On his YouTube show Hiking with Kevin, Kevin Nealon doesn’t look like a former Saturday Night Live star. He looks like a dad out for a morning walk: slightly sweaty and disheveled, wearing a bucket hat and big glasses. But that’s kind of the point. The SNL veteran and former Weeds actor is using those mundane morning walks to provide an unexpected, slightly voyeuristic—and surprisingly unvarnished—glimpse into the lives of celebrities.
The twentyish-minute videos feel handmade—it’s just him and a camera mounted on a selfie stick—but over the past two seasons, he’s managed to land high-profile guests like Diana Nyad, Owen Wilson, and Aubrey Plaza. Brad Paisley, who was on an early episode, wrote the theme song. Matt LeBlanc almost pushed him off a cliff on one of their hikes. Aside from the occasional moment of danger, the show attracts almost 200,000 subscribers, because Nealon has dug into something that a lot of outdoor types already take for granted: hiking is a really good way to get to know people.
Nealon is back with a third installment of episodes in September. We asked him why he wanted to go for hikes in the first place, who was the least prepared person he’s hiked with, and how rambling around in the Hollywood Hills has opened up surprising doors.
How It Started
“It kind of came about organically. I was hiking with Matthew Modine, who is a friend.”
“We’re hiking, and it’s really steep, and we’re an hour in, huffing and puffing, and I asked him, ‘Did you ever turn down anything you regret?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, after Full Metal Jacket, I turned down the Michael J. Fox role in Back to the Future and the Tom Hanks role in Big. I blew it.’” We both laughed, but it felt like we were getting into something, and I thought, Wouldn’t it be funny if I recorded it and posted it to Instagram?”
How It’s Made
“I started with selfie stick and an iPhone camera, and then people were commenting, saying, ‘Get a steady cam. Come on, you can afford it!’ I got a rig with a GoPro, an Evo Gimbal, and an external mic, so it’s not so fuzzy. It’s not highly produced, and I think people are attracted to that, because they can relate to it. Sometimes I’ll make a list of what I’m going to ask people, but usually it’s organic. When you’re out hiking, it opens up your mind. We’ll talk about anything from rattlesnakes to moving to Europe. It’s fun for me, because I get to hang out with these fun, creative people. I like hiking alone, but hiking with people makes things go by faster.”
Why Hiking in L.A. Is More Intense than You’d Think
“I’ve lived here for 40 years, and I’m still discovering all the canyons. When I first moved to this neighborhood in west L.A., I was on Weeds, and in the morning, I’d go hiking and bring my scripts so I could work on them. I was usually the first one on the trail in the morning, all the cobwebs were still there, and one morning I heard a deep guttural growl—definitely knew it was a mountain lion. The next day, they caught a 200-pound lion right there.”
Why Hiking with Celebs Works
“I think that when you’re hiking, and you’re not looking eye to eye, you feel more free. I don’t know if it’s endorphins or what, but when people pass me on the trail, they’re always talking about heavy stuff. Surprising stuff comes up. When I hiked with Conan O’Brien, he revealed that anxiety is in his family. I found out that Adam Sandler was in a private jet that almost crashed. David Spade told me that his assistant tried to kill him once.”
The Celebs He’s Hiked With
“At first it was my friends, then it was people that I thought would be interesting or that I admire. I’ve hiked with some people who are flatlanders. Howie Mandel had to buy hiking clothes. Lin Manuel Miranda showed up with a cup of coffee. Jeff Goldblum got so lost that he couldn’t find the trail, so we ended up hiking for two hours in the dark.”
The Celebs He’s Going to Hike with This Season (and Beyond)
“I can tell you that Molly Shannon and Chelsea Handler are both in really good shape. I went hiking with Eddie Izzard for season three. We went up to the Hollywood Hills. He’s a marathoner, and I was dying. It was a hot day, but I kept pushing myself. It’s made me realize that when you’re tired, you can go farther than you think you can.”
“I want to get Ellen or Oprah. And the Obamas. Either Obama.”