One Degree of Separation with David Spade


spadeDavid Spade is not just one of those guys that used to be on Just Shoot Me or SNL, he’s definitive, original and a huge influence on the zeitgeist of 2018. From a hard scrapple upbringing to a huge star in his twenties, Spade not only entertained us, he redefined what comedy is. You can trace the snarkiness that permeates the 21st Century to Spade’s “Hollywood Minute” segment during SNL news in 1992. Spade’s contribution to the world of comedy can’t be overlooked.

(Quick sidenote: there might be 6 degrees of separation between me and Kevin Bacon, but there’s only 1 degree between me and David Spade. Catch Spade and Bay Area boy genius Joey Bragg playing Spade’s son, in the new Netflix movie Graduates coming out 6/28.)

Spade will be performing at the San Jose Improv on April 20 and 21st. Tickets here:

Spade: Hey is this the radio?

DNA: No. This is just me and a tape recorder.

Spade: Oh. It’s Spade.

DNA: Hey David. How ya doing?

Spade: My PR squad didn’t patch me through, so I just thought I’d call.

DNA: This is a recording and then I transcribe it and put it online.

Spade: Let’s do it.

DNA: I was wondering if we could talk about the early years?

Spade: Whatever you want.

DNA: At Arizona State were you the funniest guy in the fraternity?

Spade: Well, in High School, I didn’t have the football team or baseball team, so my friends and I, well,  there was sort of a talent show and I drifted over to that. I never wanted to be an actor, it was not about that. I just wanted to get attention and I liked Saturday Night Live and comedy, so we tried to rip off a few SNL sketches. Then we tried to write some and that was the first time I had ever written something with a beginning, middle and end. It might sound stupid, but that was a big lesson. It might have been on a super tiny scale, but it came in handy later at SNL.

DNA: Then what?

Spade: I got out of high school and all my friends split town to college. And you forget, but in high school you always have ten people around you could call or eat pizza with and suddenly it was crickets. I got weirded out, I was like, “Uh Oh!” I saw a comedy club near the community college I was going to, so I thought I would check it out. I watched a guy that so fast on his feet I thought, “If I could do this. . .” So I tried amateur night. It had never crossed my mind until then. I tried it, I was bad and then I had my buddy help me and we did like a team.

DNA: A team? Did that work out?

Spade: He would get too stoned and started bailing on me. I sort of got the bug and by the time I got to that fraternity a year later, although I was very new at it, I now had a group of people that would yell, “Get up and do it, Spade.” They always wanted new material, I was like, “Goddam, I only have like eight minutes guys and you’re gonna hear it all year.”

DNA: Were all those shows on campus?

Spade: Yeah. The fireplace at the crummy fraternity house. They would yell, “Get up!” They would get drunk and boss me around. You know what I mean? I had to pledge. They would say, “Spade! Do your crummy jokes again.” My material was C+ at best.

DNA: Were there big crowds?

Spade: Well. I tried to represent my fraternity in like a Talent Competition Sing-Off/Dance-Off and nobody did stand-up so I signed up. It was so weird. Nobody had any idea what I was doing. I walked up and was like, “How you doing folks? Ever been to the DMV?” And they were like “What’s going on? What song is this?” But I did pretty good and that was the make or break moment. 3000 people, half of them were the hottest girls at ASU. Backstage I was a mess like, “What was I thinking? If I bomb tonight, it’s over.” People would point at me and say, “There’s the guy who doesn’t know what’s happening.” Before I went on, I made a deal with myself. I’ll quit or I’ll keep doing it, depending how this goes.

DNA: No pressure.

Spade: It went well.

DNA: After college you started doing a Monday pizzeria mic?

Spade: Yeah. That kind of shit all over. Tuesday in the NFL club, a sports club. They would give you $20 and free drinks. Thursdays were Anderson’s, I mean there were a lot of little clubs.

DNA: And you got the bug hard?

