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A month into the pandemic, David Spade got fired.
Like most TV shows filming in March, the comedian’s late-night talk show “Lights Out” came to a sudden halt because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and under lockdown Spade attempted to produce content for Comedy Central from home — doing interviews with Adam Sandler and “Tiger King” cast members that would post online.
But on April 3, the trades reported that “Lights Out” had been canceled, less than a year after its premiere.
“Honestly, I was kind of shocked,” said Spade, 56. “They said we were gonna shut down fully and told me around the same time it was in Deadline. We hadn’t cleaned out our offices. We had no idea.”
The program was hardly a massive hit, launching in July 2019 with about 460,000 viewers per episode. But critics responded warmly to Spade's easy demeanor and his penchant for bantering about pop culture with fellow stand-ups. He said he was told the decision to ax the show was a cost-saving measure.
"The reason I heard was the new guy wants to cut anything that’s kind of expensive and go kind of cheap," Spade said, referring to Chris McCarthy, who came in as ViacomCBS’ president of entertainment youth Brands, including Comedy Central, at the beginning of 2020. "It wasn’t that [expensive], but I think he’s talking, like, really inexpensive. I don’t know if he saw one show. I think that’s how tough the biz is, where they say, ‘How much is that one? OK, get rid of it.' So, I understand." (ViacomCBS declined to comment.)
Fortunately, Spade had acquired a powerful fan during his short-lived run as a talk show host: Ted Sarandos, co-chief executive and chief content officer for Netflix. The executive, who, like Spade, grew up in Arizona, had swung by the Comedy Central set a few times, watching from backstage. When the cable network pulled the plug — or, as Spade joked, “pushed me out on the freeway” — Sarandos suggested he do a similar program for the streamer.
Enter “The Netflix Afterparty,” premiering Saturday. The show, which will be released weekly, has Spade and co-hosts Fortune Feimster and London Hughes chatting with talent from Netflix’s most popular films and television shows. From a hotel room in Scottsdale, Ariz. — where he was visiting his 85-year-old mother for Christmas — Spade talked about becoming a talk show host, leaving the box office behind and the comedy world’s #MeToo reckoning.
I knew you were in Arizona because you posted some clips on your Instagram account. I’ve noticed that you’re extremely into IG stories. Do you post them as a way to workshop your comedy?
At first, it was just, like, filming myself crunching leaves and thinking that was fun. Or talking to squirrels as TMZ and going, "Squirrel, squirrel, what do you think about the presidency?" There’s usually no second takes. It was never for business. I don’t do them just for volume. I’d rather have it mean something, or people will fade out too quickly. It is still an audience, and everything is a constant audition, so there’s someone who has never seen me and they’ll see one Instagram story or post and you don’t want to throw a clanker up there. If this is the only time you see me, I should always have stuff that’s good — that’s my whole job.
So you don’t think about what your brand of comedy is?
I don’t think there’s any brand I have. It’s very hard to see how people see you objectively. I don’t know what people’s perception of me is. I try to get sharper with time. I try not to relax. I try not to skate through it. I would think I’m better now, but I’m not sure. I look at my old HBO special and think, "That's funnier than stuff in my current stand-up."
The last three comedic films you starred in — “The Do-Over,” “Father of the Year” and “The Wrong Missy” — all premiered on Netflix. When a movie does well on Netflix, does it feel the same as when “Tommy Boy” was a hit in theaters?
You can’t compare it to looking at the box office. That’s like, ‘Oh, you’ll probably get another movie.’ No one is aware of this. You don’t get the fun of going out to dinner to celebrate. It’s like a text that’s like, "Congrats, you’re No. 1 in the world!" There’s no Yankee doodle dandy, running around the city feeling cool.
But when you think about it and you go, OK, "The Wrong Missy" had 59 million views in the first month. So if you say "Grown Ups" made $160 million and tickets are $16, what is that, 10 million people see it? Netflix movies are seeping in so deep to people in one day, instead of [doing] a movie and a press junket here and then we’d go to Europe and then it goes to HBO and then video. "Tommy Boy," "Joe Dirt" — those movies didn’t make that much, and then they seeped in through TBS or HBO.
So how does your team get across to industry people that one of your Netflix movies does well?
It’s so embarrassing. I have to go door-to-door around my neighborhood and tell everyone. I used to have documents and proof. When Netflix started the top 10, that helped. I got 100 more calls than I would have. I was sent a lot of movies after "Father of the Year," like, "Wouldn’t this be funny if it was you and Kevin Hart?"
Adam Sandler, your longtime friend, has been venturing into dramatic roles and returning to stand-up in recent years. Is part of being a talk show host exploring a similar drive to try new things at this stage in your career?
With Sandler, I think once you do 10 $100-million movies in a row, it’s like, you want to try something new. He’s a f— hard worker. Every movie we’re working on, he’s writing the next one at lunch. With me, I don’t work that hard. A talk show just sounded like a fun, steady job. I’m not as thirsty to do a million movies or 20 tours. I don’t want to chase my tail for the next 20 years. I don’t think I could be on the real road like Joan Rivers or something. I’m not as tough as her. To fly f— Southwest and connect in Houston to go to gigs every night? You want a good reputation, but as far as just grinding it out, that’s not my favorite thing.
So this isn’t a new era of David Spade.
Doing different things is sort of a survival mechanism. I’m not America’s No. 1 movie star. It’s never been that easy to get a movie going. I’d do one about every two years, and that’s not an everyday job. I do spend money, and I do like to be out in the mix.
