Andrew Dice Clay was once the biggest comedian on the planet.
At his peak in the late '80s and early '90s, "The Diceman" was selling out stadiums, dominating the talk-show circuit, and starring in a big-studio movie written just for him. His brash, over-the-top look, attitude, and routine set him apart from the straight-laced observational comics of the time—and tapped into something people were dying to see. For the kid from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, born Andrew Clay Silverstein (no, he's not Italian, but more on that later), it was the perfect Hollywood ending. Except it wasn't.
With an act that could generously be described as misogynistic and homophobic, Dice made people angry. Other comedians called him a hack. Women's and gay rights groups protested his concerts. And that big-studio movie? It was pulled from theaters after one week.
But guys like Dice don't disappear that easily. Decades later, he's surprised even himself with a full-blown career revival. After acting for legends like Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine) and Martin Scorsese (Vinyl), he's currently shooting Bradley Cooper's directorial debut, A Star Is Born, in which he reportedly steals all his scenes as Lady Gaga's father. He's performing standup all over the country, and the second season of his critically acclaimed semi-autobiographical Showtime series, Dice, premieres Sunday, August 20. (A show that, it's worth noting, was written just for him.)
What does it take to go from the bottom to the top twice in a lifetime? As Dice himself puts it: "That’s why they call me the undisputed king."
Your big break was a 1988 Rodney Dangerfield HBO special. What did that do for your career?
That show was on a Saturday night—February 13, 1988. On Monday the 15th I was the biggest comic in the world. Instantly. Within months, I was selling out arena tours.
And before the special, were you just doing clubs?
Yeah, but I knew what was going to happen. I took out a full-page ad in Variety before the Rodney special and told the industry exactly what was going to happen that Saturday night. My agent at the time, he thought I was a little crazy. I said to him, “What’s a place like Madison Square Garden but not Madison Square Garden?” He goes, “Nassau Coliseum? Why would you be thinking about something like that?” And I go, “Because we’ll sell it.” And that show sold out in, I think, an hour and five minutes. Nobody could even believe it.
It was such a different world. You were on a pay cable special, probably only a handful of people recorded it on VHS, yet somehow the word got out.
That’s the beauty of it. My first tour, Dice Rules, was a 24-city arena tour. This was before internet, before any social media—it didn’t exist. And that tour sold out in about two and a half hours. We did over 12 million people from ’88 through ’95.
Plus, in those days you actually had to keep calling up Ticketmaster.
Yup. And that’s when every promoter in the country started calling. A lot of them didn’t even know who I was yet. They didn’t know if I was a juggler, a singer—all they knew was, We want him.
Were you ever surprised by your success?
It wasn’t a shock to me, because I knew what I was building. It’s a weird thing to know about yourself, when you’re different than everyone you’re seeing on stage, you know? They’d all wear a beige sweater, or a sport jacket with a plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up like fuckin’ accountants. And then I come up there with a leather jacket, giant pompadour, cigarettes, I’m not self-deprecating, and I’m just telling people what I think about.
Who were your comic role models?
I didn’t study comedians. I studied Elvis. I studied great drummers like Buddy Rich and John Bonham, and bigger than life personalities like Muhammad Ali and movie stars like Stallone and Travolta. I knew the image I was creating as a comic. All the years I was building it, I knew people had never seen that. I knew that image had been done in rock ‘n’ roll, in film and TV, it never happened as a comedian.
That’s also why I feel there was so much backlash from other comics, just like Elvis got at the beginning—because they never saw anything like that. Even how audiences respond today is that same thing, because I do still cross the line, and I do still say what’s on my mind. And I’m even better at it now because I’m more truthful, I’ve lived more life, I’ve gone through more shit. I don’t even know how I climbed back up, other than my will to do it.
You’re definitely having a second coming.
To go from Entourage to doing my special, to Woody Allen, to Martin Scorsese and Vinyl, to doing my own show. And now co-starring in A Star Is Born with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga—I’m playing her father in the remake—it’s pretty unbelievable . Even to me, I didn’t expect it to go to that. Once I got my own show, I was like, “I’m good.”
It’s pretty amazing you got to work with Woody Allen on Blue Jasmine.
You know, I get Woody Allen fans coming to see me now. I curse them out and they’re laughing. I actually rewrote one of the scenes in the movie.
You rewrote Woody Allen?
Yeah, it was the scene with me, Cate Blanchett and Peter Sarsgaard. I told him the night before we were gonna film it. Woody was like, “Well it’s nice that you told me now.” My son Max was with me, and Woody says to me, “Do the scene with your son right in front of me.” So we do the scene, and Woody says, “I love it.” That was one take, lights out.
