On New Year’s Eve, Showtime will air the first comedy special by Andrew Dice Clay in 17 years. Dice, who was born Andrew Clay Silverstein in 1957, was once one of the most successful stand-up comedians in the country. As is noted in nearly every piece about him (and near the top of his Wikipedia page), he sold out two shows at Madison Square Garden in 1990, the only comedian ever to do so.
Along the way, he was accused of misogyny and homophobia, and he was prominently featured at the time in many thinkpieces about “political correctness,” a term just then becoming common. His 1990 appearance on Saturday Night Live was famously boycotted by cast member Nora Dunn and invited musical guest Sinéad O’Connor.
His career has been much quieter over the last 20 years, but after a recent stint on Entourage, he was cast in Woody Allen’s next movie, which filmed over the summer and is expected to hit theaters next year.
I spoke with Clay over the phone earlier this month.
Slate: I was curious before I watched your new special whether you were still doing stand-up as Dice, or if you were performing under your given name. It’s still the Diceman.
Clay: It’s my name, you know what I mean? Like Rodney Dangerfield was always Rodney Dangerfield. I always wanted to give people the more exciting version of what I think a comedian should be—because I didn’t grow up with comics, I grew up with rock ’n’ roll. And when I saw a lot of comics, no matter how good they might have been material-wise, I would get a little bored with them after 10 minutes, only because I feel comedians don’t really know performance. There are very few comics that understand about exciting the crowd, and that’s what I always prided myself on: giving a more confident macho attitude towards delivering material.
Slate: Did the persona grow out of your acting? Your first credit as Dice is in a movie.
Clay: No, no. What was crazy is I got two movies when I was younger that used my stage name, which I already had, in the film itself. One was called Making the Grade with Judd Nelson, and the other movie was Pretty in Pink. I was thinking, “If I go movie to movie, and there’s the Diceman, that’s never been done—with the same guy in different movies.” And then bring it to TV, like a sitcom—that was the initial plan. In Casual Sex? they called me the Vin-man rather than the Diceman. But it was the same guy.
Slate: When you hit it big as a stand-up in the late ’80s, there was some confusion about whether there was any difference between the actual person and the persona.
Clay: Oh, definitely. If I came from Saturday Night Live, say, that would be the character I played. And then they’d off-shoot it into film like Lorne Michaels does with a lot of the characters. But because I did it just on a stand-up stage… I mean, if you know how I live my life and how I’ve treated my family and brought my boys up—I disappeared for decades. I would work and do my gigs, but I wasn’t making career moves. I’d go do my gig, come home, and be with my sons, because it was a tough divorce and both my boys live with me. To me, that was the accomplishment: I got to bring up two great guys and then I could continue the career.
Slate: You start the new special with your sons opening up for you, so we see Andrew Dice Clay the family man right away. But then in one of your very first riffs once you’re on stage, you give one of the guys in the front rows a hard time by saying he’s going to “catch gay.”
Clay: You’re going to “catch fag.” I don’t say gay.
Slate: Because gay is too nice a word?
Clay: I get asked about that. And I say, “Why would I say gay? That’s politically correct.” But the other reason I say fag—number one, let’s just talk about the word fag. Fag is a funny word. To gays, it was insulting years ago, and I understand that because I have gay friends. But as a word onstage, for what I do as a comic, you don’t say, “You’re going to catch gay.” It’s not funny. “You’re going to catch fag” is funny. But the reason I did the bit, honestly, is that during the presidential race, when Romney was saying that when he’s president there will be no gay marriages, I’m thinking, “Is this guy just a fucking idiot?” The way it is today with this recession, people can’t afford to keep their homes anymore, everybody’s losing everything, and this guy is worried about who’s going to marry who? Whether you’re gay, straight, you can’t tell anybody who to love and who to marry. It’s unconstitutional and it’s morally wrong. And I was like, I’ve gotta do some kind of bit—because I’m not a political comic—leading up to the whole thing about the guy trying out for president saying “no gay marriage.” And that’s my way of almost saying to the gay people, “Hey, do what you want. Do what you feel in life. Because nobody’s got that right.”
There are points I look to make in the act. I do it in a street-tough, language-riddled act, but from the gay stuff to talking about this new generation of women, none of the stuff I’m talking about up there isn’t going on. I try to make it like cartoon pictures in peoples’ eyes—I blow it up to that level because the whole idea is to make people laugh at what animals they are behind closed doors in this day and age.
Slate: So you take your own thoughts and exaggerate them? Or do you think, “How would the character of Dice think about this stuff?”
Clay: I’ve lived a lot of this stuff. Eleanor Kerrigan, who’s in the show too, who I consider one of the best stand-up comics in the business—she used to be my financee, and I’ve basically lived with her and my wife. They’re the best of friends, that’s the way it is. Eleanor, like, brought up my kids. Then I got together with Valerie, who you also see in the special. There was a five or six or seven-year period between Eleanor and Valerie, so, yeah, I had a lot of girlfriends. And they ranged anywhere from 23 years old to 45 years old. So I saw a lot of stuff with this whole new generation. There were certain girls that I went out with that would do crazy fucking shit that wasn’t for me, so I wouldn’t keep going with them. But I was like, “Is this where we are?” It’s like a generation that grew up on porn. That’s why I make fun of them. There’s something wrong with them. In their minds, there’s not, though, because that’s all they grew up on.
