Funnyman Scot Armstrong takes the time out of his day to discuss Andrew Dice Clay’s acting chops, improvising and the exhausting schedule that keeps him alive.
During the heyday of 1980s stand-up comedy, comics like Eddie Murphy, Sam Kinison, Denis Leary and Roseanne Barr made names for themselves by being brash, outspoken and hilariously honest. Their comedy was fierce, poetic and motivated. It made for a refreshing comedic viewpoint, one that launched stand-up comedy into the mainstream. But while Kinison, Barr and Murphy ruffled some feathers, none of them could hold a candle to the outrageously wild Andrew Dice Clay.
The sexist-joking, chain-smoking, leather-wearing comedian was perhaps one of the most controversial comics out there. His onstage persona and overly brazen masculine comedic approach led him to be a behemoth in the world of stand-up. Clay made a name for himself as the shit-talking, no holds barred comedian that said what was on his mind and didn’t mind flicking the ash of his cigarette at the audience. He wasn’t afraid to say the c-word and he certainly wasn’t afraid to upset a few (or most) of the people in the crowd. But it was exactly that approach that also propelled him into the spotlight of comedy fame. He was a persona non grata in the eyes of many–and he liked it that way.
At the height of his fame in the late-80s, the Dice Man sold out Madison Square Garden two nights in a row (the first comic to do so) and was signed on to do three films with Fox. It seemed that Dice had it all. That is, until the controversy finally caught up with him. From Saturday Night Live boycotts to a MTV Video Music Award lifetime ban, Clay was slowly beginning to alienate himself from the world of entertainment. It took nearly 20 years before Clay would return to the limelight in his frequent guest starring role in Entourage and his well-received dramatic turns in Blue Jasmine and Vinyl, showcasing not only his acting talent, but also his ongoing skill for comedy.
And that tumultuous journey is exactly what Scot Armstrong (Road Trip, Old School, The Hangover: Part II) realized was a comedy goldmine. Having had his directorial debut with Search Party (starring Silicon Valley stars T.J. Miller and Thomas Middleditch), the Second City and Upright Citizens Brigade alum took his talents onto the new golden standard of entertainment–television. And who better to do that with than the Dice Man himself?
Armed with a brilliant cast, sharp writers and a seemingly never-ending list of guest stars that would leave even Matt Groening foaming at the mouth, Scot Armstrong launched a new TV show that explored the intricacies of Dice’s post-90s fame–Vegas strip mall and all. The Knockturnal had the opportunity to sit down with the Armstrong to discuss the upcoming second season of Dice, his contributions to cultural vernacular and separating the Dice Man from Andrew. Check out what the comedy veteran had to say below.
Congratulations on the show, I was personally very happy to see it picked up for a second season because I really enjoyed the first one and I’m a pretty big fan of Andrew Dice Clay. Especially his post-90’s era where he’s gotten a little bit more self-reflective and postmodern I guess in his work.
Scot Armstrong: Awesome, yeah.
What made you interested in exploring the exploits of Andrew Dice Clay in the first place? What really made you want to pick him to do this project with?
Scot Armstrong: Well for me he’s just a funny person now since he was like a megastar and he’s sort of fallen from grace in some ways. There’s just no one else like him. I had a meeting with him and I heard about what he’s like now, and his daily challenges of living in the suburbs of Vegas and just trying to live his life. It all made me laugh. When you’re trying to create a TV character, I don’t think you can’t create a better one than him. He’s real, which makes it really funny. To try and fictionalize a character with that much detail and that much backstory—that’s almost insane. I felt like it was a really golden opportunity to do something unique.
It seems like there’s a refreshing disconnect between the raunchy and controversial 90’s Dice Man—which he always called his alternate persona—and Andrew the character we know in Dice. Do you feel that separation was natural or do you have to write it in?
Scot Armstrong: I feel like it comes up at really weird times, he’s naturally himself and then he’ll naturally go into Dice mode and you wouldn’t expect it. It’s not like he just always goes on stage and turns it on. Sometimes his point of view of the world is actually a little bit warped and he lives by a totally different rule in order to work, which is perfect when your writings scripts and trying to create conflict.
How much of Dice is the real Dice in the show?
