Andrew Dice Clay in 1987

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?


About Paleo Retiree

Onetime media flunky and movie buff and very glad to have left that mess behind. Formerly Michael Blowhard of the cultureblog Now a rootless parasite and bon vivant on a quest to find the perfectly-crafted artisanal cocktail.
This entry was posted in Humor, Performers, Politics and Economics, Sex and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Andrew Dice Clay in 1987

  1. When I was in middle school, around 1988-1989, the two big comedians among my friends and I were Kinison and Clay. I secretly listened to tapes of “Have You Seen Me Lately?” and “Dice” repeatedly.

    Btw, Dice is good playing an honest working man in Woody Allen’s BLUE JASMINE.


    • “Secretly”? Why secretly?

      I confess I never found Kinison very funny. What turned you on about him when you were a kid?


      • I was too young to be listening to those. My parents wouldn’t have approved. My uncle had a bunch of old Carlin records and my mom put the kibosh on those, too.

        Kinison’s screaming schtick could be a bit much, I’m guessing the anti-authoritarian anger of Kinison appealed to a 13 year-oold me.


  2. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    Indeed, that is a great clip. I watched it a couple years ago, and thought I might try some of his longer shows. They were terrible. Pointlessly vile.


  3. plwinkler says:

    Dice simply wore out his welcome, then he made a terrible movie, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane. His shtick got old fast, just like Morton Downey Jr.’s. Acts like theirs, relying on shock value, usually have short moments in the limelight.


    • It’s certainly true that his schtick got old (though you might be amazed by the number of people who have fond memories of “Ford Fairlane”…). Not a man with much interest in developing his act, I guess. That said, I think you’re underestimating the role that the press played in his downfall. (This kind of rant wasn’t uncommon.) For one thing, it put him on the defensive and helped turn him into a bore in his media appearances.


  4. Faze says:

    Hand to Woody Allen for giving this guy another shot in “Blue Jasmine” — in which he happens to be well cast. But his 80s act deserved to die. While it did, as you say, promote working class mood affiliation among some audiences, the jokes just weren’t that funny. Especially coming off an era that had just launched Sam Kinison, Eddie Murphy, etc.


    • FWIW, Clay’s best moments make me laugh harder than Kinison’s and just as hard as Murphy’s (though Murphy certainly had a much greater range). But I’m not a huge defender of Clay even so. My point is mainly about how much more open the entertainment mainstream was at that time than it is now. Are there comedians around now who rampage about as confidently and fearlessly as Clay, Kinison, Murphy and such did back in the day? And god knows that studio films in the ’80s were often a lot more adult and sexual than studio films are these days. Life before PC looks more and more like a Golden Age to me …


      • Faze says:

        Comics are a subject upon which men of good will can disagree. I was working on the TV side of the stand-up business in the ’80s, and saw and even met many of the top guys of the time. Sam Kinison stood out because he seemed to be on scorched earth journey though the culture, burning his bridges behind him. Even far-out comics were saying “He goes to far.” In one of his most outrageous bits, he promoted drunk driving — no winks, no irony. “How else are you supposed to get your car home?” he screamed. Then he got himself killed by a drunk driver. That’s commitment.


  5. Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

    Definitely a class thing going on with respect to the Dice hate. But he was worshipped by a certain segment of the public. Even after he was washed up, the guys on the Opie & Anthony radio show — working-class types all the way — seemed in semi-awe of him, even as they laughed at his has-been-ness. They’d let him go on and on with his schtick, chortling the whole way as he wound himself up in a tizzy of (feigned?) rage over his having been sort of forgotten.

    Personally, I always loved him. Laugh every time. Even just looking at him makes me laugh.


    • He was a buffoon, but he was their buffoon. I’m surprised by the number of people who took his act literally — who couldn’t see that “the Diceman” was as much a created thing as, say, Curly of the Three Stooges (who also instantly makes me smile) was. How to explain it?


