Andrew Dice Clay in 2016: Culture Has Moved Past Him, But Politics Hasn’t

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Perhaps, before anything else, we can get it out of the way that Dice — Andrew Dice Clay’s self-named, 30 minute fictional autobiography Showtime series in the vein of Louie — is not a “must watch.” Beyond whatever associations you may have with the former Madison Square Garden record breaking comic turned first fired participant on The Celebrity Apprentice (seemingly for being too insensitive for Donald Trump) the show is imbalanced, its pathos often formulaic. And its attempts to show the depths behind the comedian’s character-turned-persona-turned-self (yes, at once point, Andrew Dice Clay was Andrew Clay Silverstein, trying on the “Dice” character as one aspect of his standup routines — until it seemingly subsumed him) can seem a tired act in proving the softness beneath the a calcified veneer of machismo and sleaze.

However, when it’s not doing the obvious of trying to make Andrew Dice Clay likable after years of being a fallen celebrity, it’s surprisingly self-aware about the out-of-placeness of Clay within today’s comedic and cultural sensibilities. Like Birdman (which was also not the best, due to its ostentatiously prestigious aspirations), it’s about the desperation of a star whose stardom was the result of a hyper-masculine ideal, and who’s been stripped of said star-power with the crumbling of that ideal. The difference, however, is that Andrew Dice Clay is real, and may have been just as surprised as anyone else was that he’d been given a platform on Showtime. And I’ve got to say, seeing Dice — a relic of a world that at one point vastly accepted misogynist/racist/homophobic comedy — navigating a cultural sphere that’s moved so far past him is fascinating in its display of how quickly an evolving discourse can make an anachronism of a star.

Unlike in his standup routines, in this fictional TV series, Andrew’s not the only one talking. Onstage, a standup comedian can seem all too godlike if the audience is into them — there are few other art forms devoted to hearing solely one person proselytize and toy with your emotions for long intervals. An Andrew Dice Clay standup special, framing him without new context or perspective, might have seemed a wholly misguided move on whatever network would choose to air it. But a TV series wherein the caricatural comedian has to interact with the less offensively cartoon world becomes a relatively fascinating way of dismantling a famous male ego through the bit of self-aware, self-deprecating schadenfreude it grants audiences.

The plot of Dice is quite straightforward — Andrew Dice Clay now lives in the graveyard of washed up celebrities — Vegas. He gambles, does things with his vestigial comedy career (like a commercial for Las Vegas shot with a more successful magician), and has a steady girlfriend, Carmen (Natasha Leggero) with whom he does “all the fucking.” Beyond that, things happen on a pretty episodic basis.

The first episode could be seen somewhat transparently as Clay — who, despite his rhetorical resemblances to Donald Trump, is actually not politically aligned with him — saying, “look, you thought I was #problematic, but I’ve got gay friends.” Which he sort of does; his girlfriend’s gay brother is getting “gay married,” and Dice is thrilled about it, seeing gay marriage as superior to heterosexual marriage because “all the fucking” doesn’t stop. After stopping their actual ceremony midway through to kick out their officiating Elvis (it’s Vegas) — who Dice recognizes as someone who’s brought him bad luck in gambling halls — he further Dice-ifies the wedding by giving an unsolicited speech.

Harnessing generic wedding speech structure within the Dice vocabulary, he says, “‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse,’ they say, is the most beautiful phrase in the English language. But I say ‘a cock, a cock is the most beautiful phrase in the English language.'” He says it earnestly but trippingly, and it’s not in the words, but rather in this character’s somewhat sad, vestigial need to shock — and his simultaneous, overarching knowledge that the socially liberal world with which he affiliates isn’t really going to give into that — where his delivery now draws humor. Liberal society isn’t portrayed as stiflingly PC — rather it’s depicted as… pretty reasonable in having moved beyond the antics of Andrew Dice Clay. Rather than belligerent, threatening or offensive, Clay renders himself as a figure who’s lost his way in a new world and is flaccidly rambling and stumbling to find people who’ll listen.

The second episode more thoroughly studies the Dice persona’s obsolescence — oddly, through Adrien Brody, who, and I’m not joking, gives one of his most memorable performances since The Pianist… mostly because, with the exception of his brief Wes Anderson stints, he hasn’t done much that’s been memorable since The Pianist. (When Dice first sees him, he refers to him as the guy who “played a piano”.) Brody explains that he’s working on an off-Broadway show whose theme is “masculinity,” and thus the reason he sought Clay out. So begins an episode-long depiction of Adrien Brody learning to depict Andrew Dice Clay, getting a tour of Dice’s life — “this is where Dice does the dishes… this is where Dice does the fucking.”

Brody asks him a series of innocuous questions to enrich his method acting process — Dice’s greatest fear, his favorite sound. To this, Dice replies with onomatopoeia, “The squish, where your cock head punches right through the fucking lips. Bing.”

Brody contests, “It makes a bing?”

“The balls,” Dice equivocates, “hitting like the asshole or something.”

Again, we see Andrew Dice Clay depicting Dice’s poetry of phallocentric vulgarity losing its way as he speaks, trying to continue to assert cultural authority and relevance and floundering. Instead of, as his standup might’ve, expecting people to laugh at self-worshipping dick jokes, the show rather presents such jokes in simultaneity with the knowledge of their failure and, well, flaccidity. The third episode literally sees the comic searching desperately for a lost sculpture of his phallus (one from 1989, which seems telling in and of itself.) Andrew Dice Clay is aware of what his image has become, and challenges the image in seeming cahoots with the society that’s already done so. From a strictly qualitative perspective, unfortunately, there are too many attempts for the character to ultimately meet the challenge by showing a likable side, which makes for an unevenness between satire and pathos.

What’s perhaps most fascinating, though, is how culturally regressive Andrew Dice Clay seems — and how self-admitted this perception seems to be on his part — while at the same time, Donald Trump, whose bombastic, misogynistic and even occasionally penis-size oriented campaigning has hijacked American politics with the same type of verbiage. (I’m certainly not the first to note this connection.) The presence of this show and the reappearance of Andrew Dice Clay as a self-awarely obsolete cultural character and the presence of Donald Trump as a shockingly non-obsolete politician shows how the country’s divisiveness could lead two somewhat analogous figures to have such different statuses in society.

For culture writers like me — and people who generally consider themselves culturally aware — a character like Andrew Dice Clay can only work in a context where he’s being deconstructed. Meanwhile, while cultural discourse has become inhospitable to problematic personas like that of Clay, a huge portion of the country has turned directly towards Trump for something far more serious than a TV series. If there’s something to be taken from Dice that the show itself doesn’t exactly address, it’s how different the politics of culture and the culture of politics seem to be right now.