The first time I saw Andrew Dice Clay was in the classic 1980s film Pretty In Pink, wherein the Diceman mesmerised me with a display of cigarette lighting the likes of which I had never seen. Here, I could see, was a man who did not bow to any stifling social mores when it came to unhealthy inhalatory habits. Further investigation into his life and career showed me that his determination to rebel did not end with Camels – this guy brooked no restriction in any field.
Clay’s iconoclasm was shaped by his early life in Sheepshead Bay, New York, where at a young age he learnt to play the drums, hammering out a beat just as he would later hammer out a new way to think about laughter. Indeed, his comedy has always been of the percussive kind, moving to an addictive rhythm that shatters comfortable middle-class preconceptions like a mallet through an ice sculpture. With his combination of that rhythm, trenchant observations on modern life, and stunningly original hand gestures, young Andrew developed a persona based on his heroes Elvis Presley, John Travolta and Leo Sayer. He called this persona “the Diceman”, because of his habit of ending every set with an extended game of Yahtzee. This persona broke through in the 1980s as a welcome antidote to the stale, safe humour of Billy Crystal and Bea Arthur.
“Sinead O’Connor also refused to appear, though most interpreted that as an act of charity.”
No great comedian can avoid controversy for long, and Andrew Dice Clay is no exception. Just as he hit the pinnacle of fame, with sold-out Madison Square Garden shows, gold albums and starring roles in major motion pictures, he also attracted protests from the usual bunch of pearl-clutching snowflakes who wouldn’t know a decent joke if it jumped up and punched their mother in the stomach. When he hosted Saturday Night Live, cast member Nora Dunn refused to appear in the episode, either as a protest against his supposedly “sexist” material, or as a protest against the producers showing her up by putting someone actually funny on the show. Sinead O’Connor also refused to appear, though most interpreted that as an act of charity. Protesters rallied outside venues where Clay was appearing, believing the only way to fight offensive comedians was to give them as much publicity as possible.
What makes Andrew Dice Clay such a special star in the entertainment firmament is that in the face of the protests, the complaints, the cries of offence, he has never wavered from his primary goal: making people laugh. If, in the process of creating mirth and joy, he also makes some people gasp, “Oh my, how vulgar!” then that is just a bonus. Like all comic legends, the Diceman is in the business of speaking truth to power: or if power is not available, of speaking insults to ugly assholes.
To this day, he continues following this singular comedic philosophy. Though pretenders to the crown have come and gone over the years, nobody has yet dethroned the Diceman – there’s still not one comic on the scene today who can light a cigarette like the king.
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