Spade: I quit ASU and my job. I was making $80 a week doing comedy. I thought, “Eighty dollars a week. I’m on Easy Street!” Then I realized that $80 wasn’t covering every bill.

DNA: That was like ’85?

Spade: Yeah, like ’84, ’85 and then I got to LA in ’87.

DNA: Was that a scary move?

Spade: I got something right away. I got on at The Improv and it was with Seinfeld, Leno, Paul Resier and it was like “Here’s blondie, he looks 15 and he’s from Arizona.” I had a decent act, but I might have well as been that yodeling Walmart kid. There was nobody else like me, so they put me up. Then I immediately got in Police Academy. After that people realized I couldn’t act and I had two hard years bombing auditions, losing all the attention I had. I started from scratch again. Switching agents, because they dumped me. It was such a mindfucker.

DNA: Who was your crew? Your support team of comics?

Spade: There wasn’t too many. I was in LA by myself. I would call my brothers and my mom. Overall, half the people in Arizona wanted me to die off in in LA. You know how that is? The other half were like, “It’s so cool you’re trying.” I didn’t have anybody. I didn’t have a girlfriend. That’s why I’m all screwed up.

DNA: You’re screwed up? When did that happen?

Spade: That’s the second interview. I mean I’m not married, I don’t have my shit together.

DNA: Second interview, got it.

Spade: At that time in LA, it was a lesson in survival. I grew up with my dad gone and my mom at work every day. You had to, in a weird way, survive in your own head. Mom would be crying about the rent even though she worked two jobs. When you don’t have a big fallback you realize early on that you have to make it work and it’s a tough world out there. From a bigger perspective I look at it like all my friends now, their kids are in private schools. And not one of them grew up with a fallback, they were all sort of broke, public school kids and after they made it and now the kids have the easy life. I have difficulty with that. Like imagine telling Beyonce’s kids, “You have to make a lemonade stand and stand out there and sell drinks to make money.” Those kids are like, “Sure, jerkoff how about I don’t and wait for my 50 million when I’m 18?” It’s hard to teach that survival mechanism, but I did have it instilled in me.

DNA: Trial by fire.

Spade: Yeah. You grow up with nobody to borrow money from. No relatives are going to save my ass. Nobody gives a shit. So you grow up not eating a lot. You learn to scrape by. My friend would go to Ralphs, a chain in LA, and he bought a rotisserie chicken. I was like, “Arrraggh, grrr…….” I was like a coyote in the alley eating.

DNA: We’re about the same age. I remember seeing Hollywood Minute in 1992. I thought, “This is the freshest take on pop culture I’ve ever seen.” I believe it was a landmark moment. That “snark” you had became the thumbprint for generations to come. For better or worse, it was a new dominant paradigm for young people to see the world.

Spade: I love the way you put that. During that time I wasn’t making any headway and that was what I was doing behind the scenes anyway. Bob Odenkirk, or one of those guys said, “Try to form that into something.” I started thinking of things like, “Hey, Michael Bolten, your hair is long in the back, but we all know what’s going on, on top!” The most popular thing with celebrities at the time was People Magazine and they just kissed everyone’s ass. And here I was, a relatively unknown guy on a huge TV show just calling everyone out on their bullshit. Nobody had done that before. It worked and Loren Michaels was like, “Keep doing it.” He knew. That’s what he’s good at. It was my hook and it worked out. In the Entertainment Weekly Magazine they started getting snarky and it became a whole way of dealing with celebrities.

DNA: You opened Pandora’s Box. Every night at a comedy show, in the back where all the comedians are “watching” it’s very Spade. Ripping on people is one of the funniest things you can do.

Spade: All my Instagram stories are like that now. It was a good hook for movies and TV. I’m better next to the guy whose commentating on what’s going on and I make fun of them. It’s much easier than being a lead. I get to make fun of things as they are happening, like I do in real life. Like you do when you stand in the back of a comedy club and shit on each other.




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