The comedian recently dropped Nothing Personal, his first special for the streamer after starring in a number of Netflix films, including 2020’s The Wrong Missy opposite Lauren Lapkus. The hour-long set includes a wide array of bits solely designed to deliver carefree laughs, including one about a daring airplane pilot and another about the dastardly crabs that invaded his room during his stint as guest host on ABC’s Bachelor in Paradise last year.
That said, he also has jokes that won’t disappoint any fans who particularly enjoy his ability to stir the pot. When asked during an interview with The Hollywood Reporter about a few topics from the special that could potentially raise eyebrows — for example, he has jokes referencing pedophilia, trans people, COVID-19 and Alec Baldwin’s Rust investigation — he admits that a number of bits were ones he didn’t decide to include until the day of filming and that he has almost forgotten some of them at this point.
“These aren’t my hardcore beliefs,” the Saturday Night Live alum, 57, explains. “This is me saying something to shock or surprise you to elicit a laugh. If I say the five jokes we’re all allowed to say that have been approved by the world, then who’s laughing?”
The star, who co-hosts the Fly on the Wall podcast with Dana Carvey, has a lot to say about the current state of comedy, including his close friend Chris Rock having been slapped at the Oscars by Will Smith, plus the ongoing discussion surrounding Dave Chappelle. “Since the Will Smith incident, I feel there’s a change in the air,” Spade says.
During his chat with THR, Spade discusses the joke of his that Netflix didn’t love, how he might have handled the Oscars incident, having a high-profile dating life, Chappelle’s Hollywood Bowl attack and the project that might be next for himself and frequent collaborator Adam Sandler.
You definitely don’t seem to censor yourself in the special. What went into deciding which topics to cover?
I’m from an era of comedy when you were supposed to push things. Everyone was — that was the whole idea. And people would go and sort of escape to hear comics and laugh, and it’s all in good fun. And I would poke fun at people and move on, but it’s gotten very tricky business in general, and then one more wave was after the Oscars, so everyone has an opinion. With the invention of Twitter, you don’t just hear general opinions — you hear one at a time from everyone on the planet. You realize you’re never gonna please anyone, and they’re gonna let you know. Overall, I wanted to stay true to what I did, and I have people that know what I do. People that don’t like me, I don’t know if I can flip them with this.
Obviously, Dave Chappelle’s special was met with backlash over his comments about trans people, and your special has jokes about, say, Caitlyn Jenner. Was there any kind of conversation with Netflix about how to handle material like that?
There’s something to say for everyone wanting to be treated equal, and it’s a fine line between being able to make fun of everyone and having to stay away from people. Some people, some religions, some places would be like, “Hey, treat me like everyone else, make fun of me like everyone else and respect me like everyone else.” It’s all just a level playing field — ideally. Now, it is not, in reality, and everyone shies away from everything. I think with someone like [Sylvester] Stallone, who I poke fun at but actually really like in real life, there’s no malice or anger or vitriol. Caitlyn Jenner, I’ve met, and perfectly cool. So my angle was more the names and also making fun of myself. I don’t think I get enough credit, or that comedians do, when they make fun of themselves because that’s part of a level playing field. I get three to me, one to you.
I’m not saying I am some great guy. Also, Chappelle is a very deep thinker. He’s sort of America’s comic, and you go to him because he’s highly, highly respected and been around forever. He has the ear of the world. My comedy is more of a skim job. I’m not here to say anything super important, and I’m not changing the world. So I’m just saying, “Hey, here’s a couple funny thoughts.” Dennis Miller told me once — I wasn’t doing well in the clubs; I wasn’t killing — and he was my favorite comic at the time when I was starting, and he thought I was funny. And then I came back about six months later, and he saw me, and he goes, “Dude, what are you doing? What happened to your act?” I go, “Well, I wasn’t getting booked backed enough because I wasn’t killing, so I had to change it a little bit and do jokes that would work.” And he’s like, “I would say that’s a losing proposition — just do the jokes that you think are funny, and if they don’t work, then maybe you’re just not meant to be a comic.” But if you have to do that second layer of, “I think it’s funny, but wait, what would they think? Let me change it so they’ll laugh,” it’s another layer I didn’t need. I just need my thoughts to the audience and do my best with them. Obviously, I edit in my head some things, but I just have to go with what’s funny. But mine isn’t really like an offensive, important, groundbreaking thing that everyone needs to see.
How do you feel about where comedy is going?
I respect Chappelle, and I respect most comedians. I think we’re all friends until proven otherwise. It’s a nice little community. And if you like comedy, and you go to comedy club, there’s people saying shit you wouldn’t believe, but they’re not famous enough to get canceled. So in a way, this is your competition. You’re watching someone better than you because they’re doing shit you should be doing. And so it’s a very tough juggling act of going, “Here’s a joke about this and that.” I just try to be clever. I try to surprise in my jokes and just give an hour of fun without being too heavy, and no one needs to break into discussion groups after my special. Just, “Hey, that was all right.”
