot that isn’t even designed to be a punchline is beyond me, but it made me suspicious of every other crowd response.
At the end of the day, I still like Kevin Nealon. I think he’s a Good Guy and I’m glad he’s still working and doing his thing. He seems to be happy and I’m glad for that, too, but when it comes to his standup, I’m whelmed but...well...you know the rest.