My infamous run-in with Eddie Murphy has been discussed and repeated so many times over the years, by so many people, that I’m sort of done with it. But I feel like I should put it down in print one final time, to sort of put the bow on it and move on. That way, when the aliens come looking for some mildly amusing anecdotes to take back to their planet when they blow ours to smithereens, this one will be primed and ready to go.
When I finally came up with my Hollywood Minute sketch, as previously recounted in great (and probably excruciatingly boring) detail, it was a huge relief to me. I needed something to stick. Things were so dire for me then that whenever I saw Adam Sandler in his office tuning his guitar I’d just crumple up whatever I was writing, go out for pizza, and stick a gun in my mouth between bites. Because he always killed.
The first joke I used on Hollywood Minute went along with a photo of Michael Bolton. The line went “Hey, Michael Bolton, your hair is really long in the back, but guess what? We all know what’s happening on top. It’s called Rogaine, look into it.” Then came “I know you’ve sold eight million albums but guess what? I don’t know anyone that has one!” Laughs all around. I did “the min” (gross term for it that I never actually called it) again two weeks later, and then as often as I could despite everyone probably rolling their eyes whenever I brought it to the table.
The bit was working and now the cast and other writers were baiting me, daring me to go after certain people. Jim Downey was notorious for egging me on, and I was easily swayed by him because he was my boss, he is a great writer, and I was desperate to impress him in any way I could. Plus I needed attention. (Barf.) As time went on, I hit some peeps pretty hard, but I only did so if I felt they deserved it. It’s a fine line between clever and just mean. I did cross it a few times, but I went for laughs. Some of my favorite jokes back then were ripping on Downtown Julie Brown after she had left MTV (Wubba wubba wubba, my career’s in trubba trubba trubba), and M. C. Hammer (Do do do doot do doot do dooot, it’s over). I went for Jim Carrey once, and I can say it was too soon—people loved him too much. I loved him, too, frankly, but this was a case of writers egging me on, daring me to go after him. I did the joke at dress rehearsal, but I got so many hisses that I pulled it. I liked it though:
“Jim Carrey was hospitalized this week on the set of his movie after mixing over-the-top pills with play-it-too-big juice. It can be a deadly combo. He’s fine now and quietly overacting at home.” A lot of the time I was going after friends, friends who happened to be in the news, so it felt like an omission if I skipped the story. But in the case of Jim Carrey, I’m glad that joke didn’t make it to air.
Now we come to the infamous Eddie Murphy Hollywood Minute. Here’s the story, as I remember it. After this I swear I am never talking about this again. (Of course I will.) One week I was writing my dopey Hollywood Minute, my bread and butter and basically the only thing keeping me from going back out on the road doing shows at the Gut Busters in Omaha or working in the skateboard shop. I was sort of addicted to doing them because it was the only thing keeping me in front of the camera. So I’m sitting in my dumpy office and I realized that Eddie Murphy had put out two back-to-back flops. (By the way, there couldn’t be a harsher word to hit your ear when you’re an actor than flop. It’s brutal. Short, harsh, and to the point. The past tense is even worse, as in “I heard your movie FUCKING FLOPPED!” So awful, and I should know. I’ve heard it a lot. That and bombed. But I hate flop more.) I think the two films were Harlem Nights and Vampire in Brooklyn. So, I casually write a joke about Eddie Murphy for my piece that week. You know the line. “Look, kids, a falling star! Quick, make a wish . . .”
The burn skims by on air, gets sort of a laugh mixed with an, “Ooo no you di‑int” response, and I think nothing of it. Especially because it’s buried in the middle of ten or twelve of these rapid-fire sizzles that come and go quickly.
So, on the following Monday at around 5 p.m. I was sitting in the writers’ room reading the paper and waiting for the meeting with that week’s host when an NBC page came into the room.
He looked at me a little oddly and said, “Eddie Murphy is on the phone for you.”
My heart stopped. WTF? “Um, seriously?” I squeaked.
“Yes, line two.”
“Ummmmmmmmm. I’m not here, take a message.”
