David Spade on Fame, ‘Fameless’ and Why He’s Happy to Be Nervous

'I’m not really a mean person,' says the TruTV host. 'People think I’m mean because of SNL and some of my jokes, but I’m really not.'

Actor David Spade, host of TruTV's Fameless.

Actor David Spade, host of TruTV’s Fameless. Photo via Brian Bowen Smith

David Spade is a busy, busy man.

He’s in the midst of a stand-up tour with fellow comedian Ray Romano, set to be the host of Comedy Central’s roast of Rob Lowe, he just wrapped a movie, guest starring on Roadies, and he’s the force behind a prank series airing on truTV called Fameless.

For someone doing a show about people desperate to be break through, Spade is doing a pretty good job of maintaining a certain show biz status. Here he reveals how he thinks he’s managed to do just that.

What do you think it is about the possibility of being famous that makes people do crazy things?

‘I think Andy Warhol was right, but he sort of got the time frame wrong—it’s not that everyone will get 15 minutes of fame; it’s now more like 15 seconds really. And, the thing is, everyone is trying to extend those 15 seconds any way they can and I think that’s kind of funny and ridiculous at the same time.’ – David Spade

Well, you know, I think Andy Warhol was right, but he sort of got the time frame wrong—it’s not that everyone will get 15 minutes of fame; it’s now more like 15 seconds really. And, the thing is, everyone is trying to extend those 15 seconds any way they can and I think that’s kind of funny and ridiculous at the same time.

On Fameless, we take these people who really want to be famous and we mess with them, convincing them they’re on a reality show or selling a product, and they’re willing to do it because they think it’s going to be their big break. I think people do this kind of stuff because we live in a society that puts being famous, for whatever reason, above everything else. It’s pretty wacky, but these are the times we live in.

How do you feel about your current level of fame?

About six months ago, a reporter asked me when I thought I was the most famous and I said, “I don’t know, I guess right now because it seems like a cumulative thing, right? I was sort of insulted by the question in a way but not really. So to give a good answer I said, “Maybe it was the year I was on the cover of both Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone. That was a pretty good year for me.” I don’t necessarily have to be super famous. I just want to keep doing things I like to do, and if that stuff makes me famous, then that’s how it goes.

Has anyone actually become famous after being on Fameless?

I don’t really know! But I will tell you this: The people that are on it really get into it. They tweet about it and do live chats when their episode airs. They’re really excited to be on it.

Has anyone go off on you after you’ve pranked them?

No, not in a mean, mad way. We did have this guy, and I goaded him into getting really mad and going off on me, and he was pretty embarrassed.

We set him up in a music competition show that was like The X Factor, and he was playing a stand-up bass, and we had him compete head-to-head with this really loud, obnoxious electric guitar guy who just totally drowned him out. I was one of the judges. The bass guy that we were setting up was being really nice, but then he started to lose it, and he was saying to me, “What do you know about music? You’re a comedian!” Then he said, “You ruined lives with your Eddie Murphy feud*,” and then he stormed out. When they told him it was a joke, he felt like he burned me so bad that he couldn’t come back in and face me. It was really funny.

(*Spade made a joke about Murphy on SNL, and, supposedly, because of that joke, Murphy refused to guest host or attend any SNL reunions after that.)

How hard is it to keep coming up with the pranks?

We brainstorm about what’s happening on TV right now, and then we build from there. 

Cooking shows are big so we did one called “What’s in My Mouth?” We did one that was a tech show about drones, and the host, the guy we were pranking, was controlling the drone with his voice, until the drone went rogue and chaos ensued.

I also want to say that someone the other day said the show looked staged. I promise you it is not. The fun of it is that what happens in the moment is very real. The reactions of the people that we’re pranking is what’s key. Some of them laugh right away and some of them get this blank look as they’re trying to figure out what’s going on, but that blank face look is just as funny sometimes. You see the person computing what’s happening and that’s cool to watch.

It’s hard to get everything set up perfectly. We have so many moving parts it’s very precise and intricate. We’re taking a reality show and doing it in an even trickier way.

There’s an overabundance of TV shows to chose from right now: What’s your best sales pitch to watch Fameless?

[He laughs as he says] I think that anything where it says in the promo, “From the mind of David Spade,” you might want to be a little suspect of that. But, I have to say when I see something that says it’s from the brain of Tina Fey, I’ll watch that. So that’s a little weird, but that label, “From the mind of…me,” gives you an idea of the kind of show we’re doing because you know my sense of humor—snarky comments, subtle slams, lots of eye-rolling looks, that kind of thing.

Having said that, I think it’s hard to break through with any TV show nowadays. It seems like you really have to getting people talking about it and have that word-of-mouth thing going. It’s like anything else; it takes a while. So I can sit here and tell you all the reasons to watch, but you just have to do it. So do it!

Have you learned anything about yourself by doing Fameless?

Actually, yeah. We had [professional skateboarder] Tony Hawk on, and he was so calm. I was like, “Dude, you have to go out in 20 seconds!” He was so relaxed and cool, and I was like, “Why am I so nervous? I’m a professional!”

I’m nervous every day. I’m nervous about learning lines, doing stand-up, pretty much all of it. Stand-up is so fun to do, but if I have to do an hour, I get stressed. I’m backstage going, “What if nothing comes to my head? People have paid a lot of money for this!” I practice and prepare a lot, but it’s still incredibly nerve-wracking.

