“Oh … it’s a whole thing here,” said Clay with his infamous wry grin when he was asked to pose for photographers, faux-signing a book, before the real signing began. The event had barely begun and the jokes were already rolling.
The comedy king took his throne yesterday at Barnes and Noble on Fifth Avenue for a book signing of his new autobiography, “The Filthy Truth.” Andrew Dice Clay, the legendarily potty-mouthed, leather-clad, cigarette-wielding standup comedian, has risen from the ashes after a prolonged hiatus.
Born Andrew Clay Silverstein to Jewish parents in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, Clay tapped into his creative instincts at an early age, doing impressions for his mother and father, Jacqueline and Fred Silverstein, in their home.
Clay’s characters began to take shape outside of his family’s living room and in 1978 he auditioned at local comedy club, Pips, making a meteoric rise to headliner within the week. That night he went up as “Andrew Clay.” The “Silverstein” had already been circumcised.
Wearing a loose-fitting “Brooklyn” hoodie, Harley Davidson motorcycle gloves, his signature tinted shades and iconic, slicked back hair, Clay signed books of idolizing fans, each desperate to make a personal connection with the comedy giant by referencing moments from his colossal career. Clay accepted these scattered offerings graciously, as if he did not know the history of his own life.
Clay signed swiftly but was careful to get everyone’s name just right. The Fonz of comedy kept his cool even when an especially zealous fan contorted his body into a Cirque du Soleil type configuration, lifting his leg to an alarming height and leaning backwards on the signing table in his fervent struggle to snap a selfie with the king, despite the strict rule that photos were prohibited.
Peppering the brief interactions with comments like, “Larry. How many y’s do you spell that with,” the comic showed that his finessed timing hasn’t slowed since he first took the stage in the ’80’s.
Starting out impersonating celebrities like John Travolta and Jerry Lewis, Clay soon became an icon worthy of imitation. Working the New York City club circuit, Clay played the big ones like the Improv, Catch a Rising Star and Dangerfield’s within the first two years of entering the comedy scene and made his first television appearance on M*A*S*H and Diff’rent Strokes shortly thereafter.
Most famous, or rather, infamous for his filthy nursery rhymes, so depraved and crass they would make Mother Goose blush, faint then need intensive Freudian therapy, Clay quickly developed a reputation for being a vulgar, filter-less comic.
His 1989 album, Dice, bore the simple yet ominous label, “Warning: This album is offensive.” Clay’s artistic impulses were as sharp and candid as that advisory. In the movie Pretty in Pink, he made his indelible mark with his now signature maneuver, in which he wraps his arm around his head to light a cigarette. That move still sends audiences into deranged fits of laughter.
Ironically, the same lewd, no-holds-barred style that skyrocketed him to rapid fame, also accounted for his eventual downfall. Clay went on to release HBO specials, star in several sitcoms, play the lead in a film and release a number of comedy albums. He’s the only comedian to ever sell out over three hundred sports arenas to an audience of twelve million people. He was the first comedian to sell out Madison Square Garden on back- to-back nights. But his risqué material earned him as much flack as it did praise. By the mid-nineties, the media backlash pushed the comedy king into the shadows.
Fittingly, his book, co-written with the prolific David Ritz, who has collaborated with a large range of entertainment nobility, including Jewish comedy luminary Don Rickles, is as unapologetic and uncensored as his act. In the raw, tell all account, Clay candidly chronicles the intimacies of his friendships, relationships and the rise, fall and return of his comedy and acting career.
More recently, he’s had roles in Entourage and Blue Jasmine, and he’s again selling out shows. The long line leading up to the signing table was varied in gender and age, proving his humor is still broadly relevant.
One fan shouted out from the line, “You’ve come a long way since Pips!”
Dice responded, “Yeah. But it’s Pips. I’ll always love it.”