Scot Armstrong: The show is about the struggle between Andrew and Dice. It’s also a struggle about this guy who the world has kind of passed him by in a lot of ways. He’s still living by this code that is 30-years-old at this point. And the whole time he’s been funny. He was funny back then and he’s funny now. He’s just funny in a different way now. He’s like a great comic actor too—that’s the other reason I wanted to work with him. To answer your first question, I also wanted to work with him as an actor, I think great comic acting is really hard to find. He’s not just a stand-up who’s trying to be in his own show, he’s actually a great comic actor going at different levels in this show, it’s really interesting. Also, I like writing in his voice. I can’t write in a stand-up voice really but I can write in his day-to-day life voice in a way that I feel like it’s a total gift. To be able to do this show and write in his voice—it makes me laugh. This combination of cockiness and confusion, it makes me laugh. I invent stories for him that I wouldn’t invent in any other fictional situation.
Right, as you mentioned, he’s a great comic actor but lately he’s also been showcasing a lot of his dramatic skills like his turn in ‘Blue Jasmine’, that got notes of praise in a lot of reviews. Also, his wildly insane character that he played in the pilot of ‘Vinyl’ was celebrated as well. I was wondering did that dramatic acting ever really take you by surprise while you were filming Dice? Did he ever have moments where you realized, “Wow, he’s actually, he’s a lot more serious than the shtick comic that everyone always made him out to be”?
Scot Armstrong: Well it’s funny, it didn’t take me aback, it was part of the show from the beginning. I think that in the second season we embrace it a little more. it’s a funny, in the premiere episode a rabbi places a curse on him and says, “I wish that Dice man had never been born.” You see a parallel universe where he’s actually never been Dice before. He’s just Andrew Silverstein, a haberdashery salesman. So he’s actually really acting as this other character, and it’s awesome. That was part of the plan. But you know, I’m always pleasantly surprised when we’re actually shooting and I see how good he really is. There’s also some really dramatic moments when he’s talking about his legacy in the second episode. He talks about where he’s been and he’s not afraid to embrace being down and out and not being sure what his next move is. He becomes very lovable when he puts himself in a vulnerable place like that. It makes the show great and different than your average sitcoms. It’s a little more existential because he’s a little older. It’s existential in the way that other shows aren’t usually. Most of the guys are like a moth to the flame—you just like live hard and live fast. Now it’s like, what do you do when you’re approaching 60? It’s totally different. It’s a totally different time in his life and it’s interesting.
It definitely shows there is that sort of interesting kind of disconnect between the idea that he is actually approaching 60 but he still has the mind of a 20 or 30-year-old dude. It’s just this nonstop fire and energy.
Scot Armstrong: Yeah, we have this great setup where he’s hanging out at his house and he realizes that Mickey Rourke is standing in his backyard, and it turns out that Mickey Rourke is there because years ago they made a pact to die before they get old. They’re drunk and stayed up all night one night and so now he’s here for them to kill themselves together. So, Dice says, “I don’t remember that,” and Mickey Rourke replies, “that’s what the young Dice said you’d say.” So now he’s here to kill themselves together, and it’s super funny.
The first season was picked up for six episodes, and interestingly enough, the second season has this off kilter seven-episode order, which you don’t really see often. It’s a little bit odd I guess—
Scot Armstrong: I agree, I wanted 13.
Was that a story-based necessity? Or did Showtime want to give you more freedom to explore the shows narrative in a smaller time frame? Did you feel like it was just dropped on your lap, or did you request that?
Scot Armstrong: You know I think it was very practical. It was just a scheduling thing. They want to put us on Sunday night in the prime spot, which is nice. We get a bit of prime time on Sunday nights with them. But I think it was just very practical. Once you’ve got the assignment, we’re like “okay, how do we map out like the great seven-episode ark?” I think this year is more of a story that links together, and it’s kind of like an up and down. Dice’s best friend, Milkshake sells his screenplay to Martin Scorsese and finds success, so now Dice is a little bit jealous of Milkshake and that goes on throughout the episode. He also gets an offer to be in a live televised musical play. It’s a Peter Pan thing, which is also a spinoff of Hamilton. That’s like something we see. he’s in a couple of episodes in a “will he or won’t he succeed?” way. Will he get fired? We don’t know. It kind of like builds up for the end. It’s also a little more dramatic with his relationship with Carmen. We really get into his relationship a little bit more. Also, Natasha Leggero brings her best performance this year. She’s awesome in the show. The first season was really funny. It was definitely funny, but once we did it once we sort of realized what we needed to do. I think at this point everyone has settled in and everyone knows who they are and how the show is going to be even more funny. So, I felt like by the first episode of the new season, the writing is a little more comfortable and the performances are more comfortable and everything kind of clicks this year.
