David Spade’s Take the Hit is one of my favorite comedy specials of all time. Yes. All time. It’s in my personal Top 10 of all comedy albums. Killing Them Softly, Hilarious, Shut Up You Fucking Baby, Feelin’ Kinda Patton, The Burning Bridges Tour, Bill Cosby: Himself (I’m sorry but I’m leaving it in here), Robin Williams: Live at the Met, Bring the Pain, Laboring Under Delusions and, yes, Take The Hit.
Since adolescence I’ve always been afraid of talking about things that I like. There’s an unwritten hierarchy of what’s cool and what’s not and no one ever kept me abreast of the rules. Saying that one of your favorite comedy albums is by David Spade is like saying to a bunch of record store clerks that your favorite album is Slippery When Wet by Bon Jovi. That’s the trade-off with entertainment snobbery. Sure, you might get some eye rolls from a handful of people when you can’t name your favorite album by The Feelies but when “Livin’ on a Prayer” comes on the jukebox, everyone in the bar starts singing along. So, which is better? The self congratulation of having the right taste or joining the herd? Would you rather have a discussion about Lee Ronaldo and Thurston Moore’s guitar tunings? Or would you rather get a standing ovation at karaoke for your rendition of “Sister Christian”? We all must decide for ourselves.
Snobbery in music is a given but it is unfortunately pretty pervasive in comedy as well. This bothers me because both the practitioners and fans of comedy came to it because they were profoundly uncool and had finally found a refuge from all that judgement. But it’s human nature to categorize and so, within comedy world, there is some stratification. It sucks but it’s beyond our control.
I’d say the hierarchy, starting from the bottom, goes something like this: prop comics, impressionists, famous hacks, open mikers, mainstream comedians, alternative comedians, rising alternative comedians, lifers and wildly popular mainstream comedians, comedians’ comedians who have hit it big, and, finally, obscure unfunny comedians that only respected comedians find funny.
So, let’s flesh that out.
Even the casual comedy fan knows that at the bottom of the respect chain we have Gallagher and Carrot Top. This probably also includes The Amazing Johnathan who I genuinely still like but, let’s be honest, he’s both a magician and a prop comic. I also love impressions. When done well, they’re amazing. Ross Marquand’s nano-impressions when viral for a reason. And Jay Pharoah is a genius. The problem with impressionists is the heavy handed set-up. “So, I got to wondering, what would David Schwimmer sound like getting a full body cavity search in Thailand…” Also, talking about two of the best doesn’t excuse the others who are all still doing Jack Nicholson in front of a brick wall. Above them we have what I’ll refer to as famous hacks. I’m basically speaking about Jay Leno, a person with a long, impressive career that no one seems to like. Larry the Cable Guy probably belongs here as well. Above them, amateurs. Yes, that’s right. In the comedy world, being an unknown in a basement gets more respect that Jay Leno. Then we have mainstream comedians, your Ray Romano, Drew Carey, Kevin James set. If a comedian got his or her start on a Rodney Dangerfield Young Comedians Special, they belong here. Above the mainstream comedians, we have alternative comedians, your Paul F. Tompkins, Patton Oswalt, Maria Bamford, Janeane Garofalo types, basically anyone who performed regularly at Luna or Largo. Above them are rising alternative comedians like Rory Scovel or Reggie Watts, and basically anyone who is currently on Drunk History. (And, yes, they go above more established alternative comedians. Like an alternative comedian who is lesser known give you more cachet.) Above them are lifers and popular mainstream comedians. These are firmly established comics who, save a Cosby-esque fall from grace, will always be considered great. This space includes Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Letterman, Stewart, Joan Rivers. Above them are well respected comics who have hit it huge like Amy Schumer and Louis CK. And then, finally, you have the obscure, anti-funny stuff that no one really gets but really funny people get it, so, it’s cool. Think Eugene Mirman’s stand-up, Stella, or any sketch that H. Jon Benjamin and Jon Glaser have ever done together.
So, where does David Spade fall? The cruel and strict may put him among the Lenos and Cable Guys but I’d say he belongs among the Dangerfield Young Comedians set. That’s not bad company but it’s not esteemed company either, not if I’m trying to impress a comedy geek.
