Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 35 years. In our column Saturday Night’s Children, we present the history, talent, and best sketches of one SNL cast member each week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.
While the strength of some SNL cast members lies in their versatility and range, others are more well known for a core attitude or sensibility, and David Spade is one specific, sarcastic smartass whose characters and catchphrases were some of the most successfully annoying in SNL’s history. With roles like the obnoxious steward on Total Bastard Airlines or grating receptionist at Dick Clark Productions, Spade proved that a sketch doesn’t need to recur a dozen times to ingrain lines like “And you are…?” and “BUH-bye!” into SNL viewer minds forever.
Spade began his comedy career during his college years at Arizona State, where he performed stand-up in the university sketch show Farce Side Comedy Hour. After graduating with a degree in Business, he kept odd jobs and continued stand-up by touring clubs and campuses across the country, and at a performance in Los Angeles he was discovered by a casting agent and offered a role in Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol. In 1989 he performed alongside five other comics (including later SNL cast mate Rob Schneider) on HBO’s 13th Annual Young Comedians Special. The show’s host Dennis Miller helped Spade join the cast of SNL as a featured player only a year later.
Up against stars like Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, and Mike Myers, Spade only appeared three times during his first season on SNL and had to fight against the disadvantage of a large and established cast alongside newcomers Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider. The arrival of Chris Farley turned the 90s Sandler bro club into a new generation of SNL stars, with Spade acting as Farley’s smarmy comic foil in sketches like Matt Foley or the Gap Girls. Since Dennis Miller (and later Kevin Nealon) already had the Weekend Update anchor seat, Spade found ways to incorporate his stand-up roots into the show with segments like Spade In America and Hollywood Minute, which gave him the opportunity to do what he did best — deliver punchlines and rag on celebrities in the news. But his willingness to make fun of himself matched even his harshest celebrity insults, and that’s what made him more than just a wiseass Hollywood hater. “It is always endearing to watch someone make fun of themselves,” Spade said in Live from New York. “You can’t hate someone that actually says, ‘I’m an idiot. I’m admitting I know you think so, and I’m okay with it.’”
Spade and Farley would go on to work together in Tommy Boy in 1995 and Black Sheep in 1996, but their duo movie career halted upon Farley’s tragic death just a year later. Since leaving SNL in 1996, Spade has been in shows and movies like Just Shoot Me!, Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, Joe Dirt, The Showbiz Show, Rules of Engagement, and Grandma’s Boy, and he also did voiceover work for Beavis & Butt-Head, The Emperor’s New Groove, and most recently Hotel Transylvania, set to release in 2012.
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.