David Spade is on the other end of this call, and instantly I detect what I call “ambient noise” in the background. It sounds like a mix of wind and traffic. “I am driving through LA, and I just passed Ozzy Osbourne’s house and Ben Affleck’s house,” Spade says. “I am cruising around with a buddy of mine here.”
“Who is the buddy?” I ask. “Anyone famous?”
“No. He’s a buddy from high school,” Spade says. “He’s not worth the ink, trust me.”
Maybe we’ll see this wind-around re-enacted in an upcoming buddy movie. Regardless, this sort of give-and-take is rote for Spade, comedic star of TV, film and stage for more than 25 years. He’s back this weekend as part of the stellar Aces of Comedy lineup at the Mirage, appearing in a co-headlining show with Ray Romano.
Spade’s detached, smart-ass brand of comedy came to national attention with his run on Saturday Night Live in the early 1990s; his “Hollywood Minute” segments seemed an extension of his mocking personality. He made a series of movies fans loved far more than critics, Tommy Boy, Black Sheep and Joe Dirt among them.
In Las Vegas, he has become a popular and long-running stand-up after rising out of the Improv in the late-1980s. His time here has taken him to the Mirage for five years, Planet Hollywood Showroom for one, the Venetian for five more and then back to the Mirage for his current, open-ended run of four weekends a year with Romano.
With that deep a history, Spade can spin some old Vegas tales, especially of early days at the Improv Comedy Club, which opened at the Riviera in 1986, moved to Harrah’s in 1995 and is set to close at the end of this month. Spade debuted at the Improv, and in Las Vegas, in 1989, when Steve Schirripa was the entertainment director at the Riv, long before Schirripa became a TV star during his run on The Sopranos.
“I did 21 shows per week—this was before SNL, so that was my schedule—and they actually offered to pay you in chips in those days,” Spade says. “So at the end of the 21 weeks, Steve says, ‘You want to be paid in chips instead of a check?’ And I was like, ‘Why? So I can lose 21 shows’ worth of work in the next eight minutes?’”
Spade laughs as another memory hits him. “Steve actually sent me to my room one night, like a parent,” he recalls. “I came down for my set when we had four comics in the lineup, and I was like four minutes late to the show. He says, ‘I want you to go back up to your room to think about what you’ve done.’ I said, ‘What? I don’t get to go on?’ and he says, ‘That’s right. You’re not going on.’ That’s how the Riv was in those days.”
Spade now shares headlining status in the Aces series with a rangy group of stand-up stars that includes Jay Leno, Lewis Black, Gabriel Iglesias, Jim Norton, George Lopez, Wayne Brady, Bill Maher, Ron White, Kathy Griffin and Daniel Tosh.
“It’s a great room, a beautiful room, a lot better than being in a small club at one of these hotels, buried with 3,000 shops around you,” Spade says. “The advertising is great, which is important because there are like 95 other shows just in your hotel. It’s harder in Vegas to get someone to come to see you—this is not like Tulsa, where you’re the only game in town.
“If you can draw, at all, in Vegas, it’s a big deal.”
The current format of Spade’s shows has him swapping sets with Romano, a longtime Mirage headliner who has also shared weekend dates with Brad Garrett and Kevin James. The show ends with an open Q&A, in which both comics invite audience members to fire questions at the stage. It happens after 11 p.m. on a weekend night on the Strip. It can get a little nutty.
“Is it a risk? Oh yeah,” Spade says. “You’re dealing with an audience that might be pretty drunk, pretty antsy to get out of the theater, and we’re giving them one shot to scream at the stage.”
Spade recalls one instance, in particular. “Guy stands up and says, ‘David, I am your biggest fan! I just want to know if there’s going to be a Joe Dirt 2!’” Spade recalls. “I said, well, there is a Joe Dirt 2, and I would think my biggest fan would know that. In fact, I think any of my top five fans would know that. The top 10 would know it ...”
As he recites that story, laughter is heard in the background. It’s the unbilled buddy, probably in that top 10, serving as another great audience for David Spade.
David Spade May 20, 10 p.m.; May 21, 9 p.m.; $90-$120. Mirage's Terry Fator Theater, 702-792-7777.