David Spade.arrives at the Make-A-Wish Foundation Day Event Hosted by Kevin & Steffiana James .Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier.Los Angeles, CA.March 14, 2010.2010 Kathy Hutchins / Hutchins Photo.... Photo via Newscom

By Paul Freeman (Feb. 2009)

David Spade is America’s favorite wise guy (in comedic, not mob vernacular). In conversation his appealing on-screen smugness, is replaced by an endearing vulnerablity.

The razor-witted comedian chatted with Pop Culture Classics before performing at the Bay Area comedy club Cobb’s. While the WGA writers’ strike was providing a rare dollop of free time, Spade ramped up his stand-up schedule. “It gave me a chance to pick and choose a few fun places,” Spade said, “and I haven’t been in San Francisco for 10 years. So I thought I’d roll up there and rock out.”

His material proves crowd-pleasing. “It’s nothing too deep. I talk a little bit about Hollywood, my Mom, going to concerts, Las Vegas, my travels - whatever my real life is. I just exaggerate it, make it even stupider than it is.”

When he started in stand-up, Spade followed the Bay Area scene closely. He was an avid reader of the local publication “Just For Laughs.” He yearned to compete in the annual comedy competition, but never had the opportunity.

“I was just another crummy middle act. There were better guys doing it. But you never know. I remember auditioning for that HBO “Young Comedians” special every year. Actually being a young comedian, I thought I had a chance,” Spade quipped. “But it was like I’d lose out to Richard Belzer.”

After Spade’s years of sustained success, it’s difficult to imagine him scrambling for a forum. He still takes nothing for granted.

“You never really relax. I see why everyone’s crazy around here. You never get a feeling that everything’s going to be okay. It took me all of ‘Saturday Night Live’ and then probably the third year of ‘Just Shoot Me’ before I thought I might actually be able to stick around.”

Not all reviewers were kind to Spade during the “SNL” stint that made him a star. ““They’re telling us that when Lovitz, Jan Hooks and Phil [Hartman] were there, that’s when it was funny... and we suck. When you read that every day, you can’t get that excited. Then we leave and they go, ‘When Spade and Farley were there, that’s when it was funny...and Will Farrell sucks.’ Then we he leaves, they’re like, ‘We want Will Farrell.’

‘’Saturday Night Live wasn’t going to be canceled. But there’s always whispers that you’re going to be dropped. I finally felt like I did okay there towards the end. Then, after that, you’re back to zero. You can just disppear.”

Instead, Spade reappeared in “Just Shoot Me,” still popular in reruns. After a precarious launch, the sitcom proved to be a solid hit. When that happy run ended, Spade again looked for opportunities.

He has starred in movies like “Joe Dirt,” “Dickie Roberts” and “Benchwarmers” that audiences embraced, though critics did not.

With the writers’ strike, Spade’s insecurity resurfaced. Would his new CBS series “Rules of Engagement” be a casualty of the inactivity? He sees a positive side to all of the uncertainty.

“It keeps you from getting too cocky, too complacent. I can’t be the a--hole at work, demanding everything, because I realize how easily you can be replaced,” Spade laughed.

A few days before we spoke, Spade learned “Rules of Engagement” was coming back for additional new episodes that season. He’s glad he originally gambled on this sitcom.

“It was another situation similar to ‘Just Shoot Me’ where I had to make a quick decision. They’d already made the pilot without me. They liked the show, but wanted to tweak it a little bit. It’s like, do you want to be the fifth lead on a show that’s clearly about two married couples? And the answer is, yeah, that’s okay.

“I don’t even know if I would want to be Joe Leading Man. When you do that on a TV show, your character has to drive everything. When an episode revolves around my character, it’s always harder, because everyone else is buzzing around me, doing their jokes. On Seinfeld, you’ve got Kramer coming in, being funny. So maybe I’m better off doing those kind of parts... at least for now.”

Spade would welcome the chance to stretch as a performer. “In the future, I don’t think I’ll be the single, running around, horny guy - that’s clearly my thing I do on these shows. It’s tough, because you can’t really shake the system. Like Sandler, doing ‘Punch Drunk Love’ - it takes a while before you can branch out a little bit. In the meantime, I try to do the best I can at what I do.

“Jim Carrey does huge comedies and then he wants to do other stuff. I get why he’d want to. But then you don’t know if there’s an audience for it.”

Online, you can check out Spade portraying Daniel Day-Lewis in the sharp, satirical trailer “There Will Be Oscars.” “Even in that three minute-video, it was fun to do something a little different.”

Because of the roles he usually plays, the public assumes Spade is a serial dating bachelor who runs through a succession of actresses, models and Playmates.

His “Just Shoot Me” and “Rules of Engagement” characters are exaggerations of Spade. “It’s only funny if you make an extreme version of that guy. I have a friend that I base that on, more than myself. He’s in a band at night and he’s a super skirt chaser, lies and says stupid s--t all the time.”

Paparazzi prefer to snap photos of Spade when’s he has a beautiful young woman by his side.

“I have a little house in Malibu. It took my whole life to buy this house on the beach. And now they’re camped out. The second I step out on the sand, there they are taking my picture. I look like s--t, which they don’t mind saying, in capital letters. And I can’t invite friends who are girls or friends’ wives. If I walk on the beach with them, you can’t explain to everyone who it is. So I don’t go on the beach as much anymore. I might sell the place. When you’re so conscious of it, it’s not as fun.

“It couldn’t be more awkward, like on a first date. Her friends and your friends see photos in print and want to know what’s going on there. Really nothing’s going on yet. You haven’t figured it out yet. Maybe you break it off right away, because it’s already weird.”

But Spade says celebrity is worth the complications that come with it. He recalls chatting with Brad Pitt several years ago. “Even then, all that paparazzi stuff was so horrible for him, at a level mine doesn’t even compare to. He was cool about it - ‘It’s the business I want to be in, I love it, I can deal with all that other stuff.’ So I thought, if he can deal with it, what am I complaining about?”

Spade’s fans love it when he pokes fun at celebs like Pitt. “When I did it on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ it was more prominent, because there was only People magazine and everyone was nice. Now Entertainment Weekly and those TV shows have turned snarky and all the magazines are mean. So I kind of blend in.

“I might actually see these people I’m kidding, so I try to keep it funny and clever, not just a kick in the balls. And deserved. Like if they’re doing something, you make fun of it. I don’t go out of my way to kick anybody.”