Andrew Dice Clay: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
Andrew Dice Clay is one of those completely singular figures in entertainment history who has somehow remained unchanged over the course of his entire forty-plus year career. While the tough-talking Diceman character was made for New York’s smokiest, sleaziest clubs in the late ‘70s to early ‘80s, the Brooklyn-born brain behind the streetwise stage persona is the same as it was when Dice was spitting out naughty nursery rhymes in Mitzi Shore’s Comedy Store back at the end of the Carter Administration.
Dice has had a whirlwind career onstage, on film, and on TV that deserves more than just a mini-retrospective, but for now, let’s recap The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly from Brooklyn’s baddest comic.
Immediately Getting Fired From ‘The Celebrity Apprentice’ Over Bagels
When Dice joined the cast of the second season of future president Donald Trump’s reality show The Celebrity Apprentice in 2008, it seemed inevitable that the two biggest personalities in Brooklyn would end up butting heads. The only surprising part of Dice’s early departure from the competition was how quickly the relationship broke down, as Dice started voicing his dissatisfaction before the camera had even started rolling.
In Dice’s own words, his short-lived stint on the show started and ended with hilarious unpleasantness – “Number one, I hate waking up at 5:30 AM because I go to sleep at 5:00. So I show up at the boardroom where he lays out what the game is going to be that week. And there’s sushi on the table and it’s 7:00 in the morning! And he would get all mad at me because I would ask him, ‘Donny, where’s the bagels and cream cheese? This is New York. I want some bagels! I don’t eat sushi or anything uncooked!' And he said, ‘Well, who’s fault is that?’ And I said, ‘Yours! It’s your place.’”
Dice The Actor
It’s likely that many people in younger generations only know Andrew Dice Clay as “Lady Gaga’s dad in that Bradley Cooper movie”, and, honestly, he could be known for far worse to a contemporary crowd, so let’s chalk that up as a win for the Diceman.
Dice had various acting gigs throughout the ‘80s, including a bizarre cameo on M*A*S*H and a recurring role on the Dennis Farina-led crime drama Crime Story. However, his greatest roles wouldn’t come until long after his heyday as a comic, starting with his appearance in the 2013 Woody Allen film Blue Jasmine. In this comedy/drama about a Manhattan socialite’s fall from grace, Dice plays the part of Augie, ex-husband of Ginger, the working-class sister of the aforementioned upper-cruster. His portrayal was called “one of the year’s most devastating and honest performances”, and it brought the Diceman back into the movie business after a twelve year film hiatus.
Dice The Actor
I didn’t say all of his performances were good. In fact, Dice’s first starring role was in a film called The Adventures of Ford Fairlane which earned him the 1991 Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actor. The action-comedy-mystery featured Dice as Ford Fairlane, a so-called “Rock ‘n’ Roll Detective” who investigates the seedy underbelly of the Los Angeles music business. On paper, the film could have been an entertaining, stylish, completely passable flick for a young audience who just want to see Andrew Dice Clay set record executives on fire with molotov cocktails.
However, the film that ended up being made was such a clunky, self-aggrandizing mess that it drove away audiences and critics alike, with Roger Ebert describing the failed project as “a movie about a hero I didn't like, chasing villains I didn't hate, in a plot I didn't understand. It is also loud, ugly and mean-spirited. That makes it the ideal vehicle for Andrew Dice Clay, a comedian whose humor is based upon hating those not in the room for the entertainment of those present.”
Dice: An Undisputed Mess
Long after Dice was selling out Madison Square Garden and a few years before his return to the movie business, Dice starred in a VH1 reality show called Dice: Undisputed about him grappling with the twilight years of his popularity and the dysfunction of his family. The show ran for less than a month in the spring of 2007, then disappeared without much of a fuss after just six episodes.
Apparently attempting to capitalize on the success of MTV’s series The Osbournes, which followed Ozzy and family in the small hours of his music career, VH1 tried to make a sympathetic, slightly washed up Andrew Dice Clay their formerly famous family man to little success. In a scathing review, The New York Times posited that Dice: Undisputed “is intended to shove (Dice) back in our faces, right where he apparently belongs. But we must again resist his advances. Let’s say it one more time: He’s charmless and unfunny.”
The Diceman Puncheth Down
There’s not much more to be said about the preferred targets of Andrew Dice Clay’s comedy that hasn’t been talked about on TV, written about in newspapers, or scrawled across protest signs outside of his shows for the last 40 years. The Diceman character is fiercely, flagrantly, indulgently misogynistic and proud of it. He hates gay people. He hates most people, actually – that is, anyone who doesn’t look like him, talk like him, like the things he likes, and think the things he thinks.
It’s worth pointing out that Andrew Dice Clay’s stage persona is very deliberately constructed out of spare parts stolen from Fonzi, Rodney Dangerfield, and the meanest SOB’s at Rikers Island. He’s not a real person, and the views he expresses onstage don’t necessarily align with the opinions of the man born Andrew Clay Silverstein.
That being said, doing three and a half minutes about how funny it is to lynch gay people is indefensible. Anyone who would think to say those things almost definitely has some hostility towards the LGBTQ community, and, even in a much less enlightened time in the ‘80s, Dice’s repeated and gleeful assaults on the disenfranchised were considered by many to be distasteful and mean-spirited.
For those who are inclined to write off these criticisms as “modernist, SJW, cancel culture BS,” some of his most distinguished contemporaries felt the same way about Dice’s choice in targets. George Carlin in particular had some poignant thoughts on it:
Andrew Dice Clay: No Apologies
Let’s be clear, Andrew Dice Clay wasn’t the only comedian in the ‘80s to target women, gay people, and minorities of any and every kind. Not by a longshot. Cultural sensibilities change quickly, and for those standup comics who make it their life’s work to inch their toes over the line, everything they say will look worse in retrospect decades after the line has drastically shifted.
Still, every artist must be accountable for the ideas and sentiments that they put out into the world. As Carlin said, Dice’s audience of young, angry men likely felt empowered by his jokes to harbor that kind of bigotry in their daily lives. Art moves people, and the artist has a responsibility to make sure they’re not moving their followers towards hatred.
Eddie Murphy was the biggest star in comedy throughout the ‘80s, and he has had to come to terms with many of the jokes he said about the gay community during the height of the AIDS crisis. He’s called his past jokes “ignorant”, and has apologized for the pain caused by massive cultural figures like himself who target suffering people.
Dice, however, has made it a point never to apologize, or self-censor, or self-correct, or self-reflect. On the very rare occasion that he’s done standup sets in the last ten years, his targets have stayed the same. Said Dice about his material, “I make no apologies for anything I did on that special, or any joke I tell because that’s the thing about jokes. That’s all it’s meant to be taken as. Whether they’re clean, dirty, it’s just humor. You know, it’s just jokes. This society today, the politically correct, I think people are just sick of it.”
Andrew Dice Clay is nothing if not true to himself, for better or for worse. And he doesn’t change for nobody.