Number One With a Mullet: David Spade on the Return of 'Joe Dirt'

Comedian on cult comedy's sequel, 'Dirthead' devotion and 'I got the poo on me' back tattoos

David Spade, star of the Crackle movie 'Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser.' Credit: Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

David Spade has carved out a long showbiz career by sticking to the sidelines — a six-year run on Saturday Night Live during the Adam Sandler-Chris Farley years, in which his best-known characters were a smarmy flight attendant ("Buh-bye") and an even smarmier celebrity reporter for Weekend Update; playing the straight man/second banana to Farley in the hit Tommy Boy (1995) and its follow-up, Black Sheep (1996); a sitcom supporting player on ensemble shows like Just Shoot Me, 8 Simple Rules and Rules of Engagement; one of the many dudes that make up the cinema du Sandler's rep company (yup, that's him as the uncredited transvestite groupie in I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry). He may kill as a stand-up comic, but his solo turns in the spotlight don't tend to showcase his strengths or inspire his fans to squeal with giddiness — with one notable exception.

Since its release in 2001, Joe Dirt has slowly but surely morphed into a cult hit, the kind of movie that's passed from one friend to the next like a puff-ready spliff (how much such recreational items can be credited for the movie's reappreciation over the years, of course, is anyone's guess). Playing the titular mullet-sporting, broom-brandishing janitor at an L.A. radio station, Spade found an absurdist story that seemed to fit his sensibility. A sequel wasn't exactly an inevitability, but 14 years later, another Dirt-y adventure — Joe Dirt: Beautiful Loser — will hit TV screens on July 16th, courtesy of Sony's Crackle streaming network.

Still, as much as Joe Dirt has inspired its own devoted fanbase of "Dirtheads" — one that the 50-year-old comedian deeply appreciates — he appears extremely nervous about the prospect of another go-round. On the phone with Rolling Stone, he sounds confused that anyone would want to hear about the movie. "At eight minutes, you're gonna wanna tap out on me," he jokes. "But hey, let's give it a shot."

So why does this movie exist?
[Laughs] The "why" is probably because I really liked it. The character's a little different from other sarcastic, snarky things I'm known for. [Co-writer] Fred Wolf and I based Joe on these guys walking around Arizona or Montana carrying a gas can with their shirt off, you know? I would always see these guys; one time I saw a man walk into a bank, he had his shirt tucked into his back pocket, and he asked for an application. I was thinking, this guy doesn't even have his shirt on — is he going to say, "If they hire me, they know I'm going to put it on." Like, who are these people? In the first draft of Joe Dirt, he was sort of a methhead guy, a little sketchier. Then we decided to make it more this nicer guy who just can't catch a break out there in the world.

A lot of people seemed to relate to that — besides Tommy Boy, I hear about Joe Dirt the most. We always wanted to do another one, and this guy Steve Mosko, who runs Sony TV, said "This might help get attention to Crackle if you want to do a sequel." It's not Star Wars, I understand that — there's people that don't like it. But the people who do like it, like it a lot, and there's a loyalty there. I thought, this is the best one I have that could live on a bit.

At the end of the movie, you understand who the character is and what he's doing; the second movie is sort of just him walking in place a bit. Was that a problem you had writing it?
Well, he's an older guy who's hooked up with Brandy (played by Brittany Daniel), and he's got that part of him that doesn't think that bad things should happen to him. That's the part, I think, that hit a nerve with people — everyone's mean and this guy's just trying to be nice. People were like, "Where's the dreadlocks?" and we sort of realized that if he was married to Brandy, she's not putting up with that forever. She would say, "No, no, back to the mullet that I like."

Then his low self-esteem gets the best of him. At least we were trying to think it out a little more, and not just make a stupid, easy, dumb sequel. Now, will people appreciate that? Who knows, but we did try to cram it with jokes and have a little bit of a story. We have scenes about logging and farting, but also stuff about him getting embarrassed in front of his kids and them realizing he's kind of a loser.

That's a much more adult problem than in the first movie — has the elapsed time changed the way you think about and relate to the character?
Fred and I would talk back and forth about what to do with it — there was some talk about searching for his sister, which we may do in the future, but we just didn’t want to make it a kind of dopey thing. When we did Tommy Boy, the biggest testing scene was the deer waking up. But as that movie lives on, more people like the fat-guy-in-a-little-coat, or "Who's your favorite Little Rascal?" — those kind of jokes don’t test well when you do it, but they age well. So with this one, we wanted throwaway jokes and something a little more thought out. But it's still basically: I'm in a trailer, I get thrown back in time, I just get stupider, and I'm trying to navigate my way back to my kids and my wife. That's all. That's really the basic story. There are a handful of fans thinking, "Please don’t fuck this up," and that makes me nervous.

How did you address those fears?
Well, we spent way more time adding jokes. Crackle is obviously new, so they're doing the highest-end movie they've ever done, but it's a low budget for us — so that meant fewer set pieces. People forget that if you want a carnival scene, you actually have to rent a carnival. So we have to rewrite and rewrite, because you're not going to get the shit you'll see in The Avengers.

Did that budget limitation make it harder to get the cast together?
Sometimes I'd send them presents on the side. Most of these people do it for fun. Christopher Walken said people stop him about Joe Dirt all the time: "I like the way Joe Dirt's a good guy. It's got a good vibe to it, so I thought I'd do another one." Brittany Daniel and I talked about it off and on over the years; she'd always said, "I'd love to do it." The only one we didn't get was Kid Rock, and he was the biggest push at the beginning, saying he'd help finance it. He goes, "If you had an album that did this well, why wouldn't you do a sequel? I don’t understand the movie business." And then this came out at right when his album [First Kiss] came out, and he couldn't do both. It was a tough loss, but we sort of just rearranged it a little bit. There wasn't a shortage of guys who hate Joe Dirt in the town [laughs].

What was the moment you realized how big the Dirt fanbase was?
Once Twitter and Instagram hit, I started getting "Where's the Joe Dirt sequel?" almost every day. It would come on Comedy Central two years ago, and it was trending; you'd go, "Joe Dirt is trending?!?" And that's why Sony started saying, "Every time it comes on, it lights up on social media. There might be something to this." I started seeing Joe Dirt tattoos — of which there are a lot. You wouldn't believe it.

What are they of?
It's a huge face — my whole face — with a mullet on a guy's ass. There's one on his back, there's one on a guy's thigh — it's unreal. Sometimes it's one that just says "Joe Dirt." One guy's said, "Keep on keeping on," and then he sent me a picture of his tattoo: "Can you believe it, Joe Dirt? I wish you'd acknowledge me." So I said "I love it! How come you didn't get 'I got the poo on me'?" And the next day, he got "I got the poo on me" tattooed on his back. I just sort of said it to be funny, and casually ruined his life — or at least his love life.

So why has this movie inspired that level of devotion?
I think movies just have a weird shelf life even if they didn't make a lot of money — I still talk about Caddyshack, but Caddyshack didn't make a lot when it came out, you know what I mean?

So let's say the movie is successful: Where does Joe Dirt go from here?
We talk to Crackle about it all the time. A TV show — I like that animated show idea, because there’s so much fun you can have with it. [There were plans to do an animated Joe Dirt show for TBS in 2010 that eventually went nowhere.] I don't know what we will wind up doing.

Let's say the money isn’t a consideration — is there another character you would want to bring back in 2015?
Dickie Roberts is the only one that's even sort of a character — I just don’t even do that many movies. I’m more known for TV. Maybe The Emperor’s New Groove; I hear about that one a lot.