- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2000

LOS ANGELES David Spade is looking even less than usual like a man who gets to kiss supermodels.

As the sarcastic, wisecracking Dennis Finch, who tangles with world-famous beauties on the NBC sitcom "Just Shoot Me," Mr. Spade is almost chic, if not exactly glamorous. Today he looks like, well, Joe Dirt.

Arriving midmorning at a trendy hangout, the slight, blond comedian sports the ragged facial hair of the title character of the Sony movie "The Adventures of Joe Dirt." He just completed the filming two days earlier. Dirt, he explains, is "a little white-trash dirt ball from Louisiana who gets dumped by his parents at the Grand Canyon … and spends the rest of the movie looking for them."

Mr. Spade orders a health-food drink and with professional precision, interlaced with some throwaway jokes, discusses his current career, which includes "Sammy," a half-hour animated series debuting on NBC at 8:30 p.m. July 25.

Not surprisingly for the guy who created the Hollywood Minute Reporter on "Saturday Night Live," Mr. Spade answers the obvious question before it is asked.

"The funny thing is that animation is getting bashed lately. So people say, 'Why an animated show now?' "

When the project went to the drawing board more than two years ago, animation was hot. But Mr. Spade says "that's the side story," and he cannot worry about that now. He stresses that it's the content that makes or breaks any show, whether live-action or animation.

Mr. Spade describes the title character of "Sammy" as "a deadbeat dad, bailing on his kids and then coming back into their lives." It's a scenario, he says, that is "played out a lot in America."

The show explores how Sammy's three sons, now adults, try to forgive, though they cannot forget. "There is so much truth in that, which is why it's a tough show to make because it's not the typical subject matter for TV comedy," he says.

Co-written by Mr. Spade and Drake Sather, "Sammy" is unabashedly based on Mr. Spade's own experience with his absentee dad real name, Sammy.

Does dad mind?

"He does and he doesn't," Mr. Spade says. "He's got a great sense of humor and he knows it's all just for fun. But he also knows a lot of it rings true. At this point, it's not payback."

Thirteen episodes of "Sammy" have been animated in an edgy, sketchy style. Mr. Spade is the voice of Sammy and one of the sons, James Blake, star of a hit sitcom about a man pretending to be a homosexual so he can share a Manhattan apartment with a supermodel.

Not that supermodel thing again.

Mr. Spade laughs. He wanted the fake sitcom to be some kind of "Will & Grace" parody, but he concedes that perhaps in the public's mind, the line between reality and truth is a little blurred when it comes to him and supermodels.

"But in 'Joe Dirt,' we have an agreement with America," he says. "No supermodels."

Mr. Spade explains his decision to voice both father and son. "I don't think I would have been able to get the feel, the vibe of the father, the way I see my dad, without having some part in it. It's hard to coach someone even though there are a lot of great actors. I wanted to put inflections in and all the stuff that I like, the little minutia that makes him interesting."

He also can be heard in supporting roles. "I'm not a man of a thousand voices. They are all about the same. But I do have to think of the budget, so when they go, 'Can you play a squirrel?' the answer is 'Yes.' "

Born in Birmingham, Mich., Mr. Spade was raised in Scottsdale, Ariz. He believes "attitudes are funnier than jokes" and mentions Steve Martin and Bill Murray as comedians who inspired him. His self-described "mumbling" style of humor developed early.

"I didn't know if it was funny, so I'd kind of say it to myself and if it didn't work, I would say 'That doesn't count, it wasn't a joke, I didn't say it at full volume.' It's part of my noncommittal life," says Mr. Spade, who is single and will be 36 on July 22.

Stand-up comedy led to success on "SNL." His movies "Tommy Boy" and "Black Sheep" with Chris Farley, his fellow SNL comic who has since died, were dismissed as essentially just dumb and dumber, but his more sophisticated sarcasm as Finch on "Just Shoot Me" earned him an Emmy nomination.

The fashion magazine workplace comedy debuted midseason in 1997, airing on Tuesday nights. Now in summer reruns, the show will move this fall to 9:30 p.m. Thursdays, the time slot leading into "ER."

Mr. Spade calls it "a good solid show," whose only ratings problems were caused by ABC's smash hit "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." "It was like a bug bomb going off," he says.

Last season ended with Finch making out with Nina Van Horn, the beauty editor and former model played by Wendie Malick. Mr. Spade doesn't know where things will go from there, but he is prepared to speculate that the story line will "play on a bit."

Yet if we know Nina, the ragged facial hair will have to go.

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