She walked away. I could tell she was a bit starstruck (by him, not me) and curious as to why Eddie was calling me. Also curious as to why I wasn’t sprinting to the phone. Meanwhile, I was quietly shitting diarrhea into my Dockers, out the window, and down Sixth Avenue, thinking, Holy shit! Why is this famous motherfucker calling me? My spider senses are tingling. He has to be pissed! What do I say? I just did that joke about him. That has to be it! In other words I was freaking the fuck out. I didn’t know if I should call him back, or act like I didn’t know he had called, or hide under Lorne’s desk till this crazy storm blew over or what . . . I was starting to have an actual, official panic attack when . . .
The phone seven feet from me in the writers’ room started ringing.
One of the assistants picked it up.
“Writers’ room . . . hang on . . . David, it’s Eddie Murphy.”
“Can’t find me,” I said casually, staring a hole through People magazine, pretending to read it, frozen in total, unmitigated fear.
By now my heartbeat had picked up the pace a bit.
She hung up. I broke out of my trance and realized I needed to enlist Chris Rock. He covers all bases. He’s my black friend, so any black-related problems go across his desk. He gets cc’d on everything. And he’s Eddie’s buddy, too, so he knows what I’m dealing with. He will have special insight, like when a movie brings in a real forensic criminologist to be a consultant. Rock knows what makes this guy tick. He could solve this. But before I could even get up to find Rock, I had a new problem.
HE’S CALLING AGAIN! WHAT. THE. FUCK.
“Eddie Murphy again . . .” the page said.
“I’m in a meeting,” I lied.
“He says he knows you’re not in a meeting, because it’s five forty-five p.m. and the Monday host meeting is at six and it’s never on time. He says call him back right now, or he’s driving in from Brooklyn to talk to you in person.”
I was staring at this page in disbelief. Why on God’s green earth was this superstar blowing me up three times in a row?? Didn’t he have money to count or chicks to bang? (One day, twenty years later, someone had this very thought about me! Success!)
Chris Rock then walked in and said, “You better call him; you don’t want him coming down here. Don’t forget, he’s still a black guy.”
No shit. I don’t want this guy coming to have a talk with me. Even if he’s famous. He scares me. I have no choice. So I take his number and asked Chris to get on the other phone to listen in and protect me.
I dialed . . .
My heart was pounding. I didn’t want to do this, especially since I had zero game plan.
A woman’s voice answered! My heart leapt! Perhaps I had dialed the wrong number.
“Um, is Eddie there? It’s . . . David Spade.” I’m sure my voice cracked like Peter Brady in that Brady Bunch episode where he goes through pubie.
“Hang on,” she said. Then, muffled, “It’s him.”
Stomach in knots, I heard, “Hello.”
“Hey, Eddie, it’s Spade.”
(Dramatic pause. If this was a Lifetime movie we would definitely fade to commercial at this point.)
Now here comes Eddie . . . “David Spade, who the fuck do you think you are?!! Honestly? Who. The. Fuck. Going after ME?? You dumb motherfucker! I’m off-limits, don’t you know that? You wouldn’t have a job if it weren’t for me. Talking shit about me??” Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera . . . on and on and on and making me feel like shit.
I barely spoke. I just stared at Rock in disbelief. It was so much worse than I had imagined. I wanted to apologize, explain the joke, anything, but nothing came out. Here was one of my favorite comedians of all time ripping me a new asshole. I had worshipped this dude for years, knew every line of his stand-up. And now he hated me. Like, really really hated me. The opposite of Sally Field.
It was horrible. I didn’t hate him. Of course not. He just got caught in friendly fire and my deep desire to make an impression on my bosses and keep my job. How pathetic. I took my beating and then he hung up.
Rock felt bad for me. He was caught in the middle. Old friend of Eddie’s, new friend of mine. I said, “Rock, Eddie makes fun of Mr. T getting AIDS and a million other people in his HBO special. This joke was barely a flesh wound; it won’t hurt him. WTF is he freaking out about? I’m nobody!” Rock tried to make me feel better but there was nothing he could do. He split back to his office. I kept thinking it wasn’t fair.
