A star is reborn? The quiet and surprising comeback of Andrew Dice Clay, coming to KC

A Star is Born (Official Trailer)

A musician helps a young singer and actress find fame, even as age and alcoholism send his own career into a downward spiral.
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A musician helps a young singer and actress find fame, even as age and alcoholism send his own career into a downward spiral.

“I get it, girls. It’s rape.”

Andrew Dice Clay was contemplating Harvey Weinstein while pacing the stage at the Laugh Factory, the 320-person club inside the Tropicana in Las Vegas, a casino not afraid to slum it with $10 blackjack tables.

“But for guys in here 50 or 60 years old, it’s not the rape we grew up with.”

Black jeans, leather vest, fingerless gloves, sunglasses at 10 p.m., a cigarette dangling from his mouth. The vibe was about as ’80s as parachute-pants-wearing Transformers that morph into ALF singing Megadeth.

Over the course of three not-quite-sold-out nights, Clay did his shtick on everything from erratic electronic soap dispensers (saying that’s how the Japanese — only using a racist epithet — “are getting back at us for Hiroshima and Nagasaki”) to the White House (“Donny Trump, he stole half my act to become president”).

He’ll do a version of that routine over three nights in Kansas City this week.

Then, starting in September, he and Roseanne Barr will launch their “Mr. and Mrs. America Tour,” aiming to strike back at what they see as political correctness against comedians.

A few days after that Vegas appearance, 61-year-old Andrew Silverstein of Los Angeles, by way of Brooklyn, was pacing the kitchen at his sensible house in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood, this time in a short-sleeved hooded sweatshirt and elastic pants, his once jet-black hair resigned to gray.

The sunglasses he had worn on stage were folded in their case on the brown granite kitchen island, the dishwasher cycle providing some background buzz.

“What do you want to eat?” he asked. “I got lox. I got bagels. Is the temperature OK for you in here?” The only thing Andrew Dice Clay wants more than to offend you is to be loved by you.

gaga clay
In “A Star Is Born,” Ally (Lady Gaga) lives with her dad (Andrew Dice Clay), who runs a limousine service out of their home. Clay Enos Warner Bros.

Three decades before his turn as Ally’s limo-driver father in “A Star Is Born,” Clay was on the Mount Rushmore of comedy as Dice, his outrageously sexist alter ego. “It’s very hard to explain Dice,” he said, even after all these years. “I call myself ’50 shades of Dice.’ There are parts of what’s on stage that’s real. I did smoke, I am from Brooklyn. I do have certain views on relationships.”

The persona caught the eye of Mitzi Shore, late founder of the Comedy Store in West Hollywood, California, where he worked the mic alongside Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy and Garry Shandling.

Clay went on to become the first comedian to sell out Madison Square Garden for two consecutive nights, in 1990. (Other comedians who have sold out the arena include Louis C.K., Kevin Hart and Aziz Ansari, no strangers themselves to controversy.)

His 1989 debut comedy album, “Dice,” sold 500,000 copies. His second, “The Day the Laughter Died,” made a big splash in 1990. Barry Diller, Clay writes in his memoir, “The Filthy Truth,” was eyeing him for a role opposite Marisa Tomei in “My Cousin Vinny.”

But by the second half of 1990 he had been branded with a scarlet C, for controversial. MTV banned him after he recited his trademark lewd nursery rhymes at the 1989 Video Music Awards.

Nora Dunn, a “Saturday Night Live” cast member, and Sinead O’Connor refused to appear on the episode he hosted in May 1990. His manager dropped him; a three-picture deal with Diller was canceled. Clay uses the word “blackballed” when describing it now.

But a funny thing happened on the way to irrelevance. In 2011, Doug Ellin, a producer of “Entourage” and a fan since childhood, cast him in the final season as a fictionalized version of Andrew Dice Clay. That led to a critically lauded role in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” and eventually to “A Star Is Born,” just nominated for eight Oscars.

Clay turned in a well-received performance as Lorenzo, the doting and melancholy father of Lady Gaga’s character, Ally. Not in a “huh, he’s actually not half bad” way. Andrew Dice Clay is not a double negative; the guy can act.

“I’ll tell you a Bradley Cooper story,” he said of the “Star Is Born” director, actor and co-writer.

To listen to Clay deliver a story is to go along for a 40-minute journey of Mulholland Drive-worthy twists and turns, complete with show-and-tell stops in various rooms of his house. An unlit cigarette never left his right hand until it was thrown into the kitchen garbage, only to be replaced by another unlit cigarette, the fun extinguished by a heart attack in November 2017.

The Bradley Cooper story began with Guns N’ Roses. In 1992, Axl Rose talked Clay off a claustrophobic ledge about performing at the Rose Bowl. “He told me, ‘You’re going to be outside. Just look at the sky,’” Clay said. “He actually spoke common sense. For Axl, that’s big!”