Yeah, there is always that common thread through a lot of comedy TV shows. Everyone’s just kind of finding their footing in the first season and by the second and—knock on wood—third season, everyone kind of finds the strengths and the weaknesses of the character and where their boundaries are. They know how to keep pushing it and making it more interesting.
Scot Armstrong: Also as a showrunner, I have to explain everything to every department, every person, everything. I have to explain what the vision of the show really is and how it’s different to Dice’s standup. Then the second season you don’t have to explain anything. Everyone saw the first season and how it looks and feels. You just have to explain how we’re evolving and how it’s going to be different. It makes a big difference.
You know I thought it was really funny that you had decided to set the show in Las Vegas, because it mirrors the career trajectory of Dice, in that the city and the comedian are kind of past their prime. What made you decide on that city? Was that just because Dice lived there or because you really just saw that parallel?
Scot Armstrong: Well it’s a big part of the show. I feel like Vegas is almost like a character in the show, but not the way you’ve seen it before. It’s not like Vegas at night where everything looks great and glamorous. We’re not doing a heist or anything [laughs]. It’s Vegas in the daytime, which is a big part of the show. It’s the mundane Vegas where you turn and go 30 feet off The Strip and there’s just some weird buildings or some weird restaurants, or some weird mall. It’s like super weird town. I love bringing that to life, I’ve never seen it before. You know Dice is still a big deal. He’s was a huge deal, but now he’s less of a deal. He’s still known. People think they can just approach him with anything because he’s such an aggressive performer. He gets in these situations that no one else would get in. There’s no boundary between him and his fans. But then some people have no idea who he is. But it’s just a complicated lifestyle he lives during daytime in Vegas. He’s also focused on rebooting and relaunching his career, he wants to keep getting bigger and doing new stuff, and it’s a struggle.
Do you see that drive while you’re filming the show? Is he still constantly just seeing himself on an upward trajectory?
Scot Armstrong: We have a line in the show where someone says, “I need you to lie for me.” And he’s like, “I don’t lie, I never lie.” And the person says, “Are you crazy, you’re the king of bullshit.” He’s like, “There’s a difference between bullshit and lying.” So, I feel like he’s great at bullshit but he lives by this code where he doesn’t lie. He’s always bullshitting about his career but he never lies about it [laughs].
That sounds like that something Dice would say.
Scot Armstrong: He definitely always had grand plans and he had grand plans before! He said he was going to sell out Madison Square Garden and everyone said he was crazy. But guess what, he did it. As crazy as he is, I never doubt his ambition.
Lately you’ve transitioned a lot more into television. I was wondering like what made you want to explore that medium more than film? Because you’ve always been known as a screenwriter for films.
Scot Armstrong: You know, it was an opportunity where I met with Dice and I just saw it. I saw how it could be great. It reminded me of a character that I would have created with Todd Phillips or someone I would have invented for Will Farrell to play. But he is this character. I just saw it really clearly. And the other part of it is that I actually enjoy show-running. it’s like a whole different machine to be a part of. It was a different challenge. There’s a bit more management. We created three and a half hours of comedy which we did fast, but it was very freeing in that way. In some ways, movies are the greatest challenge. Making a great comedy movie is probably the hardest thing to do. It’s more freeing sometimes just to do a show where not everyone in the studio is overthinking everything you do at all times. You have a little more freedom to kind of improvise and be loose. We definitely improvise and are loose on movies too but there’s just so much at stake in every single scene to make sure it’s perfect, or as good as it can possibly be, whereas TV can be a little looser.
This is also your directorial debut for television. I was wondering how that experience has been different from your directorial debut for film with Search Party. How has the experience differed from one another?
Scot Armstrong: Well I’ve learned a lot from working on movies. I definitely brought that with me. Being a first-time director is like drinking out of a fire hose, you know you think you’ve got it under control or you think you’ve got a plan, but you don’t. I don’t know how to explain it. There’s nothing like having done it before when you’re directing comedy. Also, TV is obviously faster. We’re shooting almost 11 pages a day, which is really insane.
Yeah that is.
Scot Armstrong: But we also embrace that, we kind of shot from the hip. The show does feel grounded and real. It’s not overdone. We were lucky enough to be able to shoot in Vegas where everything kind of looks great already. We shot the Tropicana in Las Vegas, and the whole city has that glamor too. It looks great, but we can also find spots that look gritty pretty easily. And that’s our direction and the look of the show, whereas on the movie we were sort of creating the look of a time.
You really are like getting all hands in involved with this project, you’re writing, directing, producing, it’s nuts. Like you said, you’re shooting 11 page scripts a day, which is pretty intensive. You’ve mentioned that you like show running but I was wondering, does it ever become exhausting?
