Andrew Dice Clay—or Dice, Diceman, whatever you prefer—probably shouldn’t be around anymore. He’s a stegosaurus. A relic of a bygone era, like a Brooklynized combo of Archie Bunker and the construction worker who whistles at a nubile woman on the street before yelling, “Hey, nice ass!” in her wake. His 1989 stand-up comedy special, The Diceman Cometh, opens with the line, “I got my tongue up this chick’s ass ...” He’s best known for crafting X-rated nursery rhymes.
He was loud, nasty, and garishly dressed—in gigantic wrap-around shades, slicked-back hair, and a leather biker jacket two sizes too big. He was Dice, an outrageously chauvinistic caricature he modeled on Elvis. In his heyday—that is, more than 20 years ago—he became the first (and only) stand-up comic to sell out back-to-back nights at Madison Square Garden. But just as he started to go mainstream, including a starring role in the much-maligned 1990 film The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, as well as a hosting stint on Saturday Night Live, the backlash set in. Women’s rights groups went after him. So did gays. Journalists, too. The New York Times wrote, “Anyone who has witnessed a Clay performance, with its mostly white, mostly male audience shouting and rising to its feet with clenched fists, comes to a fresh realization of what a Nazi rally must have been like.” (Clay, for the record, is Jewish—born Andrew Clay Silverstein.)
And Dice fell. What followed were movie bombs, a handful of aborted sitcoms, financial difficulties, the list goes on. Five years ago, Dice was dead broke. A minor comeback ensued, including a 2012 comedy special for Showtime and a long guest arc on the HBO series Entourage. He fell once more. Just six months ago, his house was almost foreclosed on. Dice should, according to the fallen idols Hollywood script, be on a show like Celebrity Rehab bitching about his halcyon years that have long passed him by. Dice shouldn’t be at his suite at the Waldorf-Astoria in Midtown Manhattan speaking to a journalist about his standout turn in the latest Woody Allen film, Blue Jasmine.
When I enter Dice’s suite at the Waldorf—where he’s staying for the day while Team Woody does press—it’s impeccably clean, save several room service tins and empty plates of food on the living room table. And Dice, at 55, is still a thick mountain of a man. Yes, the hair has thinned, there are slight bags under the eyes, and his sideburns are going the way of Romney, but he still seems very much together. He’s sporting a leather vest, black T-shirt, and studded aviator shades. Dice cracks a window so he can chain-smoke Marlboro Lights, using a glass of water as an ashtray.
“What would this hotel room look like after you sold out MSG?” I ask him.
He stops puffing and goes silent.
“That’s what’s so crazy about the image of Dice,” he says. “I’ve always been, basically, a family guy, so even after my shows, it wouldn’t have been insane. I’d lumber in after a show in these big sweatpants and a giant 10XL sweatshirt, and Jim Norton, who used to be my opening act, would say, ‘Look at you ... If your fans could only see you now. They picture a hundred girls, drugs, and booze, and you’re in your pajamas eating these giant Atomic Fireball candies.”
He pauses again.
“There will always be a difference between Dice and me. I’m from Brooklyn, I do smoke, and ever since I saw Elvis when I was 12, I’ve been in a leather jacket. But my comedy onstage is just an amplification of what people do to each other. And a lot of it is sexual.”
“I never ripped women apart, I was just talking about sex, and I wasn’t talking about anything they didn’t do.”
Dice’s role in Blue Jasmine, however, is anything but. He plays Augie, a shlubby, blue-collar worker who was married to Ginger (Sally Hawkins), Jasmine’s (Cate Blanchett) less refined sister. At Jasmine’s behest, he hands his life savings over to Jasmine’s husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), to invest. But, when Hal is busted for running a Madoff-esque Ponzi scheme, Augie gets wiped out, and Ginger bids him adieu. Among the film’s stellar supporting cast, which includes Baldwin, Hawkins, Louis C.K., Peter Sarsgaard, and Bobby Cannavale, it’s Dice who really turns heads, eliciting our sympathy as the working-class stiff ruined by a white-collar crook.
It was a little over a year ago when he got the call. Dice had just finished a stand-up show in Westbury, and his manager phoned to tell him Woody Allen wanted a meeting. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, he thought. But the next day, he went to meet Allen at his office in Manhattan. Allen told him about the role, and Dice read two pages of dialogue for him and the film’s casting director. After the audition, Dice asked Allen if he wanted him to read it a different way.
