Evan Agostini/Invision / AP
Wednesday, July 31, 2013 | 2:23 p.m.
By John Katsilometes
The smoke alarm in the hotel has blared not once but thrice, but the Diceman refuses to be interrupted.
“Just ignore it,” he tells his audience at Vinyl in the Hard Rock Hotel. “We’ll get through dis.”
The flashing lights and faint alarm emanating from the casino floor is not planned and is related to the heavy rains dousing the streets of Las Vegas. But this stage effect is entirely appropriate for Andrew "Dice" Clay, who is sounding his own alarm these days: Be warned, Dice is hot right now, on a real roll, to use the ever-available gambling metaphor.
He’s achieved the unlikely, recapturing some of the heat that made him one of the most famous standup comedians in the country more than two decades ago. Clay, who has a home in Vegas, continues his run at Vinyl tonight through Sunday (tickets start at $68 and are available through the Hard Rock Hotel website).
Much of the recent media energy is owed to his appearance in Woody Allen’s latest film, “Blue Jasmine,” released in major markets over the weekend (but you have to wait until Aug. 23 to see it in Vegas). Clay is not the central star, not in a film featuring Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K., Sally Hawkins and Peter Sarsgaard.
His performance is the manifestation of Allen’s penchant for assembling eclectic ensemble casts. In a role best described as rich with humility (and way out of his stage character), Clay portrays a blue-collar character named Augie who is the ex-husband of Ginger (played by Hawkins), a friend of lead character Jasmine (Blanchett).
After a recent show, Clay was asked if he considered himself a great actor.
“I just really hope I did the job that Woody wanted me to do. I’ve got a lot of respect for these people,” Clay, wearing his customary black T-shirt, shades and oversized denim shorts, said through a fog of cigarette smoke. “Film has been around for, what, more than 100 years? And this is one of the greats of all time. So my whole concern when I got the movie was just to bring my ‘A’ game. … I mean, I’m playing against Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, some Academy Award winners. It just blows my mind, and now when I hear what (Allen) is saying about me, it blows my mind.”
Allen’s move to cast Clay has been deemed risky, but in fact it was shrewd and calculating, given the director’s inventive approach to matching personalities and characters. What Allen said about Clay in an interview with the New York Times a week before the film’s release: “Years ago, I had seen Andrew ‘Dice’ Clay do his standup act on television for a few minutes, and I thought, ‘This guy would be a very good character for a movie.’ It’s a good bet that comedians can act. “The other way around doesn’t work so much. If you see Marlon Brando or the greatest dramatic actors, they can’t always do comedy. But I thought he would be great. Andrew ‘Dice’ Clay was more sympathetic than I imagined writing the husband. When it got into his hands, there’s something about him — your heart goes out to him.”
“Blue Jasmine” is a hit, so far. The film enjoyed the biggest opening weekend at the box office of any Allen film, pulling in $612,767. There is speculation among film reviewers that the film might eclipse Allen’s most successful work, “Midnight in Paris,” which made nearly $60 million.
Those might not approach blockbuster numbers, but the attention given to the film across the country has thrust Clay back into the national media spectrum. He’s appeared on what are, for him, such out-of-demographic shows as “The View,” “Good Morning America” and “Tavis Smiley.” He was a more comfortable and familiar fit with Howard Stern, the one show that actually led to an uptick of ticket sales for his shows at Vinyl.
The media surge follows Clay’s breakthrough role, essentially portraying himself, on the final season of “Entourage” two years ago. He has since hopscotched around small venues in Vegas, from Shimmer Cabaret at the then-LVH to the Riviera to Vinyl as that venue’s first comedian headliner this year. He always makes sure to point out his rabidly funny podcast, “Rollin’ With Dice and Wheels,” co-hosting with his longtime opening act (and headliner at Sapphire Comedy Hour) Michael “Wheels” Parise.
The comic actor is planning to release his autobiography, “The Filthy Truth,” next spring. The book’s co-author is David Ritz, who has written similar memoirs with Ray Charles, Etta James and Don Rickles. A new syndicated TV talent competition show, “The Big Big Show,” in which he shares the judging panel with fellow Vinyl comic Tom Green, is in development. And the person who helped kick-start Clay’s revival, “Entourage” creator Doug Ellin, is working on a documentary about Clay’s life.
“I wasn’t expecting what’s happening with this, that’s what’s so crazy,” says Clay, who at age 55 has returned to a busy weightlifting routine and looks a lot fitter (the cigarettes notwithstanding) than he did five years ago. “It feels like it’s 1988 again, only in a different way. It’s been in steps. It’s taken about three years to build up, but it’s taken me off-guard. I was overwhelmed for a while.”
Clay says the difference is “I’m an adult now. I’ve been through the business, everything from doing the clubs to playing arenas. I’m a more seasoned performer, and I am a better comic.”
How the Allen film and his recent media push registers at the box office is not certain. Clay’s producer and promoter in Vegas, Mike Tricarichi, says there has been a budge in sales after the national release of “Blue Jasmine” and says he is “counting on” strong ticket sales as a result of Clay’s array of upcoming projects.
Clay is booked through Sept. 1, a dozen more shows, at Vinyl, and Tricarichi says he expects Clay to finish out the year at the Hard Rock. But other suitors have been poking around, and at least one hotel has been talking with the promoter about luring Clay from the Hard Rock to a new room.
“I’m pretty sure the Hard Rock is going to renew, but we don’t have that in writing,” Tricarichi says.
Clay continues to perform the same tenor of standup that made him famous. The explosive, cocksure and routinely offensive material he brought to Madison Square Garden (and he is not at all ruling out a return to that famed arena one day) more than 20 years ago still works at Vinyl. He does dust off the Mother Goose bit at show’s end, too, telling his audience, “I do these because it’s like when you go to a Billy Joel show, you want him to sing, ‘Just the Way You Is,’ ” intentionally flubbing the song’s name.
Isn’t it about time to give up the rhymes, given the advancement of his career? Does a cast member in a Woody Allen film really need to top a joke with, “Dat’s when Rover took over! OH!”
Of course, says Clay.
“When that’s how people know you and came to love you, you do it. It happens to be a signature piece, and not every comic has a big signature piece,” he says. “It’s like a sing-along in a concert. When you get a big crowd, they’re just crazy and screaming with it. … You know what? The day I say I’m not going to do the poems is the day I stop doing standup.”
And today, there seems no force of nature, or blaring alarm, that can stop Dice Clay.