Andrew Dice Clay has always insisted the person people see onstage is just a character. The “Diceman” says awful things onstage, but the real Clay is supposed to be mensch. That has been the line for years, one he reasserts himself in his new memoir, “The Filthy Truth,” released this week.
Even so, it’s surprising to hear him rant in favor of equal pay for women. “If someone is as good at their job as you are, why shouldn’t they get paid the same [expletive] money?” he says. “That’s just stupid.” He hasn’t seen the now-famous “catcall video,” in which a woman secretly taped herself walking around New York City for hours, drawing unwelcome attention from dozens of men, but he has a few choice words for any guy who would harass a woman. “Leave them the [expletive] alone,” he says. “Believe me, if a woman likes you, she’ll let you know it.”
After performing scatological material for decades, Clay’s views on gender might shock his audience. “You know what?” he says, “I don’t care, because that’s how I feel.”
“He really is that person,” says Eleanor J. Kerrigan, Clay’s regular opener for the past several years and his ex-fiancee. She credits Clay with helping her get established as a stand-up comedian. She remembers being harassed by one of Clay’s crowds early in her career and then going backstage to find him furious. He refused to perform until she talked him out of it.
Clay’s act has changed a bit since his heyday in the ’80s and ’90s as the untouchable “Diceman,” the rock ’n’ roll comic who opened fire on everything except himself. There was no vulnerability, no obvious “tell” that his act was a parody.
The bravado and the raunchiness are still part of his stage persona, but now Clay lets the audience in on the joke. “Onstage, I’m really so relaxed and more myself,” he says. “When I watch stuff from many years ago, it’s very cartoonish. Now, I’m more myself, but the material is just as outspoken as it’s always been.”
That cartoon figure was once the biggest comic in the country. From around 1989 through the mid-’90s, Clay’s albums went gold and platinum, and he routinely sold out arenas.
Boston legend Lenny Clarke, no stranger to rough crowds, opened for Clay on one of those tours. On his last night, Clarke resorted to clipping his toenails to quiet the rowdies. “People were going, ‘No! No! No!’ ” Clarke recalls, “and I said, ‘I haven’t even started on my other foot yet.’ I got them to shut up, finished up strong, got off. That’s the last time I ever worked with Dice.”
Gay- and women’s-rights groups picketed Clay’s shows. “Saturday Night Live” cast member Nora Dunn and musical guest Sinead O’Connor boycotted the show in 1990 when Clay hosted. What was supposed to be his breakout feature film, “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane,” tanked at the box office, which Clay attributes to his negative portrayal in the media. He says he never understood the fuss.
“When I was just a struggling comic, I got the greatest write-ups. You know, ‘The Hoodlum of Comedy,’ ‘The James Dean of Comedy.’ And then when my career hit, it was all of a sudden the comedy of hate.” He laughs. “You know, the minute you make it, it goes from ‘this guy is incredible’ to ‘the demise of Western Civilization.’ ”
Clay, 57, was still selling out theaters through the ’90s. Along the way, he influenced comedians like Jim Florentine and Jim Norton. But his career bottomed out at the turn of the century. He was facing divorce and lawsuits, and aside from a few short-lived projects, he was mainly out of the public eye. “It was a rough, rough period,” he says. “I’m not going to make believe everything’s been smooth sailing when it sucked [until] about four years ago.”
That was when he got a major supporting role on HBO’s hit series “Entourage,” which in turn landed him a role in Woody Allen’s critically acclaimed 2013 film “Blue Jasmine,” which generated Oscar buzz for Clay. “It’s great that they think I did a great job, and that’s all I set out to prove on that movie,” he says, amazed that he was working with heavy hitters like Allen and Cate Blanchett (who did win an Oscar).
Clay won’t call this stage of his career a comeback. He prefers the term “resurgence.” But he’s back in the game, hosting a stand-up show on Showtime set to air in early 2015, acting in Martin Scorsese’s upcoming HBO show about rock ’n’ roll in the 1970s, and talking about a 25th anniversary show at Madison Square Garden. “I really feel I owe myself and all the fans that have really backed me up all these years that bigger-than-life show again,” he says.
He also believes his audience has changed over the years, and jokes in his book that he has been waiting all his life for what he describes as the current age of aggressive women. Where they used to picket, he says, “Today, they’re in the front row, they’re in their 20s, and when I call them little piglets, they’re pumping their fists.”
In addition to his show at the Wilbur this weekend, Clay will be signing his book, “The Filthy Truth,” Sunday at noon at Barnes & Noble in the Prudential Center.
Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.