Slate: That sounds almost traditionalist. As Dice, onstage, you say “I’ve waited for this generation.” Is that how you feel, or how the character feels, or a little bit of both?
Clay: Well, I really always loved women that were open about their sexuality. There are certain girls that are not very sexual in this world. But most of them are. And they’re all different—it’s never two of the same. And it’s not like when I’m onstage I say, “You drop your load on her and send her home on a bus.” It’s more caring than that, because I really do care about how they feel. And I feel that most guys don’t give a fuck how their women feel—especially married guys, they forget the actual reason why they started going with the girl in the first place, and that’s where you get an 85 percent divorce rate. So in the act, when I say I waited for this generation, that’s what I really mean.
Slate: Women in particular have gotten upset with you and your act over the years.
Clay: Not anymore. They’re cheering for it, it’s amazing.
Slate: Have things really changed in that regard?
Clay: Oh, it’s crazy. When we did the special—and I’m talking to them and doing bits about these sexual things blown out of proportion—they’re chanting, they’re cheering. As I said in the special, “I always knew to treat a woman like the pig that she is.” But today, they want to prove it to you. Just by the way that they dress, with the animal prints—that’s not trying to be demure. They’re trying to say, “Hey, I’m looking sexy for you, I’ve got some makeup on and a fucking cheetah jumpsuit on—how do you think I want this date to end?”
Slate: People might take that to mean you think women are just animals. What you would say, I’m guessing, is, “We’re all animals.”
Clay: Right. I’m coming from the man’s side of it. I’m not a girl comic, so I talk about what I’m seeing from females. Of course, it’s all exaggerated, but that’s what’s going on today. You hold the girl down, she holds you down—what do you think, I was never held down by a girl? And she gets on top and fucking bangs the shit out of you? That’s exciting. Nothing wrong with it. And everybody who won’t admit it is just in denial about themselves. Or they really live a boring fucking life. I talk to my kids—they’re the best boys in the world, and the thing is, they can talk to me about any of this stuff. They know the act and they know my real life. They come to me with everything. And I love that.
Slate: Obviously you know some jokes are going to offend people. You do an old bit where you talk about the term midget versus the term little person, and you say that a little person is a five-year-old, “you’re a midget.” Are you using midget the way you use fag? Is it a funnier word?
Clay: It’s funny onstage. But if you’re on the street, and you call somebody a fag, you’re saying it to offend them. When I’m onstage, I’m saying it to make people laugh. There’s a big difference. It’s all for the goof; it’s not about hurting anybody. It’s not about hurting women, ethnic groups… That’s why I also love doing the bit about the black dick, because I am a white guy and I’m not packing 15 soft, either. And I love the uneasiness of the crowd; it works every night. I’m not in front of a black audience, you know what I mean? And when I say it, the crowd gets quiet. But that is the mindset in America. I really believe that racism was never about color. It’s just always been about that. And in this day and age, it’s even more about that.
Slate: People complain that you’re objectifying or dehumanizing those who aren’t like you, by talking about them entirely as sexual objects.
Clay: I know girls who are married to black men and they’ll joke about it. That’s the bottom line—they joke about that. And it’s fine by me: If I wanted to be with a black woman, that’s who I would be with. My wife is Latina. That’s what I like. I believe you need to be happy in life and be with who you need to be with to create that happiness. And I finally made that move.
Slate: Switching gears a bit, I wanted to ask you about working with Woody Allen.
Clay: Well, obviously, he’s one of the great filmmakers of all time. How long have movies been around, a hundred years? And he’s one of the, probably the top five guys ever. So when I got that call, number one, I didn’t believe it, I thought my manager was kidding me. And my manager says, “No, he saw you on Entourage and he wants you to know if you’ll come over tomorrow because he knows you were in town.” And I’m excited to see that movie because it’s nothing like what I do onstage—it’s not a comedy, it’s a pretty heavy film, actually, so it was real interesting to delve into that. And working with actors like Cate Blanchett and Alec Baldwin—it’s phenomenal. So I’m very excited about that. That’s a career change right there. I filmed the first part of the Woody movie in San Francisco, then I did the special in Chicago, and then I filmed the second part of the Woody movie in New York. To film on the streets of New York I never got to do, so that was exciting. There’s no place like New York.
Slate: You’ve got a lot going on right now.
Clay: Entourage gave me that whole new audience. That’s why the special was important. It’s all just falling into place all of a sudden. And now that my kids are grown and they’re on their way, I can focus on what I do again. What’s been real fun for me is they saw me go through a decade of really bad stuff, but I always told them I’m going to come through it. So I teach them by example. That’s why I wanted to call the special Indestructible, because the people who work with me and the people who know me know and a lot of the personal stuff that went on, it’s pretty amazing to get up and dust yourself off and just go for the brass ring again.
Interview has been condensed and edited.