There was a time when Andrew Dice Clay was perhaps the most divisive man in entertainment. He was the first comedian in history to sell out Madison Square Garden on two consecutive nights, drawing a massive audience of 35,000 fans to the vaunted arena. At the same time, his act was deemed so offensive that he became the only comic ever to be banned from both Saturday Night Live and MTV’s Video Music Awards.
When the white-hot spotlight of controversy faded, Clay proved himself to be a savvy enough performer to maintain a healthy career performing in clubs and theaters. He also became a surprisingly acclaimed dramatic actor, with excellent performances in both Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine (2013) and as Lady Gaga’s father in the most recent version of A Star Is Born.
Clay recently made national headlines again by announcing the “Mr. & Mrs. America” tour, in which he will team up with the notorious Roseanne Barr for a national co-headlining tour. But before he launches that trek, he will headline Levity Live Comedy Club in Oxnard, and he took time to reflect on keeping things hopping for over three decades.
“I got on a Rodney Dangerfield Young Comedians Special on HBO in 1988, and thank God you could say what you wanted then,” says Clay. “That was a Saturday night and by Monday I was the biggest comedian in the world. I couldn’t care less about comedy; I wanted to create something else, bigger than comedy. From 1989 to 1994, I was doing shows for 80,000 people a week for five years, but eventually can’t take that pace.”
“Don’t forget that years ago comics were just opening acts for singers, good for 10 minutes and what I see today is the same — it’s mediocre, not great stuff,” he continues. “Ninety percent of what they’re putting on TV, I’m going ‘Really?!’ What I do love is how hot comedy is. Everything goes in cycles. Comedy really started heating up again five years ago, it’s definitely full swing. If you’re anything, you become a master of your craft. I have a black belt in comedy, and I’ve learned that the best rooms for comedy are really the intimate clubs. They’re built for that.”
Clay, who was born Adam Clay Silverstein, was inspired to create the “Diceman” persona of a trash-talking wiseguy by the confident swagger of Elvis Presley. He proudly trafficked in the most offensive jokes imaginable, with one major part of his routine being outrageously inappropriate rewrites of nursery rhymes. Critics generally hated him even as he made millions off his gigantic fan base, but he notes “everything goes in cycles” and takes pride in his current acceptance as a dramatic actor.
“It’s really what I started out to be — more of an actor than a comic,” notes Clay. “But through that whole thing, my comedic chops built and so did that career. The acting is fun and I got to work with some great directors like Scorsese [in the HBO series Vinyl] and Woody [Allen], but I get bored when I’m on a set. I don’t want to be on a set a long time. With live shows, I show up, hit the dressing room and then before you know it, I’m crushing the crowd. It’s what I love most.”
While he is happy to be the main attraction this weekend at Levity Live, Clay is already looking forward to the tour with Barr and the attention they’ll attract on their performances together starting this fall.
“I felt Roseanne got in trouble for nothing, and we’re living in a day and age where you can lose a whole career over something you said,” says Clay, referring to the controversial Tweet that cost Barr her ABC sitcom last spring. “To me, that was First Amendment stuff and I went through it 30 years ago and no one had my back. I’ve known her for 30 years and I know she’s not a racist, and you really can’t hold people accountable to what they say or do when they’re on Ambien or a drug like that.”
“I totally didn’t get it and thought it was dumb, so I brought it up in a conversation with her and I brought her on stage in Las Vegas and the audience went nuts,” he continues. “I sorta had her back and said we’re gonna tour, I don’t care what I say, I don’t bend or fold with the political correctness. It’s ruining everything, not helping. You’re trying to monitor what comedians are saying? That’s all we have is the words.”
Andrew Dice Clay performs July 11-13 at Levity Live Comedy Club, 591 Collection Blvd., Oxnard. For tickets, full schedule and more information, call 805-457-5550 or visit improv.com/oxnard.