Anyone who saw Kevin Nealon during his SNL days is probably familiar with his character, Mr. Subliminal. For those not in the know, the character was a bit one-note (as many SNL characters tend to be) but reasonably funny. Nealon would talk in an even, measured manner while dropping subtle â€˜subliminal' messages into the normal flow of a conversation. While the bit hardly ever made me laugh out loud, it always brought a smile to my face. The same could be said for Nealon's stand-up act, covered here in Whelmed but not Overly. The cumulative effect is engaging in a low-key sort of way with a bit of subversive material scattered throughout. It isn't necessarily the sort of stand-up special you'll rave about to your friends the next day but it'll probably keep you entertained for an hour.
Calling Kevin Nealon genial is an understatement. He seems to always wear an easy smile and has the polished delivery of a Radio DJ. This natural conversational tone turns out to be a double-edged sword for Nealon. On the one hand, his seemingly friendly manner puts one in the right mindset for a night of comedy, an effect that a more abrasive comedian may work harder to achieve. On the other hand, his delivery can be so calming that it lulls you into a relaxed state which his punchlines are unable to cut through.
It doesn't help that not all of Nealon's material is equally sharp. There are some notable bits like an early story about going skiing that turns delightfully un-PC and a finale involving painful constipation, an enema and finding true love. Unfortunately, between these two points of his hour-long set, we have a whole lot of pleasantness crowding out a few choice nuggets. For every bit that lands (like the one liner "Never wear a red shirt to Target"), we have two that putter along before deciding that they have nowhere to go (like his confusion between eggnog and egg beaters or an endoscopy story that isn't as interesting as it could be).
The lack of connective tissue also hurts the show a bit. Disjointed funny bits can deliver a quick laugh but a planned attack that builds upon itself can keep me grinning for days. With that said, there are a few highlights that are definitely worth mentioning. There is a bit about tramp stamps turning into taint stamps that is raunchy without being outright vulgar (I don't believe Nealon ever utters an obscenity during the entire show). Another story about Nealon crop-dusting Jack Nicholson demonstrates that even when celebrities are involved, a fart joke can provide the perfect punchline.
Earlier, I called this special low-key and I honestly can't think of a better way to describe it. The parts that work are reasonably entertaining and the rest of it hardly ever frustrates. This is the comedy equivalent of a bowl of vanilla ice cream: tastes just fine if you're in the mood but hardly anything to get worked up about.
The anamorphic widescreen image is clear and sharp for the most part. A few long shots are a bit soft but hardly noticeable. The bright lighting early in the show also tends to hurt the contrast and some fine detail but the effect is fleeting. Skin tones are even throughout and the natural color palette looks perfectly acceptable in the dark environs of Nealon's intimate venue.
The audio mix isn't terribly dynamic but it is more than adequate for a stand-up show. Nealon's dialogue comes through with clarity and consistency. Audience noise is present but never rises to intrusive levels. The mix even provides capable support during the unexpectedly jazzy and percussive intro for the show.
The only extra is a CD that captures the audio mix for the entire show. It's a nice add-on for folks that want to listen to Nealon while doing something else but a few dedicated extras would have been even better.
The title of Kevin Nealon's stand-up special, Whelmed but not Overly, perfectly describes my feelings after watching it. The hour long set features a few highs, a few groaners and a whole lot of middle-of-the-road comedy that coasts along on Nealon's genial persona. Unless you're a die-hard fan, I would suggest a rental to make sure you and Nealon are operating on the same wavelength. Rent It.