Standup caused controversy wherever he went, including Toronto
Reading Andrew Dice Clay’s justreleased autobiography, The Filthy
Truth, brought back waves of nostalgia. It’s hard to believe that for a period of about four years the foul-mouthed shock comic was the hottest thing in standup comedy. And, soon after, the coldest.
He was the first comic to sell out arenas, the first comic with a payper-view special and the first to inspire legions of protesters offended by his sexist, racist and homophobic material.
His defence was always that it was an obvious put-on.
Born Andrew Silverstein, the book chronicles his not terribly unique Brooklyn upbringing: A tight-knit Jewish family. Not much of a student. A fascination with gambling. An obsession with sex at an early age.
So much of the first half of the book is about Clay’s profligate sex life, that you might wonder when he had time to perform. These stories are colourful, but if he weren’t famous, they’d be irrelevant. You want him to get to the good stuff, which is his strange rise in the comedy world. And here the book does not disappoint.
He sneaks into the historic Pip’s in Brooklyn. He moves to Los Angeles and takes us behind the scenes at the infamous Comedy Store. He shows us how he slowly develops the Diceman character modelled on the cheap Brooklyn hoods he knew and an adoration of John Travolta and the Fonz.
What Clay brought to the table was an over-the-top showmanship that was the antithesis of the workaday observational material of contemporaries such as Leno, Letterman and Seinfeld.
The best part of the book concerns the forces that conspired to topple him from his perch. He was selling out arenas but also offending many. This didn’t stop him from being managed by Sandy Gallin (who also managed Michael Jackson), having his movie produced by Joel Silver ( Lethal Weapon, Die Hard) and being financed by Barry Diller (head of Fox).
The Adventures of Ford Fairlaine was supposed to take him to Elvis levels but spun out when his creative triumvirate got cold feet from all the bad press and buried the picture. Then they abandoned him. He slowly faded from view until he was rescued by HBO’s Entourage and a juicy part in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. He was excellent in both.
He acknowledges that in his prime he was considered everything that was foul in American comedy.
At a press conference for a Toronto comedy festival in the early ’90s, the first question I got was, “You’re not going to book Andrew Dice Clay, are you?”
“Naaah,” I shot back, “We couldn’t afford him.”
Not long after, I was drawn into defending him on Shirley Solomon’s show, The Shirley Show. On a show about offensive humour, then-mayor Barbara Hall’s top aide on racial affairs ripped into me for giving Dice his first network TV spot on The Joan Rivers Show.
“I wouldn’t cross the street to save your life,” she spat at me.
What I said back to her can not be recounted in these pages, but amazingly, the network left it in, and it can be found on YouTube. But Clay summed up the issue best in his new book.
“The Diceman was a character who amplified certain attitudes that millions of people had — not only amplified those attitudes but actually made fun of those attitudes by making fun of himself.”
Andrew Dice Clay is on the rebound thanks to a new autobiography