It’s almost as if he never left. Once the biggest stand-up comedy star in the world — and the first to sell-out Madison Square Garden two nights in a row — Andrew Dice Clay is in the middle of a remarkable comeback.
A few years back, Clay had a major arc as himself on the last season of Entourage and gave an affecting and subtle performance opposite Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. Then this year, he stole the show as a drug-addled radio man in the Martin Scorsese-directed pilot of HBO’s Vinyl. And now, starting Sunday, April 10, he’s starring in his own six-episode comedy series on Showtime called — what else? — Dice.
Overall, he’s come a long way in the seven years since Donald Trump fired him after just one episode of The Celebrity Apprentice’s second season.
Clay has mellowed a bit since the days when he was branded a misogynist by groups like the National Organization for Women and refused to let down the guard of his tough onstage persona. Speaking to The Daily Beast from his home in Las Vegas, he even gets emotional when he talks about how he’s changed since the height of his career.
“I started really young and I’m 58 years old now so I’ve been through a lot,” Clay says. “I’ve been through three marriages, I’ve had two sons, I’ve lost my parents. I’ve gone through financial ups and downs and as time goes on you just learn a lot about life.” While he says “you never really change as a person” he adds that he has made an effort to take some of the focus off of himself.
“I love what’s going on in my career,” he says of his current return to the spotlight, “but, you know, my sons are just everything to me.” When he sees them perform in their band or appear as themselves on his new show, Clay says, “I get way more joy and way more excited for them than I even do about my own career. Because in life, you gotta realize, there are some performers who are so narcissistic I can’t even listen to them. It’s all about ‘me, me, me’ and that’s just not who I am. I’m too heartfelt for that stuff.”
Some of this heart came through during his character arc on Entourage, in which he fought for a bigger share of the profits of an animated series within the show. “By my last episode, you realize that the reason he wanted more money was not about himself, it was about his son that wanted to go to college,” he says. “At the beginning, you think he’s just being an asshole — and I played it that way too — yet it was more about him fighting for who he loves. That’s also the beauty of Dice, that my own sons are in the show with me. When I do something, it’s not just narcissistic, it’s not just about me. It’s about the people around me, my family and friends that I love.”
Yet that exaggerated sense of self is still a major part of his onstage persona and can be seen both in Dice and in the first televised stand-up gig he’s done in years, which aired this past week on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show.
“Everybody’s got an idol, mine happens to be me,” he jokes on the show, unlit cigarette in hand. “I get up 3 or 4 hours early just to spend time with myself. I got a mirror above my bed so I’m the first one I see when I wake up in the morning.”
In real life, Clay claims to have left narcissism behind, but in the next breath he is quick to share the praise he’s received from directors like Allen and Scorsese. In talking about his time on the set of Blue Jasmine, he makes sure to point out that his big emotional scene towards the end of the movie was captured in just one take.
“Woody came over to me after that take and he goes, ‘If you want, we can do another take, but it was perfect,’” Clay remembers. “And I said, ‘Well, let’s do it anyway because I’ve been waiting all day.’ And obviously it was the first take that they used, because I went very deep emotionally into myself for that take. So he saw it. And he’s the guy that when he sees it, he’s done with it.”
Meanwhile, his performance in the pilot of Vinyl was so visceral that he suggests showrunner Terence Winter may have had some second thoughts about killing off his character so early. In fact, Clay even tried to inject some lines about his “twin brother” to keep the door open for a return later in the series.
“Terence Winter thought that was a very, very smart idea. Because they didn’t realize what I was going to turn that character into,” Clay says. He also recalls producer Rick Yorn coming up to him after he shot his first scene on the show and saying, “I don’t know if you realize this, but you just made the Scorsese reel.”
“And that’s just an honor,” Clay says now. “He’s one of the top, probably, five greatest directors ever in history. And what makes him great is he lets an actor go as deep into a character as that guy can go.”
Clay also has Scorsese to thank for helping him land his new show. “When I did the Woody Allen film, I started meeting with a lot of producers,” he says, explaining how the Showtime project came about. He ended up filming a “hysterical” video with Scorsese on the set of Vinyl that he used to pitch Dice.
“I showed them this minute and a half of what I had the balls to do to Scorsese during the rehearsals for Vinyl and I said there’s your show: Dice ruins everything,” he says. “That’s what he does, no matter who he’s working with, no matter how big they are, stars, directors, somehow he gets under their skin.”
Despite making some jokes on Fallon about getting the call to be “Donny T’s” running mate, Clay isn’t exactly eager to get into a political discussion. “My mother taught me three things when I was a kid,” he says. “Never talk politics, never talk religion and never bad mouth Frank Sinatra.”
Instead, Clay has almost entirely positive things to say about Trump, whom he has known off and on for close to three decades. “He’s obviously a very strong-willed guy,” he says of the real estate mogul, adding that he never really took his short-lived stint on The Apprentice seriously. “I was very happy to go home after that first episode, because I’m not a guy who likes to get up at five in the morning to do anything,” he adds. “It’s not like I’m going to show up on a set and do these great scenes, like I got to do with Woody and Scorsese. It’s a contest show.”
Ironically, before Trump fired Clay, he chastised him for making a career out of demeaning women. As the comedian told Howard Stern a few years back, he responded with, "No, I made a career out of being funny." However, that line was cut out of the show when it aired.
But all of that being said, Clay still believes Trump “can be a really great guy when he wants to.” As an example, he recounts the story of the first time the two men met. Trump had asked him to play his casino in Atlantic City, but first Clay had something he needed in return.
His sister was living on the top floor of an apartment building in Brooklyn and the neighbors below her were complaining about water leaking into their units. Clay knew that the leak had to be coming from the roof so he sat down with Trump and asked for his help. “Long story short, the next day, three trucks pull up in front of that building and they completely redo the roof,” he says. “And I thanked him, obviously. So that’s why, when I got a last-minute call to do The Apprentice, I was like, if this guy wants to me to do The Apprentice, let’s go do it.”
Clay even sees some of himself in the candidate, as many people have pointed out on Twitter in recent weeks. “I’ve seen some of the tweets about how he’s doing a long Dice Clay performance,” he says, “and I can see it.” Earlier this year, Bill Maher referred to the candidate as “Andrew Dice Trump.”
In the same way there are supposedly “two Donald Trumps,” one could argue there are two Andrew Dice Clays. One is the loud, offensive character who made his name telling dirty nursery rhymes and the other is a middle-aged guy from Brooklyn who just wants to see things work out for his family. But like Trump, it’s often hard to see where the character ends and the man begins.