By Anna David

“Can you sign this?” The woman standing at David Spade’s dressing room door is wearing a headset, and the look on her face says Official Business.

“Of course, sweetheart.” The 42-year-old actor rises from the chair he’s been kneeling on to ease his chronic back pain, crosses his dressing room — which contains merely a couch, a chair, a plywood desk, a TV and a mini fridge — and takes her pen. “What is it?”

The woman’s tone turns apologetic. “A bereavement card.”

It seems that a relative of someone who works on Rules of Engagement, the CBS show in which Spade plays a single guy adrift in a clan of couples, has passed away. And while Spade’s signature is surely requested on all sorts of occasions, and atop objects as varied, one would imagine, as scraps of paper, photos, and parts of the female anatomy, “Sorry your relative died” cards are presumably rare. And perhaps for good reason.

“I never know what to say on these things,” he says as he starts writing. His trademark smirk reveals itself. “Like: ‘So sorry I’m still here’?”

And there you have why so many people in America think that David Spade is a jerk. He’s sarcastic, inappropriate, obnoxious — and, in the past decade or so, he’s become ubiquitous. Even if you haven’t caught Rules, there’s no way you missed Just Shoot Me! (in which he played a whiny toad so well that he was nominated for an Emmy and two Golden Globes). Or Joe Dirt, Dickie Roberts, and The Benchwarmers. Or Comedy Central’sShowbiz Show with David Spade (which, he says, may start airing again, this time online). Or the snarky bank and 1-800-COLLECT ads. The SNL reruns. The cameos in friends’ movies.

But performing isn’t the only thing that Spade is known for. Over the past few years he’s gotten a reputation for being something of a ladies’ man. Not only that, but the quality of the women he’s dated appears more appropriate for a pretty boy like Matthew McConaughey than a wiseass comic. Romancing Lara Flynn Boyle, Kristy Swanson, Teri Hatcher, Julie Bowen, Krista Allen, and Heather Locklear was one thing, but his knocking up a Playmate (23-year-old Jillian Grace gave birth to their son last August) solidified the notion of Spade as a world-class swordsman. By the time reports surfaced that Spade and Nicolette Sheridan had been spotted making out at her birthday party last November, it hardly seemed worth asking how a five-foot-seven-inch-guy with feathered hair landed so many hot girls. Spade the Lady Killer is one of the cruelties of life.

While ever bit as sarcastic and amusing as he is onscreen, he’s a great deal more subdued in person. When you’re David Spade, people have certain assumptions — that you’ll run around in circles, rattling off one-liners, for instance. But between takes on the set of Rules, you won’t find him joking around with his costars or hitting on girls from craft services but sipping a Diet Coke in his dressing room as he obsessively monitors the Dow on CNN, a bouncing leg the only indication of his nervous energy. “People expect David to be on all the time, but he’s not,” says the designer Kate Spade, who’s married to his older brother Andy. “I’m much more hyper than he is.”