Years later, Clay was touring Australia, had a smoke with Slash (the band’s guitarist), and long story short, he said he got Guns N’ Roses back together. How is this a “Star Is Born” story? He was getting there. About 10 minutes to go.

Almost three years ago, the newly reunited G N’ R performed a welcome-back concert at the Troubadour on Santa Monica Boulevard. Clay was sitting on a bench in the VIP section with Vincent Gallo, Nicolas Cage and “some huge girl singer, one of the biggest in the world. I don’t remember her name.”

Just as he was walking out at the end of the show, he passed Cooper, who had brought his mother to the show. “’Hey,’” Clay recalled saying, one foot out the door, “’I just want to tell you, you were great in ‘Sniper.’”

“’Not so fast, you!’” Cooper’s mother hollered after him. “’Do you know what you mean to my family?’” Soon Clay was in a recording studio improvising father-daughter dialogue and weeping like a baby into Lady Gaga’s blond mane. A casting story is born.

This was in spring 2017, months before the #MeToo movement would reframe our perceptions of provocative, and often offensive, comedy.

Over the course of the afternoon, I struggled to reconcile the comic on stage ranting about how the only reason his pal Louis C.K. is reviled for masturbating in front of women is because he’s ugly (“If he’d been George Clooney or Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio, you’d go, ‘Do it again!’”) with the vulnerable throwback who shares his own #MeToo stories about older casting agents expecting sex when he was starting out, and a fan who recently put his hand down Clay’s pants.

“I now know how a woman feels when they’re touched by a stranger inappropriately,” he said quietly before clunkily joking: “Now there are so many accusations, it becomes like, ‘OK, me too?’ I’m starting the #MeThree movement.”

Asked if he’s concerned with how a new generation may receive his comedy, Clay said: “Do I look scared?”

“You know what I hear when people come to see me?” he continued. “’I’m glad you’re not buckling to political correctness.’ I’m a certain brand. I’m like Coca-Cola. When they changed their can, no one wanted to know from it. I couldn’t care less what anybody thinks.”

Andrew Dice Clay and his son Max in the living room-turned-rehearsal-space at Clay’s home in Los Angeles. Michael Schmelling The New York Times

And yet he did care that I saw a huge photo collage he painstakingly hand cut for his father (the inscription reads: “Dear Dad, I hope one day my sons feel about me the way I feel about you”) and asked me to recite a framed poem written by his son Dillon at age 11.

Clay split from his second wife, Kathleen Monica, in 2002. They have two children, Dillon, 24, and Max, 28, for whom their father converted the living room into a makeshift band rehearsal space. (There’s not a Jewish parent alive who brags more about the talent of his boys!)

He also exercises with them almost daily at Gold’s Gym, usually the one in Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles, where Clay listens to self-made mix tapes.

“My personal life has always been more important than my professional life,” Clay said. “I didn’t care if I had 100 Academy Awards. I wanted to be there for my boys and bring them up right.” Unlike some other assertions that felt exaggerated by anywhere from 3 to 300 percent, this one rang completely true.

As Clay continued to explain, there’s Andrew (which he said I could call him) and there’s Dice. “There’s a lot on stage that’s real,” he said. “But if you took my set in the right way, you know he doesn’t realize what he’s saying, which I find hysterical.”

Do his fans understand that?

“I have some really dumb fans and some really smart fans. I can’t say how everyone individually takes my material.”

At times, I wasn’t sure I could distinguish, like when Andrew went on a very Dice-like tangent about the term “body shaming” and said, “If there’s a 400-pound guy in the front row of my show, I’m going to shred him. Nothing funnier.”

A side table at the home of Andrew Dice Clay, in Los Angeles. Michael Schmelling The New York Times

Still, he insisted that “the real acting award I should get is for what I’ve done in comedy for 40 years.”

Clay was up for an award as part of the “Star Is Born” ensemble at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in January. He brought comedian Eleanor Kerrigan, a close friend, as his date, but he was hoping to meet a woman that night, as he did at the movie’s premiere, because he just doesn’t want to do the dating app thing that his sons have tried talking him into.

Of course, when he took a woman out to Craig’s, a restaurant on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood, after the premiere, things ended awkwardly. “For 2 1/2 hours I’m telling this girl I’m very regular and very grounded,” he said. “And when we leave, it’s bulb mania. The paparazzi was all over me. ‘Dice! Dice!’”

He ended up taking her to the Comedy Store that night so she could watch him do an impromptu set, as he sometimes does on Monday nights, because “I need to know if a girl can accept what I do.”

The only woman who couldn’t, he said, was his first wife. He’s got a story about being served with those divorce papers while he was at an outdoor cafe with Mickey Rourke. If you’ve got the time.

Clay in KC

Andrew Dice Clay will perform at 7:30 p.m. July 25-26 and 7:30 and 10 p.m. July 27 at the Comedy Club of Kansas City, 1130 W. 103rd St. Tickets are $45-$75 at thecomedyclubkc.com or call 816-326-8776.

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