A lot of people don’t even know I do stand-up. I’m always in a movie or on a TV show. That’s not my calling card, but it is what got me into the room — Saturday Night Live saw my stand-up and hired me as a writer because they liked the writing. I really take pride in going out the road, and I take pride in being a standup with these other ones out there that I think are great, and trying to stay in the vicinity of that.
What was your reaction to Chappelle being attacked at the Hollywood Bowl?
Since the Will Smith incident, I feel there’s a change in the air. The invisible barrier between audience and stage has been broken. But clearly the grace period is over. I think all performers will hit first and ask questions later if someone comes at them. Even if it’s a juggler, you might get a bowling pin across the temple.
Does Netflix give you notes or feedback?
If I really did something they didn’t like, they would tell me. I actually did something that night that I just did off the top of my head, and I don’t think they made me take it out. I think they said, “We don’t think that’ll work as well, but it’s up to you.” And I love that because ultimately people are gonna get mad at me, but they do shoulder some responsibility because they’re where people are seeing it. So they’re gonna get caught in the crossfire. And I ultimately took this thing out because I didn’t really love the joke. It was sort of offensive — way, way worse than anything in there. But what I did is riff to the audience about why I did that joke and how I thought of it on the way there and how it was so fucking dumb of me to try to cram it in a special, and that was funnier to me than the joke. And so I like that element of it, but I thought it wasn’t worth it to take the hit on the joke.
Was it something topical?
It was something that just would go sideways on me. If you’re a comedy fan, you just laugh. If you’re not, you clutch your pearls and freak out. So that’s the problem we have is. Some comics get grandfathered in, and they’re doing shit where you go, “Wow.” Now and then, America just pumps the brakes and says, “Not this guy. We’re not letting you do that one.” And you go, “Oh, because I just saw four worse in a club last night that were killing.” But that’s just the way it is. And it’s under comedy, so there is some protection in: These aren’t my hardcore beliefs. This is me saying something to shock or surprise you to elicit a laugh. If I say the five jokes we’re all allowed to say that have been approved by the world, then who’s laughing? People are gonna nod their head and go, “Great. You did the safest, most acceptable things.” No one’s gonna think it’s funny or any good, but you win. But you don’t really win.
This is getting deep. Obviously, Alec Baldwin has had so many classic SNL moments, so I’m sure you’re personally familiar with him. Did you run it by him that you’d be referencing his Rust tragedy in the special?
I forgot about that one. (Laughs.) Funnily enough, no. I love Alec Baldwin, and he was great on SNL, and he was also my third show [on Lights Out]. That was something I threw in that morning of the special because it fit into that chunk. But again, people are going to know that that’s a very serious situation. But when you say a flip remark, it catches you off-guard. It doesn’t mean I think lightly of what happened. It doesn’t mean any of that.
You’ve obviously worked a lot with Chris Rock, including SNL and Grown Ups. What was your reaction to the Oscars, and have you talked to him since then?
It’s not like he’s a bunker in Kyiv. He’s out walking around, but yeah. Only if it was in my shoes, I would’ve been replaying that in my head, going, “What should I have done?” He could probably write a book of the things he could say after the fact because you’re just standing there stunned. And the word “stunned” is there because it’s real — it means you’re stunned. You don’t know what to do. And I think he got a lot of props for just continuing and not causing a scene more than it was, and sort of defusing it and moving on, and it’s really pretty much the only option. And you are at the Oscars — it is a worldwide event, and there’s just too many things going through your head at that point. I think he picked the right one, and just move on and try not to over-talk about it because it was talked about so much. Let it die down somehow.
Your personal life has been discussed extensively over the years, and in the special, you joke about dick pics. What’s your dating like these days for you?
I had a thing about dating women, mostly because I wasn’t married, and every show, I played a single guy dating. That gets blurred in with real life because I did date, but no more than a normal single guy. But I’m dating in Grown Ups; I’m dating in Just Shoot Me; I’m dating everybody on Rules of Engagement. And so that just turns into, “Oh, that’s your thing.” Because most people just see that. They don’t see me in real life. So they go, “Oh, you’re the guy that always dates girls.” Obviously, I date. I haven’t sent any dick picks yet. I’m too scared, and there’s not enough filters yet and fluffers to put on it.
When I would date, and [the public] would find out about someone, I really didn’t want anyone to know anything about my life. And I think people will learn if you lead with dating, then they’re not talking about your movies or your comedy. I’d rather them talk about that, and it’s a dangerous area to only be dating. Because a lot of influencers, a lot of people — there’s just the whole thing of that, and you realize there’s nothing behind it. There used to be anonymity, where you’d see Harrison Ford, and we’d know nothing about him unless you saw him in a movie. You’d have to go to a movie to see him. And that’s old-school, and I’m sort of in the middle of that, and then there’s the new school of, everything’s out there. To me, that’s not my favorite thing. The more you’re out there, the more people have a comment about it.
