Six Hit Comedians Who Flamed Out Faster Than You Can Say Andrew Dice Clay

Comics like Michael Richards and Carlos Mencia offer lessons in self-destruction
Six Hit Comedians Who Flamed Out Faster Than You Can Say Andrew Dice Clay

Few comedians have flown closer to the sun than Andrew Dice Clay. With his naughty nursery rhymes and leather-clad, tough-guy persona, in 1990, Dice became the first comic ever to sell out Madison Square Garden for consecutive nights. HBO specials like The Diceman Cometh were huge both on TV and in home video sales. And then, he starred in The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, a huge bomb that took home the Golden Raspberry as Worst Film of the Year. He hosted Saturday Night Live, but cast member Nora Dunn and musical guest Sinead O’Connor sat out the show in protest of his perceived sexist and homophobic humor. A deal with ABC for a TV show fell through because the network deemed him too controversial. Even Dice announced in the mid-1990s that his Diceman persona had worn out its welcome, costing him work. His white-hot moment was over. 

Clay, of course, isn’t the first comedian to make it huge only to tumble back to earth. Here are six more comedians who reached the top but ultimately flamed out… 

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Michael Richards

You can’t rise much higher on the comedy food chain than Richards during his Seinfeld run, turning Kramer into a pop-culture icon and winning three Emmy Awards for his trouble. It was a slam-dunk decision for NBC to greenlight The Michael Richards Show after Seinfeld ended its run, though that comedy only lasted two months. 

But a failed sitcom didn’t fuel Richards’ flameout. That would be the racist rant he delivered one night at the Comedy Store, captured on video and shared with America by TMZ. The least offensive part of the tirade against some Black hecklers: “Fifty years ago, wed have you upside-down with a f***ing fork up your ass. Richards then hurled a number of n-epithets, causing most of the audience to get up and walk out. An awkward attempt at an apology on Letterman, aided by a scolding Jerry Seinfeld, did little to win back the public’s good graces.

T.J. Miller


Miller rode a wave of wild behavior (he auditioned for Yogi Bear with a live bear and parachuted into the premiere of The Emoji Movie) to becoming the next hot thing, appearing in hit movies like Deadpool and establishing Silicon Valley’s breakout character Erlich. 

But according to Page Six, Miller detonated his career with a string of increasingly erratic behavior, allegedly driven by substance abuse. “He thinks drinking and comedy are intricately connected,” an HBO exec said. “It was funny at first when this wacky guy was sneaking gin onto a set. Until it wasn’t funny anymore. He couldn’t stay in character, couldn’t remember lines, fell asleep. It was just costing HBO too much money.”

Miller left the hit show, faced accusations of sex abuse, allegedly assaulted an Uber driver and was arrested for making fake bomb threats. He hasn’t had a credit on IMDb since 2020.

Paul Hogan

Virtually no one in the United States had ever heard of Australia’s Hogan, a comic actor who had his own sketch show for a decade Down Under. So no one saw it coming when 1986’s Crocodile Dundee became a massive global hit and the second highest grossing film in America that year. It trailed only Top Gun and beat the pants off of comedy competition like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Back to School and Pretty in Pink. Hogan even nabbed an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay, more of a reflection on its impact as a cultural phenomenon than its actual writing brilliance. But still.

When you ascend to those kinds of comedy heights, however, there’s nowhere to go but down. Hogan followed up his success with Crocodile Dundee II, a modest hit but nowhere near as popular with audiences or critics. He reportedly turned down the lead in Ghost to make another otherworldly film, Almost An Angel, which wasn’t a hit. A number of other film flops followed, including another Crocodile Dundee reboot, but Hogan has mostly returned to Australia for the remainder of his career. Hey, at least the guy had a g’day in the sun. 

Sandra Bernhard

Comedy fans had never seen anyone like Bernhard when she burst hard onto the scene in the mid-1980s. As much performance artist as stand-up comic, she made an indelible impression as a crazed fan in 1983’s The King of Comedy, both funny and legitimately frightening.

Hit one-woman shows on Broadway followed, but it was her outrageous, confrontational appearances with David Letterman that made her a hot name. That and a famous friendship (or more?) with Madonna.

So what happened? Nothing exactly, at least not in the manner of a single self-destructive incident like Michael Richards’. She’s worked steadily in small roles over the past 25 years, but these low-key roles don’t draw the attention of her early bottle-rocket career. 

Carlos Mencia

Mencia rose from relative obscurity in the early 2000s to headline one of Comedy Central’s most popular shows, Mind of Mencia. “If you don’t know who I am and you don’t know my show,” Mencia blasts on a promo for the Season Two DVD, “then that means you’ve been under a (bleep)in’ rock.”

But it all fell apart soon enough. Even at the height of popularity, Maxim named him one of the worst comics of all time. Outlets like Gawker accused him of ripping off jokes from classic comedians, but then Joe Rogan took it to another level. He confronted Mencia on-stage at the Comedy Store, angry that Mencia allegedly (and shamelessly) borrowed other comics’ bits. To prove his point, Rogan posted clips of Mencia jokes alongside video of other comics delivering similar material.

Reputation sullied, Mencia has mostly disappeared except to call out Rogan for his hypocrisy about cancel culture. Mencia told The New York Times, “It is ironic that a guy who is now saying you shouldn’t cancel anybody at least started the building of his podcast by canceling me.”

Shane Gillis

One could argue Gillis doesn’t belong on this list, mainly because his flameout occurred before his comedy career really got the chance to take off. But credit Gillis with an own goal, scoring against himself before he could even take the field on Saturday Night Live

Gillis did the hard part, auditioning for the show and landing a plum “featured player” spot in 2019. But not long after he was announced as a new cast member alongside Bowen Yang and Chloe Fineman, the internet did its thing and shared clips of Gillis spouting remarks that Variety called “racist, sexist, and homophobic” — the trifecta! Considering that a number of Gillis’ racist remarks were aimed at “f*cking ch*nks” in Chinatown, the announcement of his hiring alongside gay, Chinese-American Yang was especially awkward. 

A half-hearted apology — he was “happy to apologize to anyone who’s actually offended” — didn’t stop SNL from firing Gillis before he made a single appearance. He’s still working (bizarrely, he appeared in episodes of this season’s Lorne Michaels-produced Bupkis), but he was seemingly on the verge of a much bigger career.  Consider those comedy flames doused.

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