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Recent years have seen big shakeups on the late night circuit as long-time hosts retired and the next generation shuffled in. One big shakeup that could have changed everything is one that didn’t happen back in 1993 when then-Saturday Night Live player David Spade declined NBC’s offer to take over the hosting gig of Late Night after the departure of David Letterman. It came as something of a shock that young Spade would not take the job, but Spade had a very good reason: he just didn’t want to.
In an interview with Esquire, David Spade revealed this about his offer to take Late Night:
I couldn’t believe they were handing me this…I thought, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing! They said, ‘We’ll get you writers, you know.’ I said, ‘I always pictured maybe a sitcom or something like that. I want to try that first. I want to go try that. And a talk show feels like the last job you would take. You don’t have another job. That’s it.
Spade certainly wasn’t wrong about talk shows often being the end of the road for performers. Comedians ranging from Jay Leno to David Letterman to even Stephen Colbert are associated with late night before anything else, and relatively newer faces to the circuit in Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel don’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon. Only 29 years old when offered the job at Late Night, the rest of his career as a talk show host would have been a very long time for David Spade .
Hindsight at least is not painful for Spade. He landed a prime role in sitcom Just Shoot Me that ran for seven seasons on NBC, and unforgettable film roles such as in Tommy Boy in 1995, The Emperor’s New Groove in 2000, and Joe Dirt in 2001 pretty much guarantee that he’s being rerun on a cable channel at any point in time. Turning down the comfort of a regular hosting gig with a generous salary was a risky move for young David Spade, but it certainly paid off.
The hosting gig for Late Night on NBC after Letterman defected to CBS ultimately went to an even more unknown comedian in Conan O’Brien, who despite a mixed reception has worked primarily as a talk show host in the years since. He certainly came into his own, and his career managed to survive the fiasco that saw him booted from network late night after a failed NBC experiment to juggle its late night slots. He’s since found success with Conan on TBS.
David Spade went a long time without revealing his chance at taking over Late Night back in 1993, and he only recently shared the tidbit thanks to a trip down memory lane for his autobiography, entitled Almost Interesting. The book is available now, and no doubt filled with plenty of the humor that made David Spade such a success in the first place.