Woody Allen reached out and people started noticing. Things picked up even more when Martin Scorsese called, but by then the comedy act — crude as ever and tweaked for an era of genital piercings and sex-cams — was playing in Vegas, which is why these days Andrew Dice Clay is, hold your breath, humbled.
"Yeah, humbled," said Clay, sitting at an outdoor cafe with his son, Dillon Scott, an actor and singer in a rock band, and Michael Morano, a friend from New York who's writing a TV pilot. The air was clear, the shade just right. It seemed like Brooklyn by way of Studio City. Clay kept on about Woody. "The guy is mega. What's he done, 40, 50 movies? This is Woody Allen, not just some guy calling about a movie."
He allowed that last phrase a bit of air to stress the unpredictability of fortune and how, despite years of being labeled a has-been — he was featured on the blog Washed Up Celebrities — he never cared much for obscurity. Or perhaps, Clay has mellowed a bit while America, its cultural threshold for self-aggrandizing brazenness rising daily, has caught up with his brand of audacity.
Who the #@$& knows?
But "comeback" is not how Clay, known to his fans as "the Diceman," describes the state of things. "It's more of a resurgence," he said. The uptick began in 2011 when he appeared as a version of himself in the final season of "Entourage." That was followed by last year's critically acclaimed turn as a working man in Allen's "Blue Jasmine" and his upcoming portrayal of a radio station owner in Scorsese's as yet untitled HBO rock 'n' roll drama. On weekends, he plays Vegas and does "meet and greets" while trying to stay out of fights with hecklers.
"Once," he said, "I was book-ended by these two big guys from Canada."
He smiled. Mixing it up, as it were, is the commotion of his appeal; he still dangles a cigarette from his lips and fronts the inviting smirk of a corner boy set loose in the night. Yet, he concedes that today's unabashed openness about sexual proclivities, especially from more aggressive women, has left him bemused.
His new autobiography, "The Filthy Truth," rides on expletives, egos, creative frailties and how a Jewish boy named Andrew Silverstein rose from Sheepshead Bay to become one of the most popular comedians of the late 1980s. He sold out Madison Square Garden twice and was a sensation on Rodney Dangerfield's "Young Comedians Special." Hair slicked back and wearing a black leather jacket and sunglasses, he was Elvis with brass knuckles, a shameless, foul-mouthed poet who twisted nursery rhymes into sex puns and offended everyone from gays to immigrants to Barbra Streisand.
His fans loved him. Critics and feminists skewered him as a misogynist and hate monger. A writer for the New York Times said he represented the "demise of Western civilization." MTV banned him for life. His swagger and caustic humor were a well-crafted performance art that collided with the stirrings of a political correctness in a nation unsettled by the AIDS epidemic, the waning of the Reagan era and battles over family and aesthetic values.
He became too radioactive for Hollywood and his film ambitions nearly evaporated when 20th Century Fox, as he writes, did little to promote his 1990 movie "The Adventures of Ford Fairlane."
"His career was taken away from him," said Doug Ellin, the creator of "Entourage." "His bit is an act. That's not who he is. So many people think of him as a loudmouth and they don't appreciate the intelligence behind it. The people who get Dice know it's an act. He's like Eminem."
The Village Voice, which said then he practiced the "comedy of hate," now calls him "likely the most misunderstood comedian of the past 40 years."
Clay said when he went from underground to mainstream "the press got afraid cause here's this guy who's not self-deprecating, has got this bigger-than-life image and he's drawing 20,000 people a night. It scared them...."
A somewhat sensitive side
He arrived for an interview in semi-Diceman attire. Pulling up in a luxury pickup truck, Clay, 57, hopped out wearing black workout pants, a sleeveless black shirt, black Harley-Davidson gloves and silver-rimmed glasses, which framed his face like goggles. His black sideburns glinted with white; time had thinned his pompadour. He took his usual outdoor table at Starbucks (not far from his home), facing palms and traffic, undeterred by the noise. A girl with a latte slipped past and all he was missing were his sidekicks Hot Tub Johnny and Club Soda Kenny.
He mentioned that his sons Dillon Scott and Max might stop by. "They know this is my office," he said. "This is where I do all my business. Who knows, my manager might stop by too." His phone buzzed, his fingers tapped. "I'm texting Glenn Danzig, you know, the rock star." He set aside the phone and mentioned that he was preparing for an indie film about porn actress Vanessa Del Rio, whose movies he and his friends watched as young men on Kings Highway in Brooklyn.
"I'm excited to meet her," he said.
The Diceman is his rough side, the bawdy greaser who speaks to the subconscious flights — "the beast inside people," as he puts it — of young men (and these days women). His offstage demeanor can be softer, nostalgic, a man who still finds it hard to believe he acted alongside Cate Blanchett. When Dillon Scott glided up to the table, Clay praised his son's musicianship and acting abilities and, like the best Brooklyn guys do, allowed someone else into the spotlight.
"Check out this video," said Clay, holding up his cellphone and handing a visitor a set of headphones. "If you don't like it, you'll be the first." The footage showed Dillon Scott, 20, and his brother Max, 24, members of the band L.A Rocks, playing a gig. When his career foundered, Clay, who is divorced from his sons' mother, spent much of his time with the boys, when not playing a few clubs or in Vegas gambling to try and make "my monthly nut."
"I'm really looking to guide them the way my father guided me," said Clay, whose father, Fred Silverstein, managed him for years. "It was just about being there for them … not to let them flounder and have a maid take care of them while I'm on the road for three weeks."
Dillon Scott got up to leave. Morano, who once worked the door at the Comedy Store, where Clay honed his stand-up, stayed at the table, reminiscing about the old days and mentioning that the TV pilot he's written has drawn interest from producers. He didn't want to elaborate but Clay said, "It's good."
A whole new crowd
Clay's stand-up act these days speaks to a world where passion is texted and carnal desire is streamed through ether. His old act, though raw and salacious, dealt with rather traditional boy-girl sex and gender roles: A guy out on a date, popcorn, a movie, the prospect of "copping a feel." He finds today's rhythms — distorted by the blur of the Internet and a confessional, look-at-me generation — hilarious and bewildering.
"Women today are more aggressive than I've ever seen in my life," he said. "This new generation of piglets, I call them. And now the girls aren't booing me. They're fist-pumping when I talk about how they don't wear jewelry on their heads but when they take off their jeans you could go blind from diamonds and rubies."
Such shtick comes and go like a squall. "But I've always wanted to be a serious actor," he said. Since he was 6 years old and wore a Superman costume beneath "my regular clothes," Clay has reveled in slipping in and out of lives not his own. His impersonations of Elvis, John Travolta and Jerry Lewis were part of a plan to perfect nuance and character. But the Diceman, or a version of him, is not easily suppressed.
He cupped a hand, lighted a cigarette, talked projects, including a comedy he's developing for Fox 21.
"We got along like cousins," he said of working with Scorsese, a fellow New Yorker, who cast him as a supporting character in a tale about the sex and music escapades of a 1970s record producer. "You know, when I'm on stage, I couldn't give a … about what anyone thinks of my stand-up. I was always like that. I did it the way I wanted to, and he's like that with film. He has a vision … and he doesn't care what anybody thinks."
A breeze lifted down Ventura Boulevard. Clay's phone buzzed. "Ah, who this? I don't want to talk to him now." A bus eased into traffic. Palms rustled. Clay sat back in the shade, looking left, looking right, in no particular hurry. He seemed a man on a short break, the kind of guy who might show up at your door with a refrigerator or other appliance. He crossed his big arms.
"How many people hit it big and you never see them again?" he said. "I knew I'd come back."