Vun, Two, Pump Up the Update!

updated 11/18/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/18/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

IN HIS FIRST FIVE SEASONS ON SATURDAY Night Live, Kevin Nealon made quite a few names for himself: Pump You Up Franz, a lumpy Schwarzeneggerian bodybuilder; Subliminal Man, who says the correct thing, then blurts out his real thoughts; Gannon PIPI, the politically incorrect private investigator; and Bob Waltman, a tear-tugging male version of Barbara Walters. But this season Nealon has added what might be his most difficult character...himself.

Nealon has replaced Dennis Miller as the anchor for the "Weekend Update" segment, a slot that catapulted first Chevy Chase (1975—76), then Miller (who left in May after six years to host his own syndicated show) to greater stardom.

The jury is still out on Nealon's performance; in fact, his early efforts seemed a bit staid compared to Miller's. But Lorne Michaels, SNL's executive producer, believes Nealon "has poise, a calm delivery and is incredibly likable." Still, Nealon knows Miller is a tough act to follow. "I've already arranged some psychiatric counseling to deal with the rejection," he deadpans.

Riding an anchor desk—even a satirical one—wasn't among Kevin's dreams while growing up in Bridgeport, Conn. One of five children of Emmett Nealon, 65, an executive for Sikorsky Aircraft, and Kathleen, 61, a housewife, his lone childhood acting credit was essaying Gomer Pyle for a seventh-grade talent show. "Mostly, I was the clown at parties, telling jokes to a small circle of friends," he says. Nealon's love of comedy was matched by his passion for football. A star placekicker at tiny Fairfield (Conn.) University, Nealon flirted with pursuing pro ball (although he received no pro offers) but ultimately chose something equally risky: stand-up comedy.

Moving to Los Angeles in 1977, he tended bar at the famed Improvisation comedy club, often taking to the stage himself. "I'd come back and there'd be 20 people pissed off because they had to wait for drinks," he says. In 1983 the still jittery Nealon got a coveted shot on The Tonight Show. "As I was doing my act, I got cotton mouth, and when I smiled, my lips stuck to my gums. I didn't want to lick them because I thought people would think I was nervous, so I tried to bring the lower lip up to adjust for it."

No one else seemed to notice these facial gyrations, and by the time Nealon returned east in 1986 to sign on with SNL (Nealon's friend Dana Carvey, who had already been recruited by SNL, arranged a tryout), he'd become a regular on both Tonight and Late Night with David Letterman. The transition was made easier by Nealon's instant SNL support group—fellow rookies Carvey and Jan Hooks, whom Nealon had been dating in Los Angeles. Things proved a little too close for Nealon and Hooks (who left SNL last season to join the cast of Designing Women), and the relationship ended after that first season. "It was too difficult working together," he says. "There just wasn't enough time for our relationship to grow."

But two years later, Nealon would strike romantic pay dirt. In A.L. for a stand-up gig, he was introduced to Linda DuPree, a model and stunt-woman (she appeared on The Fall Guy, among other shows) who was in the audience with Nealon's friends. Due to return to New York the following day, the smitten Nealon changed his plans and stayed an extra week. After conducting a bicoastal relationship, Kevin and Linda married in 1989. "I thought he was the nicest guy I ever met," says Linda, 32. "Now I'm sure of it." Linda, an animal-rights activist, has filled their three-bedroom apartment in Greenwich Village with three homeless kittens. During SNL hiatuses, the couple shuttles to a two-bedroom ranch house in Hollywood. (The cats often travel with them.)

Eventually, L.A.'s the place the couple wants to call home. Last summer Nealon filmed a supporting role in the upcoming comedy All I Want for Christmas. "You make your mark on life by doing films," he says. Meanwhile he has a two-year contract at SNL. "I'm still enthralled with most of the hosts who come on," he admits. "You know how you look at someone when they aren't looking at you and say, 'Wow, that's his hair, his shirt.' I still feel like I'm a person off the street."

From Our Partners