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The Diceman Recometh
  • June 18, 2013 : 05:06
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He swaggers onto the stage slowly, deliberately, looking like an overgrown juvenile delinquent with a grim menace and sneering fuck-the-world attitude that also exudes cool, and the years—the decades—seem to fall away. There is the same sleeveless black leather motorcycle jacket with the oversize wing collar, the same black fingerless gloves, the same black jeans, the same silver belt buckle the size of a serving platter, the same Zippo lighter that he flips open with a neat flick of his wrist and the same ever-present cigarette that he holds between his thumb and forefinger and puffs aggressively, the same Elvis sideburns, the same Brooklyn accent that was once described as being “as thick as a Peter Luger porterhouse,” the same sidewise head twitch, even a few of the same scatological, misogynistic, racist and generally politically incorrect jokes. Sure, the once-tall pompadour is a little flatter and the hair a little thinner; the aviator glasses compensate for failing eyesight and aren’t there just for hipness; the audience is now middle-aged, mainly men in T-shirts and polos, with a smattering of women who giggle embarrassingly when he calls them “piglets”; the room is smaller than the rooms used to be—maybe 375 seats and about three quarters full on this Saturday night—and there isn’t the same electric buzz that used to greet his performances. But for all intents and purposes, at 55, Andrew Dice Clay, once the self-professed “hottest comic in the country,” is back—not all the way back yet, but still back.

To be fair, he doesn’t call what’s happening to him—his five-episode story arc on the last season of Entourage, his comedy special on Showtime last New Year’s Eve, his featured role in this summer’s Woody Allen movie, his latest gig in Las Vegas at the Hard Rock Hotel—a comeback. He prefers the word resurgence, as if he’d never been away, and in truth he really hadn’t, though the more appropriate word may be resurrection, since Clay, by his own admission, had been “left for dead” by gloating detractors. From the highest heights—playing before more people than any comedian in history—he had plummeted to some of the deepest depths: small clubs, low pay and serial indignities that included a VH1 reality-TV show that was, thankfully, Clay says, canceled after seven episodes. He had even been exiled from The Howard Stern Show after a tiff. 

But one reason Clay has been able to survive is that he knows what felled him wasn’t a sudden loss of talent or jaded audiences or even new comedic fashions. What destroyed Andrew Dice Clay’s career was a cultural war in which Clay found himself between two roaring armies, one conservative, one liberal, neither of which really understood him. In fact, you could say the Diceman was sacrificed on the altar of misunderstanding. His resurgence is certainly a function of a burgeoning sense of irony, of audiences that get what he is trying to do, but it is also a function of something deeper. Andrew Dice Clay is a living testimonial to survivability. If the Diceman didn’t die, it was because he simply refused to die. And audiences now sort of know it. It’s not just comedy anymore. It is respect.

When fans think about Andrew Dice Clay, one of the things they remember is “the Garden,” which is almost totemic with him. He begins his Showtime special, the aptly named Indestructible, with footage of his appearance at Madison Square Garden back in February 1990, when he became the first and only comedian ever to sell out two shows at the world’s most famous arena, though Clay is quick to add that he sold out even larger stadiums. That was the apex, not just of Clay’s career but perhaps of any comedian’s achievements, ever. There was a gold album produced by the legendary Rick Rubin, HBO comedy specials, a Hollywood movie—The Adventures of Ford Fairlane—directed by action maven Renny Harlin, who was fresh off Die Hard 2, and a hosting gig on Saturday Night Live. And there were the profiles, dozens of them. Vanity Fair touted Clay as “Hollywood’s hottest comedian”—the consensus about him then.

But Clay was more than hot. He was one of those rare entertainers who become a cultural phenomenon. His comedy—which purported to be the comedy of unregenerate white male troglodytes, a comedy of derision that vented against everyone but white male troglodytes, a comedy liberally laced with “fuckin’” and “blow jobs” and “pussy” and “bitches,” a comedy of the most graphic sexual depictions—shattered every taboo and pushed every envelope. He made Lenny Bruce seem like Jerry Seinfeld. He scandalized, he antagonized, he brutalized, and in the process he changed not only the subject matter of comedy, he changed its attitude and style. He called himself the first “rock-and-roll comedian,” and he was.

