Paleo Retiree writes:
(Do NOT play this video if you’re at work. It’s about as NSFW and un-PC as can possibly be.)
Andrew Dice Clay in his prime makes the very daring Bill Burr, my current favorite comedian, look sheepish and apologetic. The basic joke in his act is that this pudgy Jewish guy (born Andrew Clay Silverstein) is playing the role of the kind of leather-loving Italian hood who worships black guys for being so big, so strong and so cool. Somehow that lends him the license to give voice to all kinds of insults, jokes and outrageous thoughts. The clip I’ve linked to, by the way, is the seven-minute 1987 performance at Dangerfield’s that really kicked Andrew Dice Clay into the limelight.
To my mind it’s a really vivid reminder of how uninhibited life, or at least comedy, could be in an era before people became obsessed with their own thin skins, and convinced that anything that caused them offense not only deserves to be outlawed but is an enemy of freedom. Because, as far as I can tell, the word “freedom” has come to be redefined. No longer does it mean, roughly, “a relatively large amount of latitude to think, say and do as you please.” Instead it signifies “the ability to get through life without my feelings ever being hurt.”
But it’s not as though even in 1987 Andrew Dice Clay got a free ride from respectable society. The tasteful and the tastemakers were both up in arms about him — something really needed to be done, don’t you know? Women’s groups were particulary outraged; MTV banned him for many years; and in 1990, when he was asked to host an episode of Saturday Night Live, both Nora Dunn and Sinead O’Connor refused to appear on the show. Meanwhile I was chortling happily at his cartoonish bravado, his loutish assertiveness and his high-spirited outrages.
I had some arguments, er, friendly and civilized disagreements about Clay with work colleagues, nearly all of them of the upper-middle-class white-liberal persuasion. What I struggled hardest to understand were their moral objections to Clay. How could people who had learned to enjoy Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor object on moral grounds to Andrew Dice Clay?
Flurries of reasons were thrown at me, but I couldn’t make sense of them until I woke up to the fact that nearly all the objections were class-based. While Bruce peddled Greenwich-Village-style hipster attitudes and Pryor’s act was hipster, lovable and black, Clay was a guy from the boroughs targeting a mainly working-class, white-ethnic audience. I saw Clay live once and I can report that 1) 90% of the audience really was working-class, and 2) the women in the audience laughed as hard as the guys did. The show was basically a celebration of hearty, uninhibited working-class camaraderie, as well as of defiance of bourgeois good taste. It was a celebration of vulgarity in the old sense — “the common people” — as well as in the current one.
Clay’s moment didn’t last long. He was everywhere you looked … and then, after about five years, political correctness caught up with him and did him in. His career collapsed; he’s been making failed and semi-failed comebacks ever since.
Incidentally, if you don’t get a kick out of Clay, it’s OK with me. As far as I’m concerned, The Diceman was one of the great comedy creations of the ’80s, right up there with the Cameron Crowe / Amy Heckerling / Sean Penn creation Spicoli from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” But tastes — maybe especially in comedy — certainly differ. My aim here is simply to point up how uptight American culture has gotten in recent years and to demonstrate how much rowdier it once was. Has this change really been for the better? Does nurturing hypersensitivity really solve anything, or does it simply lead to ever more absurd excesses of hypersensitivity? And isn’t it weird how — despite PC, and despite 21st century neo-Puritanism — crude hiphop is allowed by the official class to be? Anyone got an explanation for that?