Scot Armstrong: Yup [laughs].
That’s the short answer I guess [laughs].
Scot Armstrong: Well I mean you know it is. It sounds dumb to say it, but you almost have to become a comedy athlete in a way. You have to wake up early, save your energy, pace yourself, and really bring it for those 34 days you’re shooting. At the end of the last day you just kind of collapse and rest for a while. Then you get up and you have to edit for the next six weeks, but I feel like it kind of comes in seasons. The writing process has its own pace, and that’s probably the most exhausting. That’s where you use your imagination the most. You’re writing the whole season from scratch with a group of great writers like the great Alex Tanaka. Brian Gatewood and Alex Tanaka were huge on the show. You create the vision and the story of the show and then once you’re shooting, it’s a whole different thing. Everyone thinks shooting is when you’re creative but really a lot of it is in writing and the editing too. Shooting is obviously intense, because you’re spending so much money every minute you’re there. You just want the best performances while shooting as fast as you can. Then the editing is so important to the show. The music, the style of it, the vibe, and choosing the performances—that all comes down to editing a lot of the time. We improvise so much. In some ways, you’re deciding what the episode is by the way you chose the performances. One of the biggest compliments I’ve ever gotten is how much Dice trusts me to edit together his performances. He gives me such a wide-ranging performance. He really does give me full license to put what he does in the scenes into the final product. I feel like it’s a great partnership in that way.
That’s amazing that he’s willing to be so trusting, seeing as he is known to have been quite a control freak about his material and everything.
Scot Armstrong: Yeah, it’s been interesting. I definitely have a lot of control on what he puts on the screen, but he’ll definitely improvise by putting things in his own words and I encourage that. But there are so many options when you’re editing. The show does have its own pace and its own style that ends up becoming my calm. Also, we have one of the best comedy casts on TV in this show so that makes it easier.
It’s great to see Kevin Corrigan. I’m a big, big fan of Kevin Corrigan ever since his turn on Grounded for Life, let along the bevy of guest stars.
Scot Armstrong: Yeah, the guest stars we have this year are insane. We’ve got Ron Livingston, Andy Daly, David Arquette, Billy Gardell, Tony Orlando, Laraine Newman, Mike Starr, Yakov Smirnoff—
Jesus, you even got Yakov! That’s awesome.
Scot Armstrong: —Michael Imperioli, James Woods, Teller from Penn and Teller and then we’ve got Mickey Rourke. I had to pull in a lot of big favors to have all of these really great people come and do the show [laughs].
That’s definitely one of the greatest things about the show, every time you you turn a corner or jump into another scene, all of a sudden you have someone like Mickey Rourke standing in a backyard trying to kill Dice.
Scot Armstrong: Yeah that was actually the hardest part of show running. If people are getting movies, it’s a little bit easier to be cast, because you make a plan, you make an offer. You have little time to plan it out. And with TV you’re like, “Hey does Mickey Rourke want to come do this show next week?” Then you don’t get any time to rewrite the character, because we’re everything is last minute. That’s definitely the biggest challenge we’ve had—waiting last minute for people to commit to the show. It’s like revising, because we really write to everyone’s real personality in the show, like a heightened version of their real personality, it makes it really different I think.
Yeah, absolutely, my favorite episode I think was Adrienne Brody following Dice around for his method acting. That was a fantastic episode.
Scot Armstrong: We learn from that and people love that episode so much that this season there really is more like that. We have all these star’s sort of playing different versions of themselves, it’s really exciting.
Your writing has shaped a lot of the comedic landscape for film and television. A lot of people—especially from my generation—have grown up on so many of your movies. Do you ever see tinges of your work and in other works of comedy? If so, how do you feel about it?
Scot Armstrong: I do, but I would never point it out because I think I would sound like a real jerk. But I do. I just take it as a total compliment. It makes me really happy and anything I can do to move the ball forward in the way people make laugh is just the greatest. My favorite thing is when I watch Sports Center and I hear earmuffs. It’s still my favorite. You know someone will get hurt or yelled at and they’ll say, “earmuffs” and it feels great knowing that that’s a word that Todd and I invented together.
That’s something that me and my friends still say to this day around.
Scot Armstrong: I mean how often in life do you invent something that’s a word, it’s pretty funny.
That’s entered the vernacular of culture itself. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to chat with me. I can’t wait to see the second season, I’m really looking forward to it, and congratulations on everything.
Check out the second season of Dice August 20 on Showtime.