- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2001

When movie celebrities come to town to chat up the press in promoting their new releases,they usually do it at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown. But David Spade, star of the new picaresque farce "Joe Dirt," has a wacky itinerary all his own starting at a Wendys and ending at Planet Hollywood.
"Im bleary," he sighs, commencing a brief but amusing interview at Planet Hollywood.
In "Joe Dirt," which opened Wednesday, Mr. Spade plays the underdog, dirtbag protagonist. He wrote the play with a trusted collaborator from the "Saturday Night Live" staff, Fred Wolf. Not quite an elfin presence but definitely on the short and reedy side, Mr. Spade appears for the interview in roughly the same tonsorial guise as his lower-class Joe, with exaggerated sideburns and mustache."I actually like to scrag up when I have any sort of time off," explains Mr. Spade. He had the time after shooting wrapped on the popular sitcom "Just Shoot Me," for which he remains an indispensable part of the ensemble as Dennis Finch, sneaky assistant to the publisher of a fashion-conscious magazine.
"I did shape the look into old Joe Dirt again. It was funny to me. I actually like it a little bit. It buys me about a second and a half when I walk by people. They go, 'Hey, wasnt that? And Im gone," he says.
The prospect of back-to-back strikes by the Writers Guild and Screen Actors Guild (SAG), whose contracts lapse May 1 and June 30, respectively, leaves Mr. Spade uncertain about the shows return date. "Ordinarily," he says, "theyd start writing new scripts in June, and wed start filming again in August. If that calendar is postponed, so is the start of the fall season. Of course, the producers are cool. Theyre saying things like, 'Weve got two reality shows; were fine. That leaves about 23 hours a day still up for grabs, but maybe theyre sitting pretty."
Mr. Spade is contemplating doing another feature film before the SAG strike deadline. He and Mr. Wolf, who also collaborated on the actors first starring vehicle, the 1999 romantic comedy "Lost & Found," have another script in reserve. They also have a good working relationship with Adam Sandler, Mr. Spades former sidekick on "Saturday Night Live" in the early 1990s. Mr. Sandlers production company, Happy Madison, helped "Joe Dirt" get off the ground.
"I think it might be good to do it, because the strike is nerve-racking," Mr. Spade says. "Its terrifying to see this thing approach when I dont think I want it. No one I know really wants it. Weve got such a scam going now, why bring any attention to it? If youre in this business and doing all right, its fun and you consider yourself lucky and you fear most that it could go away. Now were like inviting it to go away. Thats the scary part. The whole place might be crippled. You hope that someones going to be losing so much money that theyll do something about it. You cant just stop this machine, but thats what may happen."
Mr. Spade, born in Michigan but raised for the most part in Scottsdale, Ariz., was only a few years past graduation from Arizona State University when he was added to the "Saturday Night Live" writing staff in 1991. He was slow to catch on as a cast member, finally breaking through "in the third or fourth season" with a bit called "Hollywood Minute" on the mock newscast, "Weekend Update." He became close to several colleagues, notably the late Chris Farley. Mr. Spade was destined to play Mr. Farleys sidekick in two successful movie farces, "Tommy Boy" and "Black Sheep."
He also shared an office with the volcanic Mr. Farley. "Adam Sandler and Chris Rock had to walk through our office to get to theirs," Mr. Spade recalls. "It was a case of not realizing what you had until later. One of the things you realize is that not everyone is going be as much fun as those guys. Toward the end we got a little noticed as a group. Certain hard-core fans would rally around and get excited if we were in a sketch together. But it wasnt until we all left that people decided it was really good when we were all there. We needed a new cast to come on before our merits were recognized."
Mr. Spade acknowledges that he had some anxious moments while struggling to become an "SNL" fixture. "Having those other guys blow by me on a rocket ship was not really the funnest thing," he says ungrammatically. "My comedy took a long time to get into a groove. I was so burnt out on writing that I kept hitting a wall every week. I was with the show for six seasons, counting an abbreviated stretch at the start, when I was hired as a writer with Rob Schneider for the last four shows. Thats about as long as anyone can handle.
"If something goes well and you feel like patting yourself on the back a bit, you dont have the luxury. Its a new week and the pressure is on again. 'Its Alec Baldwin this week you hear. 'Whats your idea? Then you realize, 'Ive gotta start from scratch again. But Im glad I was there. It helped me out. I got one solid year out of six seasons. The most sketches I was on in any single show was three. If Farley was in your sketch, it was guaranteed to get on. You just had to stand back."
Mr. Spade was facing a flurry of New York City promotional chores, concluding with an appearance on "Saturday Night Live" when he left the Washington interviews. Regis Philbin, Howard Stern, David Letterman and "Today" were also on his visiting list. The Letterman appearance was sort of preying on his mind.
"Adam Sandler and I were talking about this," he says. "We used to plan for every Letterman gig and feel so scared. You went over your set a million times. Now Im doing it tomorrow, and its just there. When can I sit down and write anything? Well, I will. You dont want to go in without any prep, but I dont have the luxury of agonizing about it.
"Usually they call and say, 'Anything funny happen on the movie? Thats how the producers prompt you. They ask you to tell your stories and then pick the ones they like. Typically, with me, I prefer to think of all the questions and answers, write them down and fax them in. Then we kind of go off from what Id like to be asked. I have to have a couple of prepared things to talk about. Just conversation doesnt quite fly. Its supposed to look like it. Thats the hard part."
Mr. Spade hopes "Joe Dirt" finds an audience with more alacrity than "Lost & Found," a target of exaggerated critical disdain two years ago. "I think we have a funny movie," he says, "and were in good hands with Adams company."
The reception accorded "Lost & Found"was "rough to take," Mr. Spade says. He believes a few mistakes were made, in retrospect. "We might start with an uninteresting title," he says. "That kind of said nothing. It didnt yell 'comedy to my audience. I looked like myself and people can see that on 'Just Shoot Me. I was playing a little sarcastic, a little snarky, as I usually do. I had a girl way too pretty to be my co-star (French actress Sophie Marceau), which wasnt my fault. I would have picked someone a little more realistic, probably."
Mr. Spade also comes to the defense of the picture. "I dont think its a bad movie," he says, "but we got way hammered. were even getting mad about 'Hollywood Minute. Which really amazed me, because I thought that bit corresponded to what they wanted to do. 'Guys, guys, I wanted to say, 'I was slamming all the people you wanted to slam. At least be my friend while were trashing Hollywood."
Mr. Spade belatedly hears some friendly feedback about the movie. "Since it began playing Home Box Office last year, a lot of people who didnt show up when it opened will whisper to me, so their friends wont overhear us, 'That was actually funny. I liked it. It wasnt as awful as everyone said."
Mr. Spade considers the case of Mr. Sandler, now a huge movie success, to the chagrin of many reviewers. "Adams last picture, 'Little Nicky, reminded me of 'Lost & Found, but worse," he says. "Once that started, there was no stopping the onslaught of bad reviews. Poor Adam. Not that it seemed to deter his fans. The funniest thing was when CNBC showed clips of 'Little Nicky along with a story about Time-Warner stock plummeting. Was he really toppling the economy? Wow. All the blame was his? The fact is, hes still having unbelievable success. To have every one of your movies make more than the one before. It was assumed that hed peaked out with 'Big Daddy, at about $160 million. His audience was still there for 'Little Nicky. It ended up at $163 million."

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