Since his 2011 appearances on “Entourage” and his 2013 role as Sally Hawkins’ husband in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” 1990s shock comedian Andrew Dice Clay has shown up in unexpected places. He appeared in the opening episode of HBO’s “Vinyl,” and now is the subject of a sort-of-autobiographical series on Showtime called “Dice.” In “Dice,” the foul-mouthed, sideburn-sporting comedian has retreated to Vegas to lick his wounds and adjust to a world in which he’s a bit out of step. (Showtime Now will put all six episodes of the show, which was created by Scot Armstrong, up for streaming today. The second episode features an appearance by Adrian Brody that no student of acting should miss.)
As the rough, blue-collar, tough-white-guy stand-up comedy Clay trades in becomes less fashionable, it’s hard not to read the series in relation to his own career.
Except, in another age of angry white men, he may be right at the center of the zeitgeist – or at least near it. (Despite his complicated relationship to Donald Trump, the two have a few things in common.)
It’s been a few years since he attracted controversy, but his act has not mellowed much. Over the years he’s had Sinead O’Connor refuse to appear on an episode of “Saturday Night Live” because of his presence. He’s been opposed by women’s groups and banned from television and radio. Clay himself – born Andrew Clay Silverstein – doesn’t quite apologize for any of it, but he also sees himself as a bit misunderstood.
Salon spoke to Clay from his home in Los Angeles. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
After a quiet stretch, it seems like you've just been on a roll since "Entourage" and "Blue Jasmine." Does that feel good?
Yeah, it's been a nice build to the show. The first time around was like overnight; I went from nightclubs to arenas within months. It was fun, but overwhelming. This, especially because it's all the acting stuff, has been a really nice build, in steps. That's why I call it a resurgence rather than a comeback, because a comeback can happen with one part in a movie, you know? Like when Travolta did "Pulp Fiction," say, and the next movie was "Get Shorty"—that's more of a comeback.
This, I was careful about it as far as the timing of when I'd even try to make things happen. There was a lot of building up to that moment, because I had to raise my sons. At the right moment me and Bruce [Rubenstein] started, and since "Entourage" it's been beautiful and it's not overwhelming. It's more fun and I've gotten more joy out of this resurgence than really anything in my career over the last 28 years.
How different is this kind of acting from doing standup?
Well, it depends on the part we're talking about. With "Dice," the show, what I love is that... When I perform live, it's one-dimensional. I'm doing the act. You're in front of the crowd, you do your thing, you talk about sex, whatever. But in the show, it really is a hybrid and Scot Armstrong really captured my voice. Just seeing all of the different sides of me. And I'm not claiming I'm normal. [Laughs.] But that's the beauty of it. He caught all of that. It's like I'm almost getting to act as Dice, to play the part out as Dice, in every level.
In the first episode, there's some talk about how there's Andrew and there's Dice, and they're two different guys. Is that really so?
Yes. I'll tell you what is true about the two of us. [Laughs.] It's the only way I can put it now. I'm from Brooklyn. I definitely have an attitude about myself. I do smoke cigarettes. I am wearing leather jackets since I'm about 12 and saw Elvis on the '68 comeback special. But I am not a guy that knocks down women in any way. I'm not a sexist. Onstage I talk about sex and my love for sex, but it was never, ever meant for anything but painting comedic cartoon pictures of sex. Because people make such a big deal out of it.
I mean, you ever been with someone and they go, "It's only sex?" That's all it is. But people put so much pressure on themselves with it, and that's why onstage I do the act I do. But onstage, when I'd be called a sexist I'd go, "They're getting the wrong idea about me." I'm not a guy that looks to demean women. I'm not a guy that is a sexist. I love sex with the woman I'm with. As far as whoever that woman might be, I have never judged any girl—wife, girlfriend, fiancée—for what they want to do with me in the bedroom.
I was also smart enough, when I was very young... I remember one time, the club I started in was Pips in Brooklyn, the first comedy club in America. I'm 21 years old and I'm outside the club and there are these two married women, I'd say mid- to late-30s. They were talking about their marriages, but one of them tells her friend—there's a little motel, the Windjammer it was called, you can go there and do whatever you want—"Why don't you take this guy over to the Windjammer?" So I can't even believe what I'm hearing. I say to this woman, "Why would you do that? You just told me you're a married woman." I’ll never forget it, she goes, “Because I can do things with you I could never do with my husband.” And even as a young guy, I said, “Well that’s kind of sad, because your husband doesn’t know who you really are.” I learned that lesson right there and then.
Unless it’s something that’s going to hurt me in any way, I don’t care. Have a good time. When it comes to that stuff, I’ve always been more concerned with how a woman functions rather than myself. I know how to get off. But I made a point to learn the female body and what excites them—knowing where to go. So when they used to call me sexist, I’d be like, “No, no, the people saying that are sexist, not me.” I’m a guy that really cares when I’m with a woman I love. I care about, obviously, how we get along mentally, but once you get in that bed it never gets old to me if a woman can just be herself. And that’s a big difference between how people take me onstage and who I am as a human being.