But then I’m nervous every day. I’m nervous about learning lines, doing stand-up, pretty much all of it. Stand-up is so fun to do, but if I have to do an hour, I get stressed. I’m backstage going, “What if nothing comes to my head? People have paid a lot of money for this!” I practice and prepare a lot, but it’s still incredibly nerve-wracking.

I think being nervous is a good thing for me. It keeps me on my toes and keeps me doing different things, things that charge me up.

Is that why you did Warning Shot, which is a more serious turn for you?

Yeah, I play a bad guy, which is fun and cool and different for me. I’m sure it will confuse everyone else, but I love it.

One of my agents called and said, “There’s two comedies and this indy drama.” He said, “I’ll tell them to forget about the drama because it’s shooting in Texas and it’s no money,” and I’m like, “Wait, I like that stuff. Who do I have to meet?” He said, “No, they just offered it to you.” There’s something about that—it’s like they’re saying that they trust you right away and think you’ll be good. So I said, “Hey, if they’re going to risk it, I’ll do it,” and that’s how that came about.

What was it like for you on-set?

My first day there, I walked into this big, big scene. There were actors in the scene that had been beaten up and shot and stuff like that, it was boiling hot outside and everyone just wants this scene to go fast and be really good. I walk into that like, ‘Hi, I’m the new guy!’ I’m sure they were thinking, ‘what’s this a-hole comedian doing here?’ I sure they were also thinking, ‘this one guy could fuck up this whole thing,’ and they probably thought I was just going to run around and yuck it up all the time, but they were all very nice and it worked out great. I’m really proud of the work that we did and I can’t wait for people to see it.

I have to ask, as a former cast member, do you keep up with Saturday Night Live now?

Truthfully, I don’t watch it enough. I do think it’s still a very smart show.

One thing that I wish is that during my time on the show, we’d had the internet. Now, they put their best sketch all over the internet right after the show, and people see them and go, “oh SNL’s still pretty funny—I should watch that.” When we had a good episode and you missed it, you were like, “Oh, when’s the rerun gonna be on? I’ll try to catch it.” That was your only shot to see what you missed. So later people would see our Gap Kids sketch when the E! channel started airing reruns, and they were like, “Oh, you’re on that show, and you did those weekend update pieces. That’s cool.”

I think SNL will always have those gems in there that are really good. Every season there are people out there that are down on the show, but the truth is it’s a very hard show to do and what’s really fun to see is the timely comedy of it and that person, or couple of people, that are popping out on there.

How do you think comedians can “pop out” or continue to stay relevant?

It’s hard to do both of those things—to get noticed and then to keep being noticed over time—so if you can write for yourself that’s what keeps you going. You have to be a threat—like, I can’t sing and dance at all. On SNL, if you can sing and play an instrument you’re going to be in about 40 percent more sketches. If you’re not on SNL and there’s nothing happening, you can conjure up things that are funny. Even little things can have some impact. I just did a thing for Funny or Die about Coachella. Those are things that keep you around, and they keep you engaged with an audience and in your own career. I would recommend writing as much as you can and just getting stuff out there. No performer really just gets to perform, there’s a lot of other work behind that performance. I don’t know that a lot of people understand that, but that’s what it takes.

Do you think that’s the biggest misconception about you, that you’re just a guy who’s funny and that’s all?

Sort of. I would say, if people are listening to me, that I’m not just a one note character. For 20 years I’d been cast as a single guy who’s always just chasing a girl. Onscreen, I’d never had a girlfriend, been married, never had kids. There was a pilot that came up that was pretty big a year ago with a big network, and they were like, “We like Spade, but the character is married, and we don’t know if people will buy that.” I’m like, “Are you shitting me?”

That’s what it’s like out there. They have to see you as a dad first, and then they’ll get it. I did just do a movie, The Do-Over, where I had a wife and step-kids, so maybe now people will see me a little differently.

Is there anything else you think people don’t know about you that you’d like them to know?

Yeah, one thing is that I’m not really a mean person. People think I’m mean because of SNL and some of my jokes, but I’m really not. So I’m really nervous about hosting the Rob Lowe roast. I have to go back and channel that old “Hollywood Minute” character that I used to do on SNL. But, even with that guy, I always thought of him as just snarky, not really mean. I don’t want to be hurtful, just more observationally sarcastic.

What do you think the future holds for you?

Oh God, that I can’t even imagine, but you know I’m still chugging away at it and still like what I’m doing, so I’ll keep at it. I will say that sustaining a career in this business is probably the hardest part, and I’m not talking about being the best guy out there. I’m talking about just continuing to be somewhat relevant. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. I mean, talk to Chris Rock or [Adam] Sandler about this. We’re so lucky that, to varying degrees, we’re still out there. It’s very hard to keep anything going in this town. It’s like an NFL player playing for 20 years. It just doesn’t happen. I’m thankful for that and hope that I can keep chugging away like I have been. Well, the truth is, I have to keep doing this because I can’t go back to working at the skateboard shop or valeting cars. I just don’t have those skills anymore. Really, I don’t.

[This interview has been edited and condensed] 

Fameless airs on truTV Mondays at 10/9c.

The Comedy Central Roast of Rob Lowe will be filmed in Los Angeles on August 27 and air on Comedy Central on September 5.

The Do-Over is available for streaming on Netflix.

Warning Shot is in post-production.  

 

David Spade on Fame, ‘Fameless’ and Why He’s Happy to Be Nervous