Lord knows we could all use a good laugh these days. And many of us might be watching more television. That’s where David Spade comes in, or hopes to.
In August of last year, I profiled Spade’s new Comedy Central show, Lights Out with David Spade, angling from a particular standpoint: Spade’s intention to keep the show free of politics.
I’ve kept an eye on the subject of my profile and can report that the actor (Tommy Boy, Joe Dirt) and former Saturday Night Live cast member has lived up to his promise. If a guest veers towards political humor, gatekeeper Spade is there to steer things back into a zany, often rather adolescent, apolitical lane.
I worried as the premiere date came and went that the LO brain-trust had set themselves an insurmountable goal: to sustain ratings-worthy humor without venturing onto a political landscape replete with opportunities for high comedy. I worried that if Kathy Griffin came out of hiding with President Trump’s head on a stick, Spade wouldn’t be able to touch it. I worried about things like what if presidential candidate Joe Biden held an online town hall and forgot to look in the direction of the camera? Spade wouldn’t be—actually make that isn’t—able to riff on it.
There are ways around the proscription on political humor: Spade and his compadres were able to slice, dice, and dispose of CNN’s initial choice for the 2020 presidential ticket, Michael Avenatti, without ever mentioning the Donald Trump connection. Nobody said it was going to be easy.
It will come as no surprise that some of the best installments of LO feature one-on-one conversations with illustrious SNL alumni. Adam Sandler dropped in for a scintillating 30 minutes spent reminiscing about when he and Spade were the new kids in town. Dana Carvey waxed hysterical on his first appearance, remembering that when Spade first arrived, he looked like nothing so much as a “fetus with shoes.” Kevin Nealon made the best of his screen time, dead-panning about how he, not Spade, would be a better bet to host a show.
Comedienne Nikki Glaser is another–I won’t say highlight. More like an overturned tractor-trailer carrying live poultry. You can’t look away. Her sexual self-disclosure routine is enough to make Stormy Daniels blush.
Sometimes you just have to laugh.
On certain Lights Out nights, however, genuine laughter can be as elusive as a roll of toilet paper. Three guests simultaneously vie for the spotlight, and attempted bank-shots often clunk on the rim. When Spade repeats a guest’s punchline and peals forth with his signature Eddie Haskell-style laugh, it’s a sure sign that he’s attempting to assist. Some of the young comics seem to think that laughing uproariously at anything that is said by anybody creates an infectious sense of hilarity. It does not.
In fairness, LO (now in reruns due to COVID-19) offers up-and-coming young comics a televised venue in which they can joke about previewed topics, rehearse their timing, go off-the-cuff, and occasionally hit one of Spade’s pop-cultural spit-balls out of the park.
Some of the prerecorded or remote bits can be very funny or they can implode. In one bit, Spade and another notable comedian (Whitney Cummings for example) secretly feed jokes to non-comedic celebrities who then deliver the lines stand-up style in front of a live audience. If it works, it can be amusing. If the person delivering the jokes lacks comic timing or charisma, the bit can be as funny as Michael Bloomberg at a salad bar featuring dip-your-own-dressing spoons.
On the plus side, the show’s theme music is hard-metallic and doesn’t get old.
Downside: The lead-in show is a tired vehicle helmed by insufferable Trump-hater Trevor Noah. You’ve got to be quick on the remote trigger to hit Spade’s show without getting a turn-off glimpse of Jon Stewart’s vacuous successor.
In further fairness, David Spade’s fortunes will not rise or fall based on ratings from people (like me) for whom Rip Taylor is an identifiable comedic reference. Most of the time, I have no idea who Spade’s guests are, and that goes double for whom and what they are talking about. It’s a testament to my position in a conservative boomer demographic that I couldn’t pick most of the people highlighted on the show out of a police line-up.
Usually dependable is Spade’s own stand-up turns at the end of the show. When Comedy Central announced the debut, Spade said that his show would eschew politics because he didn’t want to alienate half his audience. He also inferred that he was not smart enough to competently address the political theater other comedy shows like Real Time with Bill Maher and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert have taken to the bank.
Believe the first assertion, dismiss the second. Spade is smart to have made the non-political comedy lane his pathway to success. It’s a hard road, divorcing oneself from contemporary politics that offer a wellspring of humorous potential. But as adolescent and uneven as it often is, he is wise to keep the show free of the extreme divisiveness that has infected our body politic.
I’ll keep an eye out because I’ve always enjoyed Spade’s acerbic wit and whimsical sense of humor, despite the aforementioned fact that most of the time I have no idea whom or what he and his guests are talking about.
This I do know, and David Spade knows it too. If Lights Out goes political, starts denigrating conservatives and bashing the president, becoming just another unfunny leftist hate-mill, I’m the hell out of there.
Memo to David: Five words: Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man; flamethrower.
Mark Ellis is the author of A Death on the Horizon, a novel of political upheaval and cultural intrigue. He came aboard at PJ Media in 2015. His literary hangout is Liberty Island. Follow Mark on Twitter.