  6. bjk says:

    ADC’s album was put out by David Geffen. Without David Geffen on his side, maybe ADC never would have happened. Gays switched sides, that explains much of the change of atmosphere.


  7. Will S. says:

    I had two of the Diceman’s cassettes, and loved them, as the time. I still enjoy how much he pissed people off, but I was just thinking about the joke that started out the one show (“Let’s say you’re fucking doggy-style, and the chick gets pregnant; would the kid come out backwards? I saw a woman walking down the street with a hunchback, and I thought, ‘Ah, you were fucking doggy style!’ “), and thinking, it was funny because it was outrageous to hear someone talking like that – the shock value – but the joke itself was kinda dumb, really.

    As to why rappers get away with the shit they do, same as for Richard Pryor, because they’re black, so as ‘victims’, they get a free pass; progs don’t want to get accused of being ‘racist’ by opposing rap. PC is still very much alive, and thriving. I think Dice was also hated for being Jewish yet not being PC, as most of his fellow Jews would think he should have been.


  8. peterike says:

    The white working class is the enemy class, the kulaks. Dice Clay essentially shoved the working class aesthetic — call it that, why not? — into the faces of the elites. He had to be shut up, and he was. It’s the same hatred that turned on Sarah Palin when she was thrust into the spotlight.

    Black rappers can get away with it because black criminality is a weapon used against working class whites. It destroys their schools and their neighborhoods. It doesn’t destroy elite schools and neighborhoods. So the elites promote it.


  9. Tex says:

    Dice was a one-note snooze to me. Eddie Murphy’s ‘Delirious’ was as un-PC as possible, except Murphy was actually funny. Dice always seemed to be an angry nerd who couldn’t get a date in high school and was getting some half-assed revenge against all the homos and bitches who were keeping down imaginary studs like him.


    • But what if Clay wasn’t playing himself (in the way Murphy and Bill Burr mostly speak in more or less their own voices) but was playing a fictional character — the buffoonishly assertive, hyper-obnoxious Mr. Cool of a working-class NYC neighborhood? What if he’s intended as a cartoonish, even nightmarish version of, I dunno, Tony Manera in “Saturday Night Fever.” Would that change your reaction to him?


  10. chucho says:

    Wow, I haven’t seen this since it came out. This clip and others were wildly popular when I was in middle school. Kids could recite portions of this line-for-line, and did so ad nauseum. Watching it now, it’s striking how good of a performer he was, but as others have said, the jokes themselves fall a bit flat. I don’t think stand-up comedy ages well in general, though.


  11. agnostic says:

    One-hit wonders hail from a more risk-taking climate. Some performers have only one good song in them, or comedians only one good routine. Should they just not bother putting it out there, because they’re not destined for market dominance? If the performer is risk-averse (avoid embarrassment) and so is the audience (something different? sounds sketchy…), you see monolithic reign by those who have more than only one hit in them and are more self-assured.

    Without the one-hit wonders, a period would not have such a rich and distinctive texture. It’s just, whatever the giants were up to that year.

    A tide of one-hit wonders also discourages the pretentious auteur phenomenon — always a danger in mass media — and brings things back down to a personal, human scale.


  12. agnostic says:

    Speaking of human scale, that may be an overlooked factor in what allowed the Dice Man to get away with his anti-establishment message. If you’re performing at a comedy club that doesn’t hold more than a couple hundred people, there’s more closeness between the performer and audience.

    The stand-up feels like he can trust the audience and not get ratted out to the authorities, and the audience feels like he’s a normal guy who’s going to level with us, not some guru who’s recruiting a mass following.

    Our cocooning society is creeped out by nightlife in general, but especially in a cozy, open, let-it-all-hang-out kind of setting, where arousal will be high. Stand-up clubs couldn’t be deader compared to their peak in the ’80s and early ’90s.

    So, heterodox folks do not get the signal that there are others out there thinking and feeling the way they do, making it harder to break with the conformity to our warped and corrosive norms. Sure, they’re out there on the internet somewhere, but not here in real life. It’s no consolation.


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