How you initially interpret the above line may end up defining your love or hate for “Dice,” a “don’t call it a comeback” vehicle for Andrew Dice Clay. The stand-up comedian who came to prominence in the ’80s, selling out arenas and releasing a number of hit comedy albums, is a figure long absent from popular culture. And while he’s quick to point out in the new six-episode series from Showtime that he considers himself the biggest stand-up of all time, he’s also far from oblivious to his current predicament. He’s not at the “top of the world” anymore, as a clip from the opening credits shows him saying. He’s scraping by month-to-month, living in Las Vegas, gambling too much and working too little. He lives in a world where certain things should still be provided to him based on his celebrity status — discounts on windows, comped gaming fees — even while he’s resigned to scrounging for work wherever he can get it.
Perhaps what’s key to know about Clay for anyone entering “Dice” blind to the former star, is that the man who late baby boomers fell in love with was all based on an impersonation of someone else. During his early days working the clubs, Clay did a number of impressions, but the one that caught on was a figure he called “The Dice Man” who bore some resemblance to Buddy Love. Throughout “Dice,” the character Clay is playing — if we can call him that, and not just Clay himself — references how his stage persona and his real self are two separate people. He seems tired, even, of telling fan after fan, critic after critic, celebrity after celebrity, that a lot of what he said and did then doesn’t represent his true beliefs.
But what keeps “Dice” from becoming a truly empathetic and excellent commentary on who Clay really is, now, with all the fame and glamor stripped from him, is that we never really know if Clay is still blurring the line between his two selves. Is he “The Dice Man,” or is he Andrew Dice Clay? And from that, is “Dice” about Dice, as implied, or Clay, where most of the potential lies? Or is he really some amalgamation of these two identities, and the show his way of trying to sort fact from fiction? Is he trapped in an internal and eternal struggle living as both men? A comedy about how fame — especially fame earned by playing a character who became more and more antiquated over time — can overwhelm and corrupt a man long after it’s gone is a fascinating idea, but “Dice” only lightly brushes that surface.
To again use the bolded line above for context, it seems clear in the moment that Clay — and the show’s creator, Scot Armstrong — know the words coming out of his mouth are ridiculous. The second episode focuses on Clay teaching Adrian Brody how to be more like a man (a man as defined by Andrew Dice Clay) and in doing so, he both faces and goes to some pretty extreme places. At first, Clay emphasizes blowing on his coffee before taking a sip. Later, he teaches him how to eat Combos. Finally, Brody shows up in Clay’s bedroom, trying to watch him have sex. Clay, understandably, gets annoyed by Brody’s actions; actions taught to Brody by Clay. Brody becomes “The Dice Man,” and Clay is annoyed by that. Given the episode’s title, “Ego,” a perfect moment is born for Andrew Dice Clay not only to mature, but to understand how his real self may have blended with his stage persona — and to do something about it.
Instead, the delineation is largely passed over in favor of watching Brody’s (pretty great) impression of Dice. Something nearly-courageous is also explored in the first episode when Clay attends his girlfriend’s (Natasha Leggero) brother’s wedding. Her brother’s fiance hates Clay because of what he’s said about gay men and women in the past, and Clay (after trying to explain that that wasn’t him who said those things, but his stage persona) tries to make it up to him by giving him a generous amount of money — money he doesn’t have. Along the way to winning that money at a casino, Clay corrects a friend for using outdated language — language he was just corrected for using himself — and genuinely tries to make things right for the people he’s wronged in his own special way (primarily, throwing out a wedding officiant he deemed “unlucky”).
But even after we see the good-hearted intentions of a man many imagine as lacking a heart to begin with, there’s no effort to push further in future episodes. Sure, there are other confrontations and opportunities, but viewers should slowly realize with each passing episode they won’t be adequately explored. It’s as though Clay gets to the edge of a revelation and backs away, too scared or too proud to fully commit to who he wants to become (or who he wants us to believe he’s become).
“Dice” could work as a character study, and really, it would have to if it wanted to work at all. The six episodes don’t feature enough laughs to rank it among the essential comedies, even if the writing in specifics is pretty solid. A handful of jokes land every episode. Few miss. The tone is consistently light. “Dice” is definitely a comedy, but it’s the depth teased in early episodes that makes you want more from it, especially when looking back after the brief season is over and realizing there should have been more: more laughs, more analysis, and more to a character who has proven worthy of being studied. Clay just needs to figure out what he wants to say — which, when considering the comedian has always hid behind a character, may have been his biggest issue all along.