One of the biggest laughs in David Spade’s My Fake Problems, his first hour-long special in 15 years, comes early when he turns to an audience member who’s wearing shorts and says, “What are you saving the pants for, Louis C.K.?” It’s a small aside compared to the rest of his set, but it captures Spade’s comedic voice at its best: dry and snarky without crossing over to smug arrogance.
Though Spade’s career was at its peak in the ’90s—with his stint on Saturday Night Live and his starring roles in Tommy Boy and Black Sheep opposite Chris Farley—the “David Spade character” has persisted for over two decades in sitcoms (Just Shoot Me!, 8 Simple Rules, Rules Of Engagement) and in Happy Madison films (The Benchwarmers, Grown-Ups). Yet My Fake Problems still feels like Spade’s return to comedy, even though his style or persona hasn’t changed much at all.
As Spade first walks to the stage with five burly bodyguards surrounding him—“You guys know One Direction, give them a round of applause”—he gives off an unmistakable air of confidence and comfort. He hasn’t performed an hour-long set on television since 1998, but Spade’s greatest asset as a comedian in 2014 is his natural performance. While his laid-back vibe may be because of painkillers (Spade admits to being on a lot of Vicodin because he “got his tooth pulled in June”), he never tries too hard to prove that he’s a real stand-up; he just acts like he’s always belonged on that stage.
While the set is certainly polished, the material itself is a mixed bag. Spade is funniest when he’s talking about his childhood, like when he first learned that his family was poor by trying to convince another kid that he wasn’t: “Would we have two tires on our lawn if we were poor? No, no, you don’t get it. We have a car with four tires and then we have two extra on the lawn.” Spade shines when he delivers these anecdotes, because he turns his signature sarcasm on himself and gives his set a more intimate feel.
But when he falls back on tired, predictable material about AutoCorrect and Tiger Woods’ womanizing, his set becomes more impersonal and less funny. He goes on a few runs about penises—celebrity penis pics, women’s insincere comments about penis size, the anxiety of showing your penis to the doctor—that are hit-or-miss, mostly, because he hammers the subject into the ground. Though some of his personal material doesn’t really work (his strip-club stories are overlong and unengaging), Spade’s set really suffers when he moves into the “general” arena and away from himself.
Overall, My Fake Problems is a decent special that signals a fresh start for David Spade. It’s a good sign that he doesn’t rely too much on his acting fame to provoke laughs from the audience (he references Farley and Joe Dirt once apiece), because it forces them to see Spade in a new light. Let’s hope he delves more deeply into personal territory the next time around.