“You had the essence of the whole scene!” said Allen. “It was perfect.”
Dice found it easy to relate to Augie. Born and raised in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, he grew up in a blue-collar family. His father owned a process-serving agency on Court Street, and the family’s idea of an exotic vacation was a trip to the Courtesy Inn in New Jersey.
“It had a pool with a slide, and we were thrilled,” Dice says.
After hitting the big time, he moved out to Beverly Hills, where he encountered a lot of snobs that reminded him of Blanchett’s character in the film.
“They just don’t give a fuck about anyone else,” he says. “I would come to the school to pick up my kids in the fingerless gloves and stupid shorts, and they’d give this look: ‘Look at the animal.’ And I’d think, ‘Well, you don’t even raise your kids. I come to your house to pick up my kid, and you’re in Europe for a month while a non-English-speaking maid is raising them.’”
And it’s his two sons—Dillon, 18, and Max, 22—whom he credits with his resurgence.
“About five years ago, when the recession hit, nothing was going on for me in the business,” he says. “I was going through a divorce, and there were all these lawsuits, so lots of money was being taken by attorneys, and I wasn’t making enough to make ends meet. So I started gambling and smoking again.”
Dice took his last $50,000 in cash and headed to Las Vegas. Miraculously, he left with $1 million. He purchased some cars and cleared his debts, then gambled some more and lost everything.
“I told my kids to never get involved in gambling or hard drugs,” he says. “Look at what just happened to that kid [Cory Monteith] from Glee. Where were his parents? Somebody wasn’t watching.”
Then came a minor resurgence, including the stint on Entourage and the Showtime comedy special Indestructible, which aired in December of last year. Then he lost it all. Again.
“When my house was nearly foreclosed on about six months ago, my kid typed out the speech from Rocky Balboa and gave it to me,” says Dice. “And one of the lines in that speech is ‘Life will beat you into the ground and keep you there, if you let it.’ And I’m one of those guys that just won’t fold. The fire always burns in me.” He pauses to take a puff. “With life, different things can derail you. Losing your parents, losing people you love, will derail you. Going through divorces will derail you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get back on track and shoot for the moon again.”
One area the tide has started to turn is the media, who’ve long excoriated Dice for his attitudes toward women (“piglets”) and gays (“fags”). He’s no longer the brash jerk selling out arenas, but—like Augie—the underdog shlub who’s been cleaned out and busted his ass to claw his way back to relevance, time and time again.
“I think when I originally hit, I was scary to journalists because they couldn’t understand why I was so popular and selling out arenas,” he says. “They called it ‘the comedy of hate’ because I would talk about gays. It wasn’t about me hating gays, but it was the perfect topic for a persona like Dice. And I never ripped women apart, I was just talking about sex, and I wasn’t talking about anything they didn’t do. The idea was to give people a comedic hero; the Elvis of comedy. The NOW organization didn’t like me, but there were plenty of women at the shows. And I’m not a misogynist and got sick of being labeled that, so I stopped reading the papers.”
Nowadays, Dice is sitting relatively pretty. In addition to the Woody Allen flick, he’s working on an autobiography that’s due out in the first quarter of 2014, and a reality-TV competition series called The Big Big Show, where he’ll serve as one of the judges alongside Tom Green and an unnamed female celeb. (“They’re still working on her contract,” he says.) The program is syndicated in 200 markets so far, according to Dice. And he wants to take one last stab at Madison Square Garden. “Tickets were supposed to be on sale now,” he says, “but I’m not ready just yet.”
Most surprisingly, Dice claims women have “spun completely” and are a much greater presence at his comedy shows, hollering at his crude, un-PC jokes.
“This new generation of women has grown up on the Internet,” says Dice. “They watch porn. They put up naked pictures of themselves by the time they’re 19, 20 years old. That stuff is up there forever. Why would you do that? You’ve destroyed your lives even before you’re in your 20s. And one day, maybe you will mature and be 30, and a guy will have seen what you’ve done and go, ‘You’re not the one for me.’”
He collects himself, realizing he’s drifted into Diceman territory.
“Women in my crowd, because of the Internet, they’re pumping their firsts in the air and cheering for the material, because I talk about everything from bleaching their asshole to what they do on the Internet or dates—but I do it in a comedic form. And they’re appreciating it … It’s a crazy world we live in.”