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Television

Review: Andrew Dice Clay is flawed, fearful and much more likable in ‘Dice’

Dice Review
Andrew Dice Clay in “Dice” on Showtime.
(Brian Bowen Smith / Showtime)
Los Angeles Times Television Critic

In his hugely successful prime, Andrew Dice Clay, the leather-bound, cigarette-smoking, you-kiss-your-mother-with-that-mouth comedian, was like nails on a chalkboard to me. That there may have been some daylight between the man onstage and the man off, who has said he set out to create a comic in the image of a rock star, made no difference. There was nothing about the persona I found appealing, and none of the jokes — dirty nursery rhymes were his signature shtick — made me laugh.

In his decline, relatively speaking, Clay has become a more interesting figure, willing to play in the space between the human being and the collection of attitudes. It’s still a complicated relationship, depending on whether he’s guesting on “The View” or hanging out with Howard Stern, whose audience seems happy to take “the Diceman” without irony. He has acted in a Woody Allen film, “Blue Jasmine,” to good notices. His barely recognizable, egoless turn in HBO’s “Vinyl” as a drug-maddened radio executive was by far and away the best thing that series has had to offer.

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Now comes “Dice,” a series created by Scot Armstrong (“Old School”), premiering Sunday on Showtime, in which, as he did on “Entourage,” Clay plays a humbled if not quite humble version of himself. Following so closely upon George Lopez’s “Lopez,” in a world that also contains “The Jim Gaffigan Show” and maybe still “Louie,” it seems to be testing the notion of just how many such self-referential series the market can bear. But the market should make room for this one; it’s very good.

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The series finds Clay, 58, living in Las Vegas off what remains of his laurels, not uncomfortably but in debt, still wearing those fingerless leather gloves and a variety of T-shirts to remind us, as if we needed reminding, that he’s from Brooklyn.

He carries a one-man entourage nicknamed Milkshake (a dry Kevin Corrigan), willing to serve but not without dignity, and shares a house with his all-but-married-to-her girlfriend, Carmen (an invaluable Natasha Leggero, spiky but centered); the closest thing in the room to an adult, she calls him Andrew where everyone else calls him Dice.

“Dice is like the greatest friend that you could ever have,” he says to her during one disagreement. “You just don’t get it.”

“I get that you’re a man who speaks about himself in the third person,” she responds.

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Perhaps identity is not the series’ intentional main point, but it’s the line from which everything hangs. Clay is continually shown visions of himself from outside himself — like “A Christmas Carol,” with F-bombs — whether it’s Adrien Brody studying him for a role requiring “masculinity” and doing his early material back at him or an old friend (Michael Rapaport) recalling how Dice humiliated him in the past by humiliating him in return.

With “Dice,” he’s allowing himself to be flawed and fearful in a way that his stand-up comedy never could. Clay has remade his career and his persona for the better, handling the complexities with ease, and it’s genuinely funny. There is still the same obsession with sex and, particularly, male genitalia as metaphor, but in a context that makes it somehow less toxic, more pathetic — “poignant” might even be the word.

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‘Dice’

Where: Showtime

When: 9:30 p.m. Sunday

Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children 17 and younger with an advisory for coarse language)

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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