But the truth was that when you are famous, you never want someone on a supposedly cool show to say you’re not cool. Even if the person saying it is a nobody like me. Fame is so fragile and fleeting, and it can disappear for a million reasons. A jab like the one I had directed at Eddie can be the thing that starts to turn public opinion against someone. I try not to think of the casualties when I do rough jokes, but there are consequences sometimes.
I know for a fact that I can’t take it when it comes my way. It’s horrible for all the same reasons. I’ve come to see Eddie’s point on this one. Everybody in showbiz wants people to like them. That’s how you get fans. But when you get reamed in a sketch or online or however, that shit staaaangs. And it can add up quickly. Then before you know it you’re a punch line—just look at Vanilla Ice and five hundred million others. Eddie was mad. No one had dared go after him. And he wanted it to stop there.
After that incident I had some close encounters with Mr. Murphy. Once was at the opening of the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, when a bunch of celebs got invited to see a private Rolling Stones concert. (What a douche thing for me to mention in my book.) I brought one of my idiot buddies from high school. This was a fucking star-studded event. Brad Pitt to my right, Depp and DiCaprio at noon and six. There couldn’t have been more celebs there and we were packed in like stardines. (Lolololololol, stardines, not sardines. Stay close.) I was having the time of my life when for some reason I glanced back to the row behind me. I think it was just to let those people know that I knew all the words to “Gimme Shelter.” When who do I see down the row but Edward Murphy and Chris Rock?
Oh fuck. My kryptonite was in the house. Suddenly . . . feeling . . . weak . . . I didn’t want to get beat up in front of the Stones. It was going to be Altamont all over again. So I snuck another glance and saw Rock mouth to me, “I can’t talk to you. I’m with Eddie.” I understood. That Rock was a chickenshit. I’m kidding. I was never mad at Rock because he was always half kidding, but I was freaking out enough that Brad noticed. He asked what was going on, so I filled him in with the short version. “I’ll protect you,” he said.
Like I’m a chick. Which I am. Sort of. So I laughed quietly and hoped he was serious.
Whenever I’d see Rock after that, for years, he’d say “Saw Eddie last week. He still hates you.” It sort of impressed me that it still bugged him. In a recent Rolling Stone cover story, Eddie Murphy was asked about this infamous incident. I was told he said he was mad at everyone about this, not just me. He was mad that Lorne would let that joke through to air. He was mad that the show turned on him, and that’s why he has never hosted after that or done the reunion shows. (After that article came out he briefly appeared at the fortieth.) He says he’s over this now. I hope that’s true.
About a month after that cover story, I was crossing the street in Beverly Hills and I saw a Mercedes Gullwing (a supernice car) parked in front of Coffee Bean. A black guy walked out with a hot blond chick on his arm and got in the car. Like the jerk I am I thought, I wonder who that guy plays for? Then as he started to pull out of the parking lot and I got to the other side of the street, I realized it was Ed Murphy. My old-school fear came crashing back. Should I say something? We hadn’t spoken in almost twenty years at this point. Before I knew it, Murphy had spotted me through the windshield. Maybe he thought I was Miley Cyrus. Either way, for some reason I gave a half wave and quick nod. It was my equivalent of the white flag. This can be a risky move if it goes unreciprocated. Then I heard the sound of a window going down. Once again, I was paralyzed by doubt. Do I look? I looked. He stopped in the middle of the street and I walked over. Through the open passenger window he said, “Hey, Spade, how are you doing?”
I reached in and shook his hand. I said, “Hey, Eddie. Glad we’re good.” “Take it easy,” he said, and drove away with a girl young enough to be . . . well, my date. (She was superhot.)
My Watergate with Eddie Murphy was over. My burden was lifted. After all those years, that stupid joke can just be that, a stupid joke. And I can go back to appreciating what a funny motherfucker he is.
Excerpted from "ALMOST INTERESTING: The Memoir" by David Spade. Copyright © 2015 by David Spade. To be published on October 27, 2015 by Dey Street Books, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.