How does a man go from behind-the-scenes TV joke writer to going before the camera in a self-titled show? Spike Feresten credits "pure dumb luck" more than his reputation as a scribe for Late Show with David Letterman, Saturday Night Live and Seinfeld for which he penned the Emmy-nominated "Soup Nazi" episode for landing him Talkshow with Spike Feresten, premiering on Fox this Saturday at midnight/ET. The "lucky" host of this newcomer, which combines elements of sketch comedy and talk-show segments in a quick-witted half hour, must be sharpening his interviewing skills, because when TVGuide.com called him up recently, he tried to turn the tables on us.
Spike Feresten: Hi! Are you in New York or L.A.?
TVGuide.com: New York.
Feresten: Well, you're cooler than I am. New York is such a cooler place.
TVGuide.com: Do you miss it?
Feresten: Sure. Absolutely. It's so much fun there. It's just a funnier city. It's got that nice hustle-and-bustle feel to it. You have a lot of nice sandwiches on the corner. Where's your office?
TVGuide.com: Midtown. Hey, they just opened up a new SoupMan place right here.
Feresten: Not the Soup Nazi guy! Have you tried it?
Feresten: Didn't they close down the original one? I was so depressed about that. I'm thinking about buying a franchise. I need to make money off this somehow.
TVGuide.com: [Finally gaining control of the interview] What's the trick to getting your own show?
Feresten: Pure dumb luck. That's it! I've always been a big fan of David Letterman. When I was in school in Boston, I realized I really wasn't supposed to be a music major, and I decided to hurl some lightbulbs out an eight-story window. About two weeks later I saw Letterman doing the same thing on his show. I thought, "He's getting paid to do what I just got kicked out of the dorms for doing!" I realized that the only thing that I've done a lot of is watch TV, and that's where I need to be.
TVGuide.com: Are you under more pressure now that your name is in the title?
Feresten: It's too much fun. If there's one word to describe what's happening right now, it's just "fun." I'm surrounded by a lot of very funny, talented people, who I love hanging out with. I get to meet a lot of people, shake a lot of hands, and then sit behind a desk and tell jokes.
TVGuide.com: How did you get the name Spike?
Feresten: It's a nickname I got on Saturday Night Live, when I was the receptionist. My hair used to stick up, cowlick style, not on purpose. At the time, I was passing jokes to Dennis Miller, who on occasion would use them on the show, even though I was the receptionist and not technically a writer. Someone started noticing the jokes, and they asked who wrote them. Eventually someone said, "We should hire Spike." I just never said otherwise. For me it was like, "Call me whatever name you like, just don't fire me." That's been my little joke. I always thought I could go back to "Michael" whenever I please. And I will at some point, when this whole thing ends.
TVGuide.com: What do you do differently on the set now that you're the boss?
Feresten: I like to take advantage of the wardrobe. I like to make sure that I have a big stack of Converse All-Star sneakers for the show. You have these wardrobe girls and this big closet of clothes that they buy for you, and they turn out to be much better than the clothes you have at home. That's the first thing that happens: You realize that you don't know how to dress. Then these people tell you, "Dress like this." So you can walk out of there with a lot of confidence. Except on occasion they'll put you in an outfit, and the writers call me a Hollywood douche bag it's too fashionable, that's not me. I'm a dirty T-shirt with cupcake stains on it and an old pair of jeans.
TVGuide.com: Since you're taping the show, how do you make sure your jokes will feel current by the time they air?
Feresten: It's impossible to make sure our jokes are current, so we do broader topicality. We're going to do a piece where the jokes in my monologue all have foreign references in them and no one's laughing, and I find out that all the writers have been outsourced to India. That's sort of how we deal with broader topicality. We like doing the sillier talk-show stuff that isn't necessarily connected to what's going on.
TVGuide.com: At 12 on a Saturday, who do you think your audience will be?
Feresten: Um, stoners, clearly. We have a piece in a lot of the shows called "Comedy for Stoners." I say, "If you're not high, you will not get this. But if you are, please enjoy." We did one that was electric Lincoln. Which was an Abe Lincoln draped in Christmas lights dancing in front of a psychedelic screen. While we don't support drug use in any way I want to make that clear we know that people are at home wasted, and we have to talk to them.
TVGuide.com: Can you tell us some of the guests you'll have on the show?
Feresten: I don't know I have to go to that meeting right after I talk to you but I'll tell you the types of guests that we like: funny people. We turn the guest segment over to the guest. I will retreat as far as holding cue cards or a camera. We had a hidden-camera piece we did with Jerry Seinfeld teaching me how to deal with my newfound celebrity. We had a hidden camera set up in a van, and he said, "I can just go up to people at ATMs and say, 'Hi, I'm Jerry Seinfeld. Give me $20.'" And they actually did!
TVGuide.com: Do you want that kind of power?
Feresten: No, I just want to pay my phone bill! I want my wife to be happy that I'm out of the house and working.
TVGuide.com: NBC's got Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and 30 Rock, both about what goes on behind the scenes at a comedy show. Would there be fodder for a show about your studio?
Feresten: We're working on that bit. We're calling it "Spike Night," and we're trying to get James Spader to play me. He kind of looks like me. We have the same glasses.
TVGuide.com: It must be a benefit that Talkshow is only half an hour long, because you can go in and out with a joke really fast.
Feresten: Get in, get out, go to bed. That's our motto.
TVGuide.com: I feel like that's the problem with SNL lately. Too much time to fill.
Feresten: Yeah. They do a good job. But that's a different kind of show. I'll be watching both. SNL is my hometown turf; I still love it.
TVGuide.com: Even though you're competing with them?
Feresten: We're competing with Jessica Simpson's Proactiv infomercial, let's be honest. SNL is gonna be just fine.
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