When you’re dating someone, it can ruin it immediately because it messes with the regular ebbs and flows of dating. If you’re on a first date, and [someone takes] a picture, and it’s not really a date, you don’t know what it is. And then people chime in, and then her friends chime in, and then it’s like, “Wait, but we’re not boyfriend …” “Oh, you don’t think I’m your boyfriend? “And the, “No, well, you know …” It’s already so hard, you just don’t need worldwide commentary. I don’t wanna go looking for that. It’ll happen, but I don’t seek it out and hire people to take my photo when I’m walking. I heard about people hiring paparazzi, and they’re like, “When I come out with this person, you have to be here, and I sell these pictures, and it looked like it’s normal, and you caught me.” And I’m like, “Wow.”
When a movie like Netflix’s The Wrong Missy gets a lot of attention, I’m guessing that can change the way people think about you. How are you feeling about your career at the moment?
It’s always hard. Even Chris Rock, we joke that anytime something works, you just bought yourself six more months in show business. It doesn’t really mean anything. It means a little bit — it’s better than going backwards — but it’s hard to stick around, so you have to throw everything against the wall. Everything’s an audition. You do something people don’t like, they might scatter. The Wrong Missy was a huge thing just because it was one of their top 10 ever or something, so it took everyone by surprise. And I love being in that. I love doing moves with Sandler. I love the Grown Ups ones. I wish we could do something even similar to that, which we might do one day. But overall Netflix has been great — The Do-Over, Father of the Year and now the special. I’ve never had a special on Netflix — it’s the place to have it — and then we’ll see, but I’m just trying to stay out there. The new podcast is doing well, so that was sort of out of blue, and it’s an interesting thing to do, for me.
Around the start of the pandemic, it was announced that your Comedy Central nightly talk show Lights Out would be ending after less than a year. Is that the kind of show you’d like to do again?
I don’t know. I like Lights Out, and I hear so much of about it after the fact. But I don’t think the people that were in place at Comedy Central would have ever canceled it. And then, it switched over — a lot of things happened, and they just had a different vision, which is like a new coach coming in. I understand how that works, but it was a bummer. And then you just brush off and figure out what to do next. But it is hard to do that every night. That was a little harder than it looks, and I’m trying to write bits for the ending, and I’m trying to do monologue jokes. I see why it’s hard for regular talk show hosts — they’re very good at it.
Are there any projects of yours that have potential reboot or sequel conversations in the works right now?
Maybe. I talked to Lauren Lapkus about something we both read. It’s not a Wrong Missy sequel, but we’re basically Tracy and Hepburn at this point. Basically Bogey and Bacall. She’s very good, and I read some hard-R-rated thing that would be fun. And then I’m writing something else for another two-dudes comedy. We’ll just see how it goes and keep chipping away.
I’m also am enormous Bachelor fan, so I would be remiss if I didn’t at least ask you something about your Bachelor in Paradise guest-hosting gig last summer. Was there any flirting going on there for you, or is it different because of a generational divide?
It wasn’t really that, and the only reason I thought of not doing it is because of that — when people go, “Oh, here you go.” But I don’t really interact with them at all. The only time I saw them is, they walk in, and I shake their hand and say, “Hey, this is what you’re gonna be doing,” and a few jokes about them, but that was not my place. I might be a little more normal than people think, even though it was a great-looking crowd of guys and girls there.
Would you be interesting in hosting again this summer, and have there been talks about that?
I don’t know. I talked to Mike Fleiss a lot about all things Bachelor. I just don’t know if it’s fun, or if it’s a one-off — if it’s just something to do because it was kind of funny. Hosting the regular Bachelor is a bit too serious for me. I’m better in short bits. To do hours of me talking seriously and asking people about their dates when I’m supposed to be very earnest about it, but I wouldn’t be — it’s hard to fake like I’m so interested in this date that’ll lead to a marriage that’ll dissolve. So it’s hard, but it’s fun to watch, and it’s fun to do.
Was there a joke from the special that made you particularly nervous about the public’s reaction?
In this new world, I don’t want people looking for trouble. It’s more like, “Let’s see if this is funny,” instead of, “I wonder what we can dissect and find a way to get mad about.” But that is a new rule.
Sure, although I’m sure that in any era, jokes about pedophilia are always going to be like …
We didn’t even get to that — I 100 percent forgot about them. I don’t even know which ones in the special will get people mad, but that one, sure. But again, I just skim it — like, so stupid. I’m not out here like, “Why aren’t we promoting pedophilia?” People think I don’t know it’s bad. They’re like, “You don’t think it’s bad?” Yeah, I do.