Over the years standup comic, SNL alumni, and film/TV star David Spade has been slowly growing out of his “comic brat extraordinaire” pants and into something more comfortable and well-fitting. Thanks in part to his 2015 memoir Almost Interesting and a few in-depth interviews, Spade’s fans have been treated to a more insightful, open and charming side of the 51-year-old entertainer. Spade says that this side “has always been there,” just less visible through the types of characters he chose to play. But fans of the wry, snarky Spade shouldn’t worry – he’s not losing his edge entirely. Spade is still doing standup, touring about with pals like Adam Sandler and Ray Romano, and is getting his kicks as the creator of truTV’s Fameless, a hidden camera show that places desperate-to-be-famous reality TV wannabes on fake shows to see just how far they’re willing to go for a moment in the spotlight. I chatted with Spade about the show, his early rise to success and the challenges of standing out in a blurry entertainment industry.
I listened to your recent WTF episode. One of the things I found to be the most interesting were the listener comments. A lot of people expressed that they saw a side of you that they didn’t know was there. People have also said the same thing after reading your book. Have you been actively trying to show the public a different side of yourself beyond what they might only know from your stage and screen persona?
I think it has always been there. I just don’t know if people… they know me from shows and stuff. Even when I do talk shows I always just do what’s funny. You know, play on the horn dog/skirt chaser thing that started during Just Shoot Me! I don’t mind that, but I’m obviously not totally like that. These podcasts like Marc Maron’s and the book, once you get a chance to sit and talk and discuss things your actual personality comes out and that sometimes is better because you get into areas that you won’t when you’re only with Jimmy Fallon for a few minutes. I like that. I like doing these things where you get to open up a little bit. Stern is always good. Maron I actually had a lot of feedback from. I don’t know him well, but it was great to sit with him for a while because he said, “I don’t know you well. You seem sort of like an unapproachable guy.” Which, if it’s true, it’s true. But we talked about that. It was good to get into a lot of stuff that I don’t get into. I’m older too. So if people know more about me I don’t mind that.
You started out in standup doing some prop comic stuff. You’ve talked about how Norm Macdonald encouraged you to lose the props. But it wasn’t until you were on HBO Young Comedians that you broke out. That one spot eventually led to SNL, right?
Yeah, that was a big, huge help. It’s always sort of a series. Like in the book I said that getting on Joan Rivers to do five minutes was a big one because they asked me to guest host a week later. I was 23. I said no. They thought it was interesting that I didn’t say yes right away. After that, Young Comedians was a big one. Then getting SNL. Then I did Johnny Carson and that was a big one. As you get older they’re less effective, but good for promotion. People stop judging every one. It used to make or break you. Now it’s like, I just did Ellen for the 20th time. I still love it, but I don’t think people go, “He’s funny,” or, “He’s not.” They either like me or they don’t at this point.
You said TV appearances are getting less effective for you, but do you think that young comics coming up now are also dealing with late night spots and Comedy Central Half Hours being less effective in this day and age?
I do think it’s harder in this day and age. There’s a billboard on Sunset that my Comedy Central special was on. I loved it. But now about every two weeks it flips for a new one. When I did my first HBO special there were probably four a year from different comics. It was really a big deal. Now you can do it on Netflix, Starz, Epix, Comedy Central, HBO, put it out on your own online, whatever. It starts to be blurry. It’s very, very hard for a newer comic to bust out of the pack. Same thing with talk shows, there are too many.
At the same time, we also exist in a world where people can become big stars in niche areas. We have Vine stars and YouTube celebrities. Maybe a comic won’t take off after a Conan appearance, but maybe they’ll have a web series that gets picked up or something.
That’s actually a better point than I was making. I should have said that in the book. There’s a new wave. Everything you can’t get the regular way, like Carson or whatever, isn’t as important anymore. You can go to YouTube, Vine, Twitter, Instagram. There are other ways to get famous. There’s still probably the same amount of people breaking through. It’s just in a different way.
You’re still doing a good bit of standup. I see that you’re doing a thing with Adam Sandler, Norm Macdonald, and Rob Schneider. You have some dates with Ray Romano coming up. Even though you’ve had success in movies and TV, are you at heart a standup comedian? Is that something you will always continue to do no matter what?
