Photographs by Michael Evanet
"Can you sign this?" The woman standing at David Spade's dressing-room door is wearing a headset, and the look on her face says Official Business.
"Of course, sweetheart." The 42-year-old actor rises from the chair he's been kneeling on to ease his chronic back pain, crosses his dressing room—which contains merely a couch, a chair, a plywood desk, a TV, and a mini-fridge—and takes her pen. "What is it?"
The woman's tone turns apologetic. "A bereavement card."
It seems that a relative of someone who works on Rules of Engagement, the CBS show in which Spade plays a single guy adrift in a clan of couples, has passed away. And while Spade's signature is surely requested on all sorts of occasions, and atop objects as varied, one would imagine, as scraps of paper, photos, and parts of the female anatomy, "Sorry your relative died" cards are presumably rare. And perhaps for good reason.
"I never know what to say on these things," he says as he starts writing. His trademark smirk reveals itself. "Like, 'So sorry I'm still here'?"
And there you have an example of why so many people in America think that David Spade is a jerk. He's sarcastic, inappropriate, obnoxious—and, in the past decade or so, he's become ubiquitous. Even if you haven't caught Rules, there's no way you missed Just Shoot Me! (in which he played a whiny toad so well that he was nominated for an Emmy and two Golden Globes). Or Joe Dirt, Dickie Roberts, and The Benchwarmers. Or Comedy Central's Showbiz Show With David Spade (which, he says, may start airing again, this time online). Or the snarky bank and 1-800-COLLECT ads. The SNL reruns. The cameos in friends' movies.
But performing isn't the only thing that Spade is known for. Over the past few years he's gotten a reputation for being something of a ladies' man. Not only that, but the quality of the women he's dated appears more appropriate for a pretty boy like Matthew McConaughey than a wiseass comic. Romancing Lara Flynn Boyle, Kristy Swanson, Teri Hatcher, Julie Bowen, Krista Allen, and Heather Locklear was one thing, but his knocking up a Playmate (23-year-old Jillian Grace gave birth to their daughter last August) solidified the notion of Spade as a world-class swordsman. By the time reports surfaced that Spade and Nicollette Sheridan had been spotted making out at her birthday party last November, it hardly seemed worth asking how a five-foot-seven-inch guy with feathered hair has landed so many hot girls. Spade the Lady-Killer is one of the cruelties of life.
While every bit as sarcastic and amusing as he is onscreen, he's a great deal more subdued in person. When you're David Spade, people have certain assumptions—that you'll run around in circles, rattling off one-liners, for instance. But between takes on the set of Rules, you won't find him joking around with his costars or hitting on girls from craft services but sipping a Diet Coke in his dressing room as he obsessively monitors the Dow on CNN, a bouncing leg the only indication of his nervous energy. "People expect David to be on all the time, but he's not," says the designer Kate Spade, who's married to his older brother Andy. "I'm much more hyper than he is."
"I've been with Sean Penn and people haven't said anything to him because he's a movie star that they're scared of, but I'm the guy in movies who they think is their buddy," Spade says. "Ninety-nine percent of the time I'm fine with it. But there's an inch-mile syndrome, where they go, 'Hey, can I get you to sign something?' And when you do, it's like, 'Can you take a quick picture?' And then it's 'Will you call my sister?' And if you do everything but the last thing, they go, 'What an asshole.'"
But Spade isn't an asshole, and he doesn't even have Entourage-style entitlement issues ("I just saw a Carbon Beach house for sale for $65 million," he marvels. "People really pay that much for anything?"). On the set of Rules, his dressing room is so unimpressive that, he says, it's declared "gross" by most who enter it. "The King of Queens used to be shot here, and Kevin James had both this room and the next one," he says, shrugging. "But I don't really care that I don't have Picassos on the wall. I just go, 'Whatever—can I have a TV?'"
Part of Spade's indifference to the décor has to do with the fact that he was raised by a single mom who in the seventies struggled to make $400-a-month rent payments on a two-room apartment. When Spade was a kid, his dad "bailed" after relocating the family from Michigan to Scottsdale, Arizona, leaving his wife with three boys and no child support or alimony. Although much of that drama has been brushed under the rug—Dad resurfaced once the Spade boys found success, and the comedian helps take care of both parents—Spade dryly admits that "odds are" the example of marriage he witnessed during his formative years plays into why he's still single.
Another marital buzz-kill is that Spade can't guarantee he'd be faithful. "Some guys can say 'I'll never cheat on you' and then go and get a number that night," he says. "I can say 'I would do my best,' but no girl wants to hear that."
And he doesn't exactly relish all the tabloid ink that's expended on his love life. "The underlying question is 'Why would anyone date you?' After a while, that grates on your nerves," he says. "Look, I'm single—I would think if I was married and they caught me dating, that would be more of a story." As for his allure? "I'm just polite, normal." He shrugs. "That goes a long way in a town where everyone's nuts."
Despite Spade's bewilderment as to why anyone would be interested in his bachelorhood, he's adapted to the role he's been assigned by the celebrity weeklies. "It's gotten to the point where it's almost impossible to be in the same room with a woman and not have rumors start," he says when asked about his relationship with Nicollette Sheridan. He goes on to offer up a Madonna-worthy denial of any amorous relationship with her—"I've seen her out and went to her birthday party. She's nice and funny"—just hours before dining alone with her at the not-so-private STK steak house in West Hollywood.
But his attempts to establish a public persona other than that of a player are for naught. "I was leaving a restaurant the other night, and once the guy with the video camera saw I was just with my buddy," Spade recounts, "he stopped shooting. I go, 'Hey, what's going on? Do I have bad hair or something?' And he goes, 'Nah, I just can't sell it unless you're with a girl.' I go, 'Really? Is that who I've become?' And he just looks at me: 'Yeah, pretty much.'" Anna David