Speaking about charges of sexism, there’s been a lot of talk from comedians about political correctness. Do you think that’s really a problem? Does it inhibit what comedians say? Does it inhibit you?
I can’t speak for other comics, but I never would bend on that. I’m going to say things the way I think they’re funny. I’m really the guy that took all the heat for that. They coined the word politically incorrect when my career took off. I was doing "Saturday Night Live" with Lorne Michaels, and Gloria Steinem, they coined that word that night on "Nightline" that night. I was like, “This is too crazy.”
I understood journalists back then because there was never a comic to come along... Obviously people always bring up the Madison Square Garden to me, because it’s the most famous arena in the world, but the Garden was at the end of my first arena tour, which was a 26-city tour... So I could see why journalists, even when I was younger, they were like afraid of it in a way. But I was always more into rock and roll and actors than I was comedians, even to this day. I looked at it like when Elvis first hit the scene. Look what they did with him. Ed Sullivan championed him and said, “He’s a nice guy. Let’s not go by the way he moves his hips, he’s a performer.” Because of Elvis, we’ve had rock and roll for all these years. I did realize I was the first guy to come along with that kind of image. An image that up to when I hit it was only done in rock and roll, it was done in film by people like Marlon Brando all the way to Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever,” it was done in TV comedically by Henry Winkler playing the Fonz, but that bigger-than-life heroic image was never done as a standup comic.
I definitely had a problem with the way comics performed years ago. As funny as they might be, I came up in music, in rock and jazz, so I would be like, “They don’t understand about performance.” That’s where I’d get bored in a matter of minutes no matter how funny a guy was. So I wanted to put the rock and roll image to standup.
These days comedy seems to have gone in a different direction. There are a lot of political female comics, like Amy Schumer, Margaret Cho, and Sarah Silverman. Do you follow that kind of comedy?
I haven’t seen Schumer’s act. I know how hot she is and I’m really happy for her. Sarah I know, I think she’s one of the best there is. Years ago I used to even knock down women comics, like in the late '80s, but they all did the same act. They all would come on basically talking about, “I want to be married, guys crawl up my driveway on their bellies like a snake.” I would make fun of that, but they all did it the same way. I’d make fun, I’d go onstage and go, “Well nobody wants to sleep next to Bozo the Clown.” But in this day and age, since that time, comes the Sarah Silvermans.
What Melissa McCarthy is doing in film, she’s fucking hysterical and she’s also got the dramatic chops. When I saw “Bridesmaids” and she told her story about who she was when she was younger and how she got picked on, I knew how real that was for her. I was crying. I said, “This girl is the fucking greatest.” I still feel that way.
My opening act is a woman, Eleanor Kerrigan. I recently over the last year got her on “The Blue Show” on Showtime, and from everybody on that show she killed it. She is from South Philly and there’s just nobody better than her. She might not be as famous yet—and I’m saying “yet” because now she’s starting to move, she’s been opening for Kid Rock now. She started opening for me about seven years ago, put her on at Westbury Music fair, she got booed off that stage in minutes because my fans are the toughest, roughest comedy crowds that have ever been and she stuck with it. Today she can kill any crowd better than most men ever. Ever. I just give her the stamp of approval because I’ve seen her development and her edge, and no fear. And that’s how people like Sarah Silverman are, they have no fear. The only thing to fear is fear itself. They’re great. Chelsea Handler, amazing; her show became what it became because she’ll talk about herself; she’ll talk about sleeping with this one or that one and then she’ll go to political humor. She’s amazing. So I don’t put down girl comedy. Now they really are out there, but in a bigger-than-life way with plenty of spunk.
The other night on Fallon you made a joke that seemed to be about politics, but wasn't. Have you been following the race?
I really don’t get into politics at all. You never win with a political conversation. You never win talking about religion. You don’t talk religion, I was taught as a kid. And don’t talk about Sinatra either, who I absolutely love. And a guy that gave me incredible advice, that called to meet me and sat me down, because he knew what I was going through with the arenas and being a phenomenon through Wayne Newton…
Yeah and the guy sat, he talked to me. The first New Year's I headlined Bally’s Hotel in Vegas, Wayne Newton threw a party for me at the Hilton and when I showed up he took me to Sinatra. Everybody else went into the party, and Sinatra was at the Sands Hotel, he just did four shows in a New Year’s Eve. He was in a little Italian restaurant with his family and after we had a drink, he took me into a little booth. It looked like a Brooklyn Italian restaurant. And he just got into it with me, talking about how he went through it in his own way when he was a kid, and he did get knocked down. But for different reasons, then he came back bigger than ever. When “Blue Jasmine” came out, his last manager, Tony O, who was also there that night, I hear a guy yelling at me in a parking lot near CVS, going “You did it! You did what Frank told you to do! And he did it at the same age you’re doing it!”