I don’t know. It’s hard. Adam probably wanted to keep doing it, but suddenly he had back-to-back movies. When you do that, something gives. My hours were late and I didn’t have time to go to clubs. As much as I loved standup my focus had to shift. With SNL I kept it alive a little bit here and there. With Just Shoot Me! I had nights free, so I could get back into it. I think it’s actually getting pretty good again. It’s very hard to do and I will do it as long as I can because it’s one of the few jobs you can’t get fired from. The touring is tough. I don’t like to do it as much. This one with Adam, Rob, and Norm will be really fun because it’s all of us idiots together. I look forward to that. We did a practice show last night and it was really fun. But going out on my own, it’s still hard to write, link it together, and make it all make sense. But you’re your own boss. If you do good you kind of feel good about yourself for a minute. If you do good in Grown Ups, that’s Adam, Kevin James, Chris Rock. It’s a lot of factors. In standup you live or die by just walking up there. That’s the fun part. That’s the challenge. It’s still challenging and still scary.
Let’s talk about Fameless on truTV. Are you personally a fan of reality TV?
I just got on my Facebook and made fun of The Bachelor. I like to make fun of them because they’re ridiculous. There was a time when people thought they might go away, but they’re for sure not going away. I have a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude. I think some of them are fun and interesting. They definitely bring out a lot of crazy characters to watch. That’s the fun part. I don’t know if anyone is learning anything from it.
Maybe there’s a lesson. Your show has provoked discussion as to whether prank shows are mean-spirited or not. The people you have on Fameless are people who have already applied to be on reality shows. They’ve gone through a vetting process they’ve to get approved and they’re just waiting to get picked up by a reality show, right?
Right. That was sort of the appeal. I don’t like the idea of celebrities making fun of regular people. That’s stupid. We tried to hand pick the ones that were so through the roof. The guy Kevin Healey, who does it with me and Ben Silverman, those two both had launched reality shows, but he said it’s such a waste because people have to go through psychiatric evaluations. They have to go through everything and they still want to be on TV. They don’t care. They just want to be famous. They have to be in front of a camera. Some of them are super cocky, going, “I have so much charisma and talent.” There’s a slight meanness to it, but it’s so dumb. It’s not that mean to me.
What kind of mentality does someone have to have in order to think that being on a reality show is going to be their stepping stone to fame?
I know, right? I don’t know. In the old days you used to worry about your sons or daughters going out to LA and having the talent to make it. Now they watch the Kardashians and go, “Hey, I argue with my family in the kitchen. I hate my sisters. I could do this.” There’s not much to it. Just turn a camera on and follow me around. It’s like Snapchat. Snapchat is like an audition for a reality show. Like, “Is this interesting?” People have a voyeur quality and I guess like it. I get caught up in it too. Give me almost any reality show, like Hillbilly Handfishin’, and two minutes in I’m like, “Ok, so Jed doesn’t want him to go in the tow truck.” You get caught up in it.
You’re right. It only takes me about 30 seconds. Does the storage locker have treasure in it? What will everyone say about this person’s new haircut? Reality show producers have mastered the art of storytelling through micro-moments that for some reason seem important when they’re really not.
You need a skillful hand. My brother called me the other day. He said, “Hey, how do you get into the reality show business? My friend is a lawyer with three kids and she wants to be a drag racer.” I said, “Listen Brian, that’s as good an idea as any of this shit out there. You just need the right people to do it.” That could be horrible or it could be great. I’ve seen worse ideas somehow be captivating.
You recently tweeted about the 20th anniversary of Black Sheep and were reflecting on your memories of Chris Farley. I’ve noticed a theme anytime you talk about Chris and that’s one of avoiding the negative stuff and instead pushing the positive stories and memories.
There’s a whole group of kids that don’t really know what happened. They just know he passed away. They may catch him on something, maybe they just saw Tommy Boy or this and that. I like to remind people of the funny things we did backstage or any memories that are just fun instead of the dreary stuff. I think that just bogs down his memory.