What do you mean, "in the mix"?
I like to think that I can still be considered funny along with everybody else, instead of going "That one’s f— had it and should call it quits. There's nothing there."
So people coming up to you and recognizing you from "Joe Dirt" or "Tommy Boy" — is that OK with you?
You’re always going to be known for a couple of things. It’s funny, because at "SNL" everyone was trying to find a hook. You’re the angry guy, you’re deadpan, you’re the guy who does crazy characters. Let’s say I’m a snarky Hollywood type. The funny thing is, the second you get a hook, you spend the rest of your career trying to get rid of it. But you can’t beat it up forever. I just don’t want people to think I’m not trying. I still try, whether it seems like it or not. Some people say, "You really walked through that last movie," and I say, "Unfortunately, I didn’t. I wish I did." I do have sort of an attitude that looks like I don’t try. But I do get nervous.
Do you think comedy shows will be as packed as ever after, say, two years of being closed?
Oh, you’re high-balling it! Good God! I think they’ll have no problem filling it up. They’re starving for these backyard shows. I did the Magic Castle twice.
Oh, boy, did you hear about the reckoning going on there right now?
I know, but I was just in the parking lot! It’s pretty cool in the parking lot. No corruption. Yeah, these outdoor shows are really just an outlet to say your act and just remember it. They have flappers to let you know they’re clapping. That’s what it’s down to. I have porn now, I used to read Playboy. I’ll adapt. This is going back to Playboy. All you need is some barometer.
This summer, Chris D’Elia, Bryan Callen and Jeff Ross were all accused of sexual misconduct. (Ross has since filed a defamation suit against his accuser.) Do you think more male comics should be speaking out against this kind of behavior?
It is a touchy subject. I think everyone's scared to speak up and be canceled or say the wrong thing. If guys are doing something like that right now, get rid of them. If you’re still f— around and treating people super [poorly] or attacking women or saying "suck my d— and I’ll give you a job" and don’t think there’s any repercussions? This isn’t "Mad Men" anymore.
Why do you think this kind of behavior is seemingly rampant in the comedy world?
This is the weirdest place that this is all happening. Getting [oral sex] in the Belly Room? You would think the NBA — sports and side chicks. I’m sure the music world is super f— sketchy. I look at someone like David Lee Roth, and he’s having contests to f— as many girls as he can and that’s what you think goes on. Then you see David Lee Roth going, "I can’t believe what’s going on at the Comedy Store!" Comedy, of all places. I wasn’t really aware of all that craziness because I’m not a super club comic anymore. You walk in, see the set list and say, ‘Hey man, how’s the crowd?’ And that’s it.
So you were surprised to hear about some of the allegations?
Yeah, like at the Comedy Store, [the talent coordinator] Adam Eget, I think takes booking pretty seriously. When you have individual comedians coming to him and saying, "Can you get this person on?" I’ve seen him shut people down. It was never, like, "This one is a hotsie tootsie, can they get on?"
Do you know what DeuxMoi is?
It’s a popular Instagram account that posts anonymous gossip. You’ve been on there a few times, with people talking about how you date a lot of famous women.
Yeah, we’ve been in disbelief for 20 years. Thankfully, that sort of slowed down. That was fun in the way that it was nice that attractive girls are talking to me and giving me the time of day when they didn’t in high school or college. I liked ones that would have some fun sense of humor. I didn’t need Robin Williams. But girls who are charming, in a way. They’re not all total f— duds, that’s what I’m saying. There is something about attractive girls that aren’t trying at all that’s a drag.
Do you think it would have been different to start out as a young, single, famous comedian in 2020?
Yeah, but I think I was different. I was a little more shy and not pushy. If the girl wasn’t having a good time, I’d be like, "OK, bye!" I was also scared, reputation-wise, that she’d say, "Oh, he was really into me" or "He tried to kiss me at the end of the date." Girls would always say, "I don’t know if you liked me or not." I was too poker-faced about it. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
You are sort of poker-faced. You’ve endured a lot of tragedy — Chris Farley’s overdose, your sister-in-law Kate Spade’s suicide, your assistant assaulting you — and you seem to keep your pain to yourself.
Not that nobody cares, but it’s not anyone’s problem. I’m here for a reason, and I want to keep it fun and light. I don’t want to drag people down and make them feel sorry for me or whatever. I think everyone has had different degrees of tough things happen. I can’t use that as a crutch or a victim thing all my life.
When do you let it out? Are you a therapy dude?
Like, cry into my pillow? I am kind of a therapy dude. Sure, I can use a good shaking now and again. I did an Instagram thing with [Jerry] Seinfeld the other day, and he said something like, "You come off cool. How do you be cool?" It was cool of him to say, and I didn't know how to answer it without sounding like a [jerk]. So I said, "I try to stay even-keeled." It’s turned into my natural state, but I just try to not to be so tense. I have a bad neck, anyway.
The downside of being 56?
Yeah, I try to meet girls, and I just hope they don’t know how to use Google. At dinner, they’re looking at their phone and back at me, like, ‘What the f—?’
And you have a 12-year-old daughter.
She’s already bored by me. She told me last time I saw her that she thinks I have a bald spot. She got up and looked. I said, "No, Harper. It’s funny you say that, because it’s actually a cowlick." She said, "What's that?" I go, "It’s where the hair gets pushed aside because I laid down or something, but it’s all there, it’s just pushed into a little swirl." She goes, "That’s not what that is." Jesus! Now I have to ground her.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.