And it’s just a great feeling, and to me it’s always been about accomplishment. Like when I sit on “The Howard Stern Show” and he’ll go, “Dice, c'mon, you saved $50 million." He says it like it’s nothing. And I go, “No I didn’t, but it was never about money to me, it was always about accomplishing.” Because as a kid, academically I had no interest. In sport, I was just not good in sports. And it led me right to the front of a TV the night the Beatles aired and there’s Ringo Starr, and then I got into drums and Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa and Ginger Baker and John Bonham... Because I almost felt that if God is good enough to let you find whatever talent you might have, he’s not hanging out every day going, “Call the club, show up at the club, go on stage." Once you find your gift… what you do with it is now up to you. I have many friends that were great singers, bands, and they never reached their potential because they weren’t willing to go through what you have to go through to accomplish. I always had the greatest reasons to do it. I had great parents, they’re both gone now, but I was 21 years old and I was like, if I could make it, I can give them everything they ever dreamed of. And I did that.
That was my reason, and over the last 25 years, I have two of the greatest sons and I say that because of the kind of young men they are. They are my absolute reason for going after it again. To teach them by example, to teach them never back off, never bend and just keep going after it, because show business is not a job, it’s a career, and there’s gonna be ups and downs, peaks and valleys. But if I can show them that as their father, which they’re seeing loud and clear, then they can reach their potential, because they have learned. And they’re just two of the nicest guys I ever met in my life. I feel very blessed that way.
One of the funny things that happened to you a few years ago was Donald Trump firing you on "The Apprentice." Have you forgiven him for that?
I wasn't mad at him then! I couldn't wait to get home! The one joke I said on Fallon, when he asked me, "Hey Dice, I'm thinking about you becoming vice president for a while." I go, "Donnie, I'm not a morning guy." Which is true. Even when we shot the series, I'd say, "You gotta start me at like 10 in the morning. I don't go to sleep until four or five."
I've known Donald many years. This guy, my first meeting, I have it on tape. If he asked me to release it I would. When my career took off, Donald Trump wanted me in his casinos to perform. At the time he wanted me, I had moved out of an apartment on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn. I lived on the sixth floor in Brooklyn, a block from my parents. It was a Trump building, a six-floor brick apartment building. When I moved out of the sixth floor to a house in Brooklyn, my sister took over the apartment. My sister is calling me that her neighbors below her on the fifth and fourth floor keep coming to her about this huge leak in their apartments and she knows it's not coming from her apartment. She goes, "I'm getting it, too, Andrew. It's coming from the roof. I don't know what to tell these people."
So I happened to get the call that Trump wants to book me, his talent people, so I go to Atlantic City and I set up a meeting with him. At the time I would film everything. I'd have my buddy always filming. Trump comes into the meeting, we got along great. He goes, "So are we gonna be able to make a deal?" I go, "Well yeah, of course we can make a deal, my agents will do that. But I'm not here for that reason." And he goes, "Well what can I do for you?" I go, "I know it's gonna sound crazy..." and I tell him about my sister's roof. And he goes, "Well, what am I gonna do about it?" And I go, "Well it's one of your buildings, it's on Nostrand Avenue between S and T. And he goes, "You're kidding!" And I go, "No, I'm not kidding. You own the place." The next day, my sister calls me. Three trucks show up and they redid the entire roof of the building for her. That was how we became friendly. And then of course I did his hotels.
But I don't talk about him running for president. I don't talk about who I like, who I don't like, because there's no win. No matter who I would say, there's no win in the political talk. And I'm not a political comic. But do I like the guy? I do like him. I like him as a guy.
He's tapped into a lot of anger in the country. Do you see that when you're going around doing standup and meeting people?
This isn't coming from what I see with him, but I have felt personally the anger of people. People are afraid today. People are angry, they're afraid. Ever since 9/11 it's a different world we live in. That's my personal take. Every time we hear about an explosion like what just happened in Paris, these are awful things and people are definitely afraid, and fear also brings on anger. That's how I take it.
I feel that has to do a lot with my resurgence and how people are responding to me. I don't talk about that stuff, but I let them release it with laughter. If you ever come to one of my shows, people laugh harder at my shows, they fall out of their seats laughing. A lady two weeks ago, a married woman, thirty-something years, from Texas with her husband, threw herself on the stage laughing. She couldn't take it. And I broke. Because I started laughing. I couldn't deal with her laughing, it was hysterical. That's absolute joy to me, when I can see people laughing like that. I really feel that that's what I was put on earth to do. That's something that goes way deeper than a verbal explanation. I always felt it in me. I felt that I've been tested incredibly and still prevailed.