Kevin Nealon’s book of caricatures an insightful draw

“I Exaggerate: My Brushes with Fame” by Kevin Nealon (Abrams Books)

It’s not exactly a surprise that Kevin Nealon is a talented guy.

After all, he is an accomplished stand-up comic, sketch player, actor and even golfer, having played in more than a few pro-am tournaments over the years.

But one of the 68-year-old entertainer’s lesser-known gifts became known only recently: Caricature art, which is the subject of Nealon’s delightful new book, “I Exaggerate: My Brushes with Fame.”

This cover image released by Abrams shows “I Exaggerate: My Brushes with Fame” by Kevin Nealon.

In it, Nealon shares original full-color caricatures of some of his celebrity pals as well as other famous folks he knows a little, or not at all.

Although the “Saturday Night Live” alum relays that he first became interested in drawing as a child, he didn’t pursue it “with much focus or passion until recently.”

That’s partly because, with stand-up gigs drying up due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nealon was able to throw himself more into this different kind of artistic expression.

What once were doodles committed to drink napkins, script margins and air sickness bags were now being painted on a digital tablet, which is how he produced the ones that appear in the book.

“Drawing caricatures became a substitute for stand-up, a nonverbal form of comedy and a great creative outlet,” Nealon writes in “I Exaggerate,” adding that he was encouraged by the support he received when posting some of his works to Instagram.

Each portrait is matched with an essay written about the person by Nealon.

The subjects run the gamut of popular culture: actors Jennifer Aniston, Timothée Chalamet and Anya Taylor-Joy; athletes Peyton Manning, Eli Manning and Arnold Palmer; musicians Lady Gaga, Freddie Mercury and James Taylor; comedians Jim Carrey, David Letterman and Steve Martin; and dozens more.

The caricatures are a joy to look at, each capturing the spirit of the subject in a way that only a skilled artist — and a person with keen observational skills — could produce.

The accompanying essays are more of a mixed bag. The ones that focus on friends and those with whom Nealon has a shared experience jump off the page and are a fitting complement to the drawings. The others can be a bit of a tougher read, because, in some cases, Nealon isn’t really revealing much about an already well-known person.

Highlights include a memorable late-1980s flight Nealon and some friends took from Denver to Los Angeles that was piloted by John Travolta; Nealon’s interactions with “SNL” host Christopher Walken, who reeked of garlic for unknown reasons; and he and fellow funnyman Dana Carvey coming face-to-face with Arnold Schwarzenegger at the height of the popularity of the “Hans and Franz” sketch, which poked fun at the muscular movie star.

If readers are only focused on the essays, they’ll fly through the breezy, funny and enjoyable “I Exaggerate.” But, if they’re anything like this reviewer, they’ll spend most of their time staring at the intricate and thoughtful illustrations.

Readers may come for the stories, but they’ll stay for the caricatures — the book’s real draw.

“Kevin Nealon: Brushes with Fame with Tim Meadows,” a chat between the two “SNL” alums about Nealon’s new book, “I Exaggerate: My Brushes with Fame,” takes place at 7:30 pm Oct. 29 at the David Rubenstein Forum, 1201 E. 60th St., under the auspices of the Chicago Humanities Festival. For tickets, visit chicagohumanities.org.

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