Celebrity culture better run scared — David Spade’s coming to town! Comedy’s favorite smartass is back on the road with three shows at the Houston Improv, his first live gigs in a while, according to the Saturday Night Live star. “I’m doing a few sets at the Comedy Store [in L.A.] to practice for Houston,” Spade says. “I haven’t done a long set in a while, so it’s like homework to make sure I give a good show.”
Between movies (2016 saw Spade release two films exclusively to Netflix with cowboy epic The Ridiculous 6 and buddy comedy The Do-Over, both with frequent collaborator Adam Sandler) and an upcoming series, why still work the road? “Because it's still hard, and it wakes you up. You want to see if you can keep up with these guys, no matter what age,” he says. “It’s the one thing you have control over.”
The actor, who claims to have been a stand-up longer than anything else, started hitting the clubs right after graduating from high school in Arizona. “No one was doing it,” the comic says. “It was very weird, and [doing] it made my friends think I was weird. There was no stand-up scene back then, and Colin Quinn reminded me last week – there’s still no stand-up scene there.”
While not openly pursuing tough crowds, the Joe Dirt star admits he doesn’t completely hate facing a rough room. “I don’t like hecklers, but I don’t mind if I’m not doing well. It does make you work hard to get it going again.” Sometimes for the stage, Spade finds himself blind to an audience’s enjoyment level. “Sometimes people will like it, but they’re just a quiet crowd. That is legit, sometimes people feel too self-conscious to laugh.”
The hardest part of hopping back on the bike of the mike, Spade says, is his memory. “It’s like a play; you do forget the order sometimes,” he floats. “You don’t remember what goes where, the tag lines. Sometimes I’ll drop two minutes out of a bit, and no one is laughing because you forgot to set it up. You say the wrong thing and it throws everything off.“
For so many in the comedy field, the dream gig is clear: Saturday Night Live. Spade spent six years (’90-’96) on the esteemed NBC franchise, taking the sketch series by storm with a number of other young comics: Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider and Chris Farley, known informally as the Bad Boys of SNL.
“I was 25 and living in L.A.,” Spade recounts. “I was doing stand-up in the Valley, and you’d go to the Improv and I couldn’t believe Seinfeld was on the lineup, or Leno or Paul Reiser, even Kevin Nealon. These guys were great, and occasionally you’d bump into them. I knew Judd Apatow, Drake Sather [as well as] Sandler and Schneider, who I knew very well.”
Upon getting the call of the lifetime from producer Lorne Michaels, the comic says, his whole world flipped. “It was a game changer. I was a middle act, but when you get SNL, you’re automatically bumped up to a headliner,” he says. “You’re not ready; you have no time!” Spade admits to putting his nights at the clubs on hold during his first two years, instead focusing on writing sketches and developing segments for the show. “It was Rob and I first, then Adam, Farley, Rock were all there within a few months. That was sort of our gang.”
Spade describes a passing of the baton from the departing old guard (“Dennis Miller left, then Lovitz, Phil Hartman and eventually Carvey,” he explains), and finding his voice with the help of an all-star list
of writers. “Those guys were all so good,” says the performer. “If you could get [Robert] Smiegel, or Conan, or Bob Odenkirk to help you write a sketch, you were golden.” While sketch writing was entirely new to the Bad Boys (all but Farley had come from the world of stand-up), Spade says he found his way through by working with everyone. “I was not good at writing, but I got better. With Sandler, we could write some things. Farley didn’t really write, but he would always elevate whatever you gave him.”
After the ’94-’95 season, Lorne infamously cleaned house and fired the majority of his cast, including the entirety of Spade’s ensemble. “It’s funny,” he says. “When you see that Farley and Sandler got bumped and I didn’t – you can’t say it's because I was better. Something weird must have happened there, because I should’ve been axed first!” Sandler went on to star in back-to-back box office hits Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, while Farley churned out a number of cult hits, including two buddy movies with Spade himself: the legendary Tommy Boy and its spiritual successor, Black Sheep. “I never thought of it as a firing; I just thought they wanted to go off and do movies. I didn’t have a game plan like they did. It was too quick when they left; I had just a month to figure out if I was gonna come back.” Spade ultimately did, before leaving of his own volition to star in the Must See TV sitcom Just Shoot Me! “I did feel like the senior that had stayed too long,” he concedes. “We did have our time, but then you go.”
And yet, Spade says he’s always ready for a return cameo, if asked. “I’d like to be like Tina Fey; she goes back a lot. I should have gone back more after I left.”
Though the comic blushes at his nearly three decades in the field (he gives a good-humored heel turn at the number’s mere mention, quipping, “Easy, buddy, there might be girls reading this!”), the sarcastic slam king still has plenty of projects on the horizon. There’s the long-gestating comedy he’s written with Joe Dirt co-writer Fred Wolf, titled Nine Bastards. “We were gonna do it [until] I got offered Rules of Engagement," he says, speaking of his long-running series, co-starring Patrick Warburton, that ran on CBS through 2013. Then there’s potentially another sitcom, and another movie with Netflix – the streaming powerhouse that’s become quite the advocate of the '90s SNL crew. Plus Spade’s got an indie flick coming called Warning Shot, which sees him playing a much darker role. “It was totally straight, no jokes. It’s got kidnappings and shootings, totally different. It’s always fun to do something different.”
Looking back, Spade’s the first to confess some surprise at his comedy family’s strong longevity. “I knew we were all buddies, but it’s like college – you don’t know if you’re still gonna see everybody,” he says. “We’re very lucky we all still get along.” Despite the odds, the Grown Ups boys are always looking to hang out and crack each other up. “Rock's on the other coast, which is hard. But whenever he's in town, we all get together. At a dinner, Rock’s always so funny. Nick Swardson is hysterical to talk to. Quinn, Sandler, those guys off-camera always make me laugh.” But the funniest person, for Spade’s money, is still the one he grew up on. “You know, going on his show, I always used to like chatting with Letterman, making him laugh. He made me laugh for years, so it was nice to see him.”
And of course, because I had to know, I asked Spade point blank: After spending six years in New York in the early ’90s, did he have a run-in with a certain Mr. Trump?
Spade’s reply: “I only saw him once, at his golf course. It was just your basic pussy-grabbing situation,” he deadpans, tongue firmly in cheek. “That’s all you do with Trump; people don’t realize that. You say hi, grab some pussy and then golf. He was perfectly friendly.”
Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. on October 21 and 7 and 9:30 p.m. on October 22 at Houston Improv, 7620 Katy Freeway. For information, call 713-333-8800 or visit improvhouston.com. $45-50.