Since the spread of coronavirus has shut down traditional production of the nation’s late night shows, Spade is toiling harder than ever to keep the program in the public eye with a series of “Live From The Bunker” segments distributed via Facebook Watch, YouTube and Instagram, among other venues. Spade has the support of his staff, but he’s also doing more of the day-to-day work of the show.
“They have to make me set up the camera, and the phone and the lighting and the mike,” says Spade, in an interview. “I walk around while they are in my ear – ‘Walk right down the stairs.’ ‘We see your face.’ I’m sweating.”
In the not-too-distant past, the popular comedian did jokes in front of a live audience, enjoyed the company of two or three well-known comics each night and was surrounded by a crew of writers, camera operators, and producers. “Lights Out,” which just launched on the ViacomCBS-owned network in July of last year, was gaining a reputation as a place for viewers to laugh about current events and pop culture without a lot of the political hot-talk that has become a staple of the late-night format. Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler have stopped by for in-depth talks.
“It’s hard to stop in your tracks,” says Spade. “We were like the XFL – just getting going.”
But Spade, like the nation’s other late-night hosts, is pushing on with the show. On Friday, a day on which “Lights Out” normally doesn’t air on Comedy Central, Spade placed a quick call to a reporter, excited that he had landed an interview with Kelci Saffery, one of the employees featured in the new Netflix documentary series “Tiger King.” A 16-minute interview that surfaced Friday night – something that would not necessarily fit into the typical flow of a “Lights Out” broadcast – showed a different side of the comic.
The booking came “out of left field,” Spade says, who likens Joe Exotic from the series to his character he played in the 2001 movie “Joe Dirt. “The ‘Joe Dirt’ connection is working for me.”
Other segments have featured “low-fi monologues,” and “lo-fi panels” with guests. On one recent outing, comics Nikki Glaser and Fortune Feimster beamed in to talk about “Tiger King” and a new gadget that helps women use the bathroom. “We are trying to keep comedy going a little bit at a time,” Spade told his guests.
He joins a large field of late-night shows hoping to keep up with fans. Some programs are going back on the air tonight, jury-rigged with remote cameras and staffers working from home. Stephen Colbert’s CBS “Late Show” says the program’s next four broadcasts will feature “Colbert from home, with special guest.” Jimmy Kimmel, who has been releasing digital-video “mini-logues” from his home, and Conan O’Brien are also slated to return this evening. James Corden, who normally holds forth after midnight on CBS’ “Late Late Show,” will unveil a primetime special this evening – hosted from his garage.
Taking on “Lights Out” offered a new step in Spade’s career path, a project different from his stint on “Saturday Night Live” as a writer and performer; the movies he made on his own and with Chris Farley; and a spate of TV comedies that include “Just Shoot Me” and “Rules of Engagement.” The show has given him a chance to show off a different brand of comedy than what he was known for on “SNL,” he says. “We try not to be so mean. It’s more poking fun. In the old days, I was a little more cutting. These days, I want to take a slightly different angle, just keep it clever. No one is really out for blood.”
It’s clear he has relied on his own connections. Former “SNL” cast members like Kevin Nealon, Dennis Miller, Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz have become regular guests (indeed, Lovitz recently made his first cameo on “SNL” in years after making several appearances on “Lights Out.”) Maya Rudolph has also visited the show. Spade says he’d love to book “SNL” cast member of a more recent vintage, including Andy Samberg, Kristen Wiig or Kate McKinnon, but notes “I just didn’t have the day to day with them. I’m more of a fan.” But SNL is like “a little army,” he says. “You all have at least some common denominator.”
Spade hopes viewers still want to laugh, though he acknowledges doing so these days is tougher. “It’s a weird cloud over every day,” he says of news about the pandemic. “I wish the news would put in a 1% glimmer of hope,” he adds. “It seems like they have got to out-bad news each other.”
Getting up to write keeps him going, he says. That way, “I don’t just have to wake up and say, ‘Is there a cure? No? I’m going to go back to sleep.’”