Recently, I’ve grown to admire David Spade just as most have started to watch him with stifled yawns, or, alternatively, not watch him at all. What I find attractive in him is what others are tired of. Spade is a suave “little guy,” oozing self-deprecation with sensual irony and candor. His look has long remained unchanged: long, blonde locks, unevenly sparse mustache and beard, and an irresistibly dozy, smug gaze. Arguably, his sense of humor has not much evolved, either, since his run on Saturday Night Live and in films like Tommy Boy, where his chief duty was as an imperious sounding board for Chris Farley.
After a run of mediocre roles extending into this decade, Spade’s humor has now been appropriated the only way a 40-something comedian’s can be: he has a late-night talk show. It’s safe to assume The Showbiz Show, now in its second season after a debut last fall, is on Comedy Central because that channel, home to delicate spin-offs like The Colbert Report, is the only network gutsy enough to risk half an hour of David Spade complaining about — no, not politics, but pop culture, a growing television market previously cornered by such lackluster up-and-comers as Joel McHale of E!’s The Soup, and a random handful of what I like to call part-time jokester Viacom employees, who grace us with their presence on VH1′s Best Week Ever.
Spade, who is also in the upcoming Adam Sandler-produced Benchwarmers with John Heder and Rob Schneider, has a following for his talk show, a fan base that must include the aging SNL watchers as well as younger folk. Spade, in taking on The Showbiz Show project, has welcomed a tired tradition with open arms, and he took a big risk in doing so. He seems to have realized that the show’s saving grace would be himself, supported by a group of writers tailoring the show’s material to his downright sexy sardonicism. The result: a refreshingly subversive half-hour of television complete with Hollywood guests, low-blow winners, and flops that Spade himself would cringe at, if he weren’t so stolid.
No wonder critics roll their eyes at this transformation: the late-night format is “so over.” But such critics forget that the format, statistically speaking, does better than the sitcom. (You want another Just Shoot Me? Didn’t think so.) It would certainly be a nice change to see Spade striking out on his own, breaking the mold. But if the naysayers could put their doubts aside and watch The Showbiz Show, they might think differently. Take last Thursday night. In a segment called “There, I Said It,” Spade berated the iPod trend storming our population. Again, “so over,” but he highlighted this inherently American trend in a new way, pointing out that such over-the-top consumption finds its breeding ground in Hollywood. Only natural, since Hollywood is now Spade’s victim. But he takes the joke further. I’ll paraphrase:
[Slide show comes up on screen behind Spade, depicting socks for iPod nanos].
Spade: “Look at this, you can get socks for your iPod. I’d love to pass by a homeless man on the street: ‘Hey, look, my iPod’s got socks, and you don’t.”
[Slide show of iPod cases in different colors and designs.]
Spade: “And look at this: protective cases. Our soldiers can’t get protective armor, but you can get 41 different kinds of it for your iPod.”
Spade worked his deadpan Spadeisms with agility. It needn’t be said that “The Aristocrats” joke attests to Spade’s success on this show. It’s not which joke is told, not how it’s told, but the fact that David Spade tells it. And while the gems might be interspersed with smarmy toilet humor worthy of Jon Stewart on a bad night, the winners outweigh the flops, especially in the newest episodes. Some critics were disappointed to find The Showbiz Show had been renewed for 13 episodes; I contend that the second season has improved, much the way Spade’s humor has languorously refined itself since Just Shoot Me.
Spade hasn’t abandoned the compulsory “invite guests that you’ll later make fun of” segment so enticing to late-night talk shows ranging from Letterman to Stewart (note Stewart’s apt smearing of Sharon Stone and utterly pointless invitation of her to his show last week). But last Thursday, Spade took a break from interviewing “stars” (one recent guest was Kristin Cavallari, the star of MTV’s reality series Laguna Beach, about young Orange County, CA residents). It is a fortunate event if Spade can’t book any good guests, because this last episode, he interviewed someone from his own camp, who was given a ridiculous pseudonym and paneled a discussion with Spade called “In ‘N’ Out.” The segment was a joy to watch. The A-list stars won’t be missed, because Spade accomplishes much more with his comfortable solitude, or alongside an acerbic sidekick: the better to bash showbiz with.
During “In ‘N’ Out,” a round-faced, stocky Nick Swardson, playing a gay man with “Maddox”-styled hair — that’s Angelina Jolie’s adopted son, and it was Spade, naturally, who made the observation — bantered with Spade about current Hollywood trends. What began as a risky endeavor, in which the two men seemed overly conscious of their obligation to ad lib, turned into a delicate few minutes riddled with surprising jokes. The gentle wisecracks were delivered in an overly familiar, nonchalant tone, like the men were two teenagers vying for better jokes, all the while effusing flirtatious admiration of each other. Spade maintained his cool cynicism; his companion maintained that Spade was a tired, old thing of the past: “Anygay…,” he crooned, rolling his eyes at Spade’s indifference to the fact that the band Coldplay would be both “in” and “out” in 2007.
Importantly, Swardson, as campy trend spotter, is responsible for 50 percent of how well this segment turned out. While Jon Stewart may have the stature to bring in the big guns, Spade has good people working for him, which is more than I can say for Jon Stewart post-Carrell/Colbert. The efforts of Jason Jones, The Daily Show’s appalling young correspondent, all but leave the art of irony in tatters. Some of Spade’s jokes certainly fall flat, but Jason Jones’s two-part piece on Denmark on The Daily Show last week, riding on the coattails of the Muhammad cartoon debacle, is a shameless example of sophistication being thrown out the window in favor of one-dimensional ear-candy for the show’s negligible pet-audience: jocks with first- and second-tier educations who are embarrassed to say they have degrees, or at least, are not equipped to handle anything more sophisticated than bombastic hyperbole delivered by comedians posing as “one of them.”
Don’t get me wrong: Spade, after working with Chris Farley and starring in Benchwarmers, a film whose silly plot has been summarized in its entirety in a 30-second trailer, knows all too well that he’s capable of bombastic hyperbole, and that he has a good deal of jocks for fans. But he is nowhere close to being one himself, and in a genre dominated by Kimmel, a younger, punchier Leno facsimile; O’Brien, who is both refreshing and tiresome at once; and Colbert, the demigod of uncool, Spade is right at home, because he also has the rest of us watching him: the nerds, the cynics, the yuppies, the baby boomers — or certainly, he should. The Showbiz Show formula, in caliber and content, matches that of The Daily Show, a program popular with nearly every demographic in the country, but The Showbiz Show also has something else: David Spade, maturing ever so petulantly. And just as importantly, it doesn’t have Jason Jones.
The Showbiz Show airs on Comedy Central Thursdays at 10:30 pm.