What did Cate have to say?
I met Cate twenty minutes earlier, that was my first scene with her in the movie. She won the Academy Award! I went over to her and Peter and said, “I’ve gotta say, to be working with you now is a complete honor to me. You two are the greatest.” And she goes, “We were just saying that about you.” Then we did the scene, and she came over and said I was phenomenal. She said, “Dice. One take.” I said, “I don’t have the training you have, so I had to go through all this emotion in my life.”
Wow. And what about playing Lady Gaga’s dad in A Star Is Born?
She’s one of the nicest girls I’ve ever met in my life. Grounded. Let’s make believe I didn’t know who she was, because obviously I do—but she’s got a fuckin’ voice like Liza Minnelli when she wants to. She’s not just a pop star. There’s nothing wrong with being a pop star, but she would talk about working with Tony Bennett, and she’d say, “I want to educate the millennials that there’s something else out there other than pop.”
You’re Jewish and from Brooklyn—but I read that you play Gaga’s “very Italian” father.
I don’t know where you read that, I’m just her father. Look, I’ve had arguments with people who think I’m Italian. "Wasn’t your mother Italian?" Don’t you think I’d know if my mother was Italian? Come on. I just have a Brooklyn fuckin’ attitude, and people equate that to Italian. Most of my friends are Italian. They’re the best, from the food to the personalities.
Speaking of Brooklyn, it’s definitely changed since you grew up there. Nowadays it’s all about artisanal this and farm-to-table that.
Yeah, they’ve upped it as far as taking shitty neighborhoods and making them fantastic. But trust me, it’s still there. The gangsters, the gritty attitude. When you ask somebody, “Where are you from?” and they say “Brooklyn,” it’s with complete pride, with that street attitude. Then you go over to somebody else and you go, “Where are you from?” and they go, “The Bronx.” You go, “OK. I get it.” It’s the fucking Bronx! The name alone says “Stay the fuck out.”
One of your most memorable moments was when you got emotional on Arsenio talking about your haters.
I like when people bring that up. What it was is that I was under such a microscope, I just wanted to get up and say something. If I had to say it now, I’d say, “I’m from Brooklyn, New York. You get it? I had an unbelievable dream, and I’ve attained that dream. And for everybody out there that has that thing in them for something you want to do in life, take the shot. Believe in yourself.” But because I was under such a microscope, I got choked up. My whole family was there, my wife, my parents, my sister, and I was like, “Oh fuck. I’m being so real, I’m getting choked up.”
Do you think comedy audiences have changed? It seems that these days people are more sensitive than ever.
Please, do yourself a favor if you really want to laugh your balls off and come see my show. Honestly, I’ll go on stage, I’ll take two hits of fuckin’ weed, and then I get into all that.
The weed doesn’t mess you up?
No! With the weed, I developed a whole different style of performance, a whole different pace, a whole different kind of material. I don’t think about my show until the words come out of my mouth, and that’s how bits are formed—not by being at home and writing it down like an asshole. I know it’s gonna work.
But hard drugs and booze were never really your thing, right?
Never. I did all of those arenas without a drop of wine in me. I didn’t make it in the business to kill myself with cocaine and alcohol and all the other shit they do. Today, they’re mixing cough syrup in with shit. They’re just killing themselves. They’re morons. If you do drugs, you’re dead. One way or the other, you’re dead. That’s the bottom line.
Do you still smoke cigarettes, or is that just part of your act?
I quit smoking cigarettes for over ten years. I went cold turkey and held unlit cigarettes—it was just a mental thing. But I lost my mother, and then when my father was gonna go I lit up. I’ve been smoking for about six years, but I’ll quit again like I did the first time. Right now, I’m enjoying it. It hasn’t hurt me with my workouts or any of that. When that happens, I’ll quit.
You mentioned getting backlash from other comedians. Why do you think that was?
Because comics are insecure—and I had full-on confidence. That’s the bottom line. I have comic friends I’m close with, but it’s very hard for me to deal with comedians. These are guys who go up on stage and use their sense of humor and may end up getting laid because of it—but comics were never good-looking. Do you think Buddy Hackett walked around going, “I can bang any chick”? Or Don Rickles? He was just the fucking greatest. But that’s the part of Dice that is real. I had complete belief in my talent.
The late, great Sam Kinison was one of your most vocal critics. Were you ever close with him?
When we were coming up, we were usually the last two acts of the night. So we’d play to nobody, and it was great because we could be outrageous. Before Sam made it, I was close with him, but he was a very insecure guy. He was a pussy, is what he was. I think that’s how the drugs and alcohol came into play. Sam in ’86 was the man as far as comedy. He was doing four or five thousand seaters. I was thrilled for him, I loved what he did. But when my career took off, he couldn’t handle it, and he ruined his whole career because of it. He went from those 5,000-seaters to the 200-seat clubs because people were walking out in droves. People were like, “Why is he yelling about Dice?”