To hear him tell it now, it had always been according to the Plan. When Andrew Clay Silverstein was a boy growing up in the Marine Park section of Brooklyn, he was a poor student (“F was the favorite letter on every test I took”) and a terrible athlete and had no particular skills, save one. Andrew Silverstein knew in his bones that he could entertain. In fact, he felt he had failed at everything else only so he could succeed in entertainment. When he was seven his parents bought him a toy drum kit, promising to buy him a real one if he kept playing and assuming that, like most kids, he wouldn’t. But he did, four hours a day for years, while his sister, who was three years older, sat in his room listening to him pound away. That’s how he learned to become a drummer. Playing in the dance band at James Madison High School, he learned to become a showman. He took a 30-second drum solo at the spring concert and turned it into a three-minute Krupa­esque virtuoso performance that had the crowd oohing, aahing and laughing. “That was the moment,” he says, “I knew I could thrill the world.”

Most would-be stars pose in front of a mirror or warble into a hairbrush, but Andrew Silverstein wasn’t your typical showbiz dreamer. He not only knew what he wanted, he knew precisely how he was going to get it: He had the Plan. He couldn’t do it behind a drum set, even though he spent two wild summers in the Catskills playing in a band. He had to do it where audiences could see him. So he abandoned the drums and began thinking about an act. He really didn’t care what kind, and he really didn’t think it mattered much. The Plan was that he was so good, the act would get him attention and win him popularity, and he would then parlay that popularity into an acting career.

That’s another thing about Andrew Dice Clay: He never doubted the Plan would work. He had utter confidence that he was destined to be a star. He knew it. He was so cocky that when he was 16 and watching a Frank Sinatra special on TV with his girlfriend Sheryl Brown in her family’s Coney Island apartment, he was thinking how great Sinatra was, but he was also thinking, I shouldn’t be here; I should be up there.

For a while he worked at a haberdashery and then helped his father, who owned a process-serving agency on Court Street in Brooklyn. But these were just diversions as he waited for the Plan to take effect. He was driving home with a friend after seeing Grease at the Oceana Theater in Brighton Beach when the act suddenly came to him. He looked like John Travolta. Everybody said so. He was lean and handsome, and he had that same urban strut. And he could mimic Travolta. He sounded just like him. So, wearing a gigantic tuxedo shirt that hung down to his knees, he would take the stage as nerdy, bucktoothed Jerry Lewis from The Nutty Professor. “Actually, ladies and gentlemen, I am what you call a human pity,” he would whine in Lewis’s adenoidal voice. Then he would announce that he was mixing a potion, drink it, turn his back to the audience, rip off his shirt…and he would suddenly be transformed into John Travolta. “So you thought it couldn’t be done,” he would mumble to the audience in Travolta’s voice. After a few jokes, up would come the music, and he would break into “Greased Lightning,” complete with Travolta’s gyrations and dance moves from Grease. When he debuted the act on an open-audition night in 1978 at Pips Comedy Club in Brooklyn, with his mother, father and sister in attendance, the mystified audience booed his entrance and yelled for him to “fuck off.” But when he wheeled around as Travolta, puffed on a cigarette, stared them down and launched into his number, the crowd went wild. The act was only 10 minutes long, but that night the club booked him as its headliner. “From the day I went onstage, I was onstage every day,” he says.

The Plan worked so well that at least as far as the local clubs were concerned, 20-year-old Andrew Clay, as he billed himself, literally became an overnight sensation, bringing home $600 a night from places named Electric Circus and Funhouse and from various discos in the boroughs.

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read more: entertainment, Celebrities, comedian, issue july 2013

1 comments

  • Laurie
    Laurie
    So happy to know that through this roller coaster life Andrew has experienced.......he's not faltered in his personal, private, and professional life. I look forward to seeing him again at Madison Square Garden as I'm sure this feat once again will make him feel on top of the world once more just because he's driven enough to make sure his dreams become a reality! Kudos to you my friend!
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