Take the Hit came out in 1998 on HBO. The opening credits are of Arizona while “In The Meantime” by Spacehog plays. It is very of its time. It was good but nothing special. Some of the bits had made it into our shared repository of lines from which we all drew. I remember my friend’s sister once busting out the line “Guess what? I can’t whack off to Autopsy… or can I?”
In the early to mid 2000’s, however – “the oughts” as the kids call them – there was a confluence of circumstance that made me rediscover a few albums. First, it was the popularity of file sharing software, first Napster, then Kazaa and Morpheus but also the fact that I was working as a web developer which required hours of independent working during which I could wear headphones. I was afforded over a decade of simultaneous work and stand-up comedy listening. I listened to hour long comedy albums, often daily, sometimes the same special multiple times a day. I would get them from certain friends with good comedy taste and then pass them on to other friends. This is how I came to know, appreciate, and, frankly, memorize some seminal comedy albums. Among them Killing Them Softly, Dave Attell’s Comedy Central Presents, and, yes, Take The Hit.
I could easily wax on about those other two albums or any of the other ones that I mentioned above. However, Spade is intriguing because I truly love his special and because I know none of my comedy geek friends would respect me for saying so. I had a recording of this special and it had a skip in it at the beginning like a lot of files did towards the end of file sharing. I’m not sure if it was to avoid a search algorithm that could find illegal stuff of if that was how it was ripped from its source. In any event, I listened to this special over and over and it killed me every time not in spite of the smarmy, douchey, fratty quality that he possesses but because of it.
In looking for the youtube clip to post here, I saw that one of the titles was “Comic Brat Extraordinaire David Spade Stand-Up Comedy.” That’s as apropos as it gets, I think. How else would you describe him? He was in Grownups, Grownups 2, and Joe Dirt. He managed to date Heather Locklear and have an illegitimate child with a Playmate. To put it in high school terms, because that’s how I see everything, David Spade isn’t the lacrosse bro who told you and your dork friends you can’t come into the party but he’s at that party and he’s talking to a girl you have a crush on and on Monday morning this little twat will make a wisecrack in homeroom and in spite of yourself you’ll laugh because, dammit, that was pretty funny.
And the special is just funny. His quiet delivery and almost lazy lack of enunciation makes you think that he’s too cool to be talking to you but it works. His aside during the story about wearing a t-shirt with a picture of himself on it floors me every time. “I’m pretty good at kickball. I don’t wanna talk about it. I’m a bit of an athlete but… let’s focus on this story.”
At minute 23:00, he starts the “Brad Pitt went to my school for one year” bit, a bit that made me lose it the first thirty to forty times I heard it.
I’m not alone. There’s at least one more person in the world who shares my love of this special and it’s my friend Jon. We were in the same kindergarten class and lived together for five years in New York. You know a comedy or comedy album has gotten hold of you when you and your friends can quote the unfunny lines to each other and make each other laugh.
“Hey pop in that Rush tape.”
“And make it sound like it does on the album, no tricks!”
“And why do you know all the words? That’s weird.”
Look, I’m embedding it below. You might watch this special and turn it off after five or ten minutes and think “Slippery When Wet, huh?” But I stand by it.
As I get older and I attempt to make even a meager living from comedy, I have respect for people who keep working. Adam Sandler puts out a movie a year. I haven’t wanted to see or pay for one since 1996 but he puts out a movie a year. Spade’s been just as consistent throughout his career. He’s been in a few long running sitcoms and a bunch of movies. He was in a Police Academy movie for Christ’s sake and he put out another special last year. You don’t have to respect the product but I respect the process. His WTF episode was really interesting. He’s been through some shit. His father sounds like a derelict. His stepfather killed himself. His best friend, Chris Farley, overdosed. He had an assistant who was planning to kill him. I don’t know. I guess I’ve just taken a really long route to tell you that I’m a fan.
For all my talk of snobbery, you know what the ultimate hipster thing is? It’s to pick a very specific piece of pop culture that no one likes and declare your undying admiration for it.
Game, set, and match.