Comedian David Spade became famous in American households mostly for, well, being mean.
Some of his most infamous sketches during his tenure on NBC’s Saturday Night Live in the 1990s included characters like a flight attendant with no time for pleasantries during disembarkment and a self-important Gap salesgirl that, quite honestly, was instrumental in convincing an impressionable teen-aged me that the clothing options at this mall staple were only suitable for my junior high classmates that defined whatever was the early ‘90s equivalent of “basic.” His character of Dennis Finch on the long-running NBC sitcom Just Shoot Me! was a horndog, yes, but he could also dredge up enough snark to embody the inner monologues of many an assistant at a fashion magazine.
But it was his skewering of celebrities where Spade really shone. Even then-child actor Macaulay Culkin wasn’t immune to his Hollywood Minute segments that aired as part of SNL’s Weekend Update (in that one, Culkin was reminded that Spade, too, was once a cute young blonde kid. And then he got old). He eventually transitioned this banter to his eponymous Comedy Central series, The Showbiz Show with David Spade, in the mid ‘00s. There, his zingers and one-liners were salty take-downs of entertainment news at a time when our culture was becoming inundated with a constant entertainment news cycle, and as the very definition of “celebrity” was quickly expanding thanks to people like Paris Hilton and publications like the rebranded Us Weekly and the launch of TMZ.
Spade’s ability to tell stories about mortals and famous people alike, which all come with just the right balance of sauce, has made him a go-to guest for everyone from Jimmy Kimmel to Ellen DeGeneres to Howard Stern. So it isn’t really a wonder that he’ll be at it again in a televised format for his new weekly late-night show Comedy Central show Lights Out with David Spade, which premieres July 29.
“The core would be three comedians—three funny people—on every day just to bullshit,” Spade says of the Lights Out format when we spoke during a Los Angeles press junket earlier this year, where he was, for all intents and purposes, nice. These topics could include things like “gender reveal [parties] or anything that’s funny to me [because] I think it’s stupid.”
Sitting in a hotel room chair in skinny jeans and a black, long-sleeved button down, he spent the majority of the interview with his legs tucked underneath him as he balances on his knees and says things like that the format might be shifted if they book “a mega star.” In this case, “we either put them in a field piece, or we bring them in the studio to read maybe their celebrity DMs” from their social media accounts.
Or these people could end up sitting with Spade and his gang, but they’d be given different colored chairs because they’re there as a favor—just as he’s done on so many other occasions.
He knows that the best way for a show with his own name in it to succeed is for him to be an integral part of the bits and interviews, either as himself or as one of his famous characters. But he says he’s not above looking at the storyboard and deciding “what if Chris Rock did this? Or what if Norm MacDonald co-hosted but he’s on FaceTime?” and then making a call.
“We try to think of weirder things that might be funny,” Spade says, as well as a necessary evil in this crowded late-night landscape of strategizing “what segments can go viral the next day on YouTube.”
Themes could also include a Bachelor week, as an ode to Spade’s habit of recapping the ABC reality show on his Instagram Stories—something he says he does because “I’m buzzed. It’s nighttime. I just had dinner. And then the next day I read them and I’m like, oh boy.”
If the premise for Lights Out sounds convoluted to those unfamiliar with his particular brand of humor, Spade says one of the best indications of what the new show will be like might actually be his Instagram Stories. He says that feature allows him to showcase “a whole new point of view I have” and to “find jokes out of nothing” that “really lights people up.”
“When we go to commercial [on Lights Out], we might do a 20-second story,” for the ‘gram, he theorizes. Or “when I walk out, I think I’m going to come out holding the phone and just film myself as a cold opening on the way to the stage.”
Despite a lead-in from the news-focused The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Lights Out will also, decidedly, be apolitical. Spade says dunking on President Trump or another politico is “not my thing” and also that “people hate me enough as it is, so I don’t need to immediately lop off half my fans.”
The show’s time slot is also unique. The name Lights Out is a reference to the fact that it airs at 11:30 p.m. weeknights. It is, theoretically, the last thing people will watch before going to bed and (hopefully) after they watch tentpole The Daily Show. This means, Spade says, that he has to find “stragglers” who have an interest in both politics and his brand of entertainment.
He’s also aware that The Daily Show has had a hard time finding a companion series since Stephen Colbert packed up his conservative alter ego from The Colbert Report in 2014 before going on to replace David Letterman on CBS’s The Late Show. Larry Wilmore’s The Nightly Show and Jordan Klepper’s The Opposition were both yanked in less than a year.
Spade says the carnage Comedy Central made of his predecessors doesn’t make him “really feel pressure other than the general pressure of just keeping a show going.”
With the exception of SNL, which he’s also considering going back to host, he says with a self-awareness that reflects his years in the industry that “I’ve done ‘em all my life and none of ‘em are still going.”
Also probably a good sign: One of the rejected titles for the new show was The Letdown.
Whitney Friedlander is an entertainment journalist with, what some may argue, an unhealthy love affair with her TV. A former staff writer at both Los Angeles Times and Variety, her writing has also appeared in Cosmopolitan, Vulture, The Washington Post and others. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son and very photogenic cat.