He would actually mention you in his act?
He would go nuts on Howard Stern. First it was with Bob Goldthwait: Kinison would say he stole his act, because Bob would do his kind of screaming. But he never had close to the following that Kinison did. But when I hit, I just dwarfed everybody. For somebody like Eddie Murphy, who was gigantic—Eddie used to do 8,000 seats—even Eddie Murphy would be like, “What’s it like to do 20,000 seats a night?” I’d go, “What’s it like for a movie to make 400 million?”
But Eddie had my back because Eddie was secure with himself. Eddie liked me years before I even made it. When he’d come to the Comedy Store, he’d come with 30 fucking guys, and when he’d walk away from that entourage to talk to me, it just made me feel like a million bucks. To this day, I don’t understand why he’s not out there, because he’s one of the greatest ever.
People say he could maybe come back and do a stand-up special.
That talk’s been going on for 30 years. And he should.
With Netflix throwing so much money at comedians these days, you never know.
Me and him should do it together and tour the world. He’s fucking phenomenal, but it’s also gotta be in you. I’ve run into him a bunch of times—he’s one of the greatest stars ever. Not just comedy, he’s got dramatic chops. He can do anything. He can do a million characters, it’s not just about stand-up. Eddie Murphy became Eddie Murphy for a reason. But he wasn’t jealous of my success, and you know, everybody went against me. From the comics to journalists to the N.O.W. organization to every group that had a cause. They would deface my billboards… but here we are. I’m still standing. A-list movie star shit. That’s amazing.
It’s great to see you back in movies. I re-watched the 1990 comedy Ford Fairline recently, and thought it was really funny. What was the response when it came out?
That was my first starring role, in the middle of all of the phenomena of Dice Mania—but they pulled the movie that week. People were defacing the billboards: he’s misogynistic, he’s this, he’s that. It’s all in my book. Barry Diller, who was running 20 Century Fox, and his wife were being threatened by the gay community. They said they were going to pipe bomb his house.
Yeah. The movie was a big hit when they pulled it. I was called into their office, and they paid me out of my contract. He goes, “You’re just too hot to handle.” Then they had it all over the world and it made a ton of money. The movie was great—but they just lumped it in with what I was as a comic. And that hurt. It hurt my movie career, I got blackballed in Hollywood. I went through it. The only movies I could get were B movies. And now I’ve got my own show, Dice, which is phenomenal.
Yeah, it’s hilarious.
Dice season two is better than any sitcom on TV. You’ve got some of the greatest actors in history on that show. This isn’t just other comics, which we have. When you get method fucking actors, that brings my performance up. You’ve got Mickey Rourke on the new season. Mickey Rourke doesn’t do television, but he wanted to do this. You’ve got James Woods, Ron Livingston. These are great, great actors who watched the first season, and everybody wants be a part of it now.
You really seem to have taken to acting.
I get embarrassed with what they write about me with the acting stuff. If you ask me where I stand as a comic, I say hands down, I’ve sold more tickets than any other comic in history at a time when that was impossible. But if you ask me about acting, I’m very humble with that. I’m just capable. But journalists, by the time Vinyl happened, were writing “He’s like Marlon Brando,” and I’m like “Are you kidding me? Don’t say that.” It’s embarrassing. Guys like Brando and De Niro and Gary Oldman and Pacino… they’re the greatest. Don’t ever fucking compare my name to that. When Blue Jasmine came out people said, “Get your tuxedo ready.” It’s not about that.
You never know; there’s even rumors you made Bradley Cooper cry.
Yeah, he got emotional, and it wasn’t just him. You could hear the cameraman sniffing. I’m not in the actor’s studio, I just go raw emotion. I come up with things that are gonna trigger shit in me. Bradley was laying on the floor looking at playback and watching me, and I hear him sniffling. And Lady Gaga’s in front of me with tears coming down her eyes. He took me over some giant actors, so I owed him that. If you’re gonna give me that shot, I’m gonna be Babe Ruth for you. I’m gonna hit it out of the park. I could cry thinking about it, because I know what went on there.
You work with the greats enough, you’ll rise to the occasion.
You’ve gotta be on your game. When you face off with someone like Mickey Rourke, you better be, or he’s gonna whack you in the face. Mickey has no problem doing that shit. Here’s the thing. Mickey Rourke and Dice? He’s one of the coolest guys ever. But I am the coolest guy ever.