Album: The Day the Laughter Died
Label: American Recordings
Producer: Rick Rubin
During his last days at Def Jam, Rick signed a young comedian named Andrew “Dice” Clay. Since his appearance on a Rodney Dangerfield HBO special, Clay had quickly become a sensation on the touring circuit. When Rick left Def Jam, he took Clay with him, and the comic's self-titled debut album became Def American's first Gold-certified record in 1990. That same year, “Dice” became the first comedian in history to sell out Madison Square Garden.
As popular as Clay was, he was also widely reviled as crude, racist, sexist, and misogynistic, playing to disaffected young white males with his vulgar takes on nursery rhymes (“Hickory dickory dock,” began one of them, “your wife was sucking my…”).
Working with Rick, I came to understand that 'Dice' was a character, played by the real comedian, Andrew Silverstein. Think Archie Bunker on crack.
I didn't get Clay myself—he seemed to be a relic in the era of multiculturalism—and I certainly didn't understand how the same mind that birthed hip-hop's greatest brand, Def Jam, also sought to include Dice's voice.
Working with Rick, I came to understand that “Dice” was a character, played by the real comedian, Andrew Silverstein. Think Archie Bunker on crack. Much like Carroll O'Connor's character on the groundbreaking TV series All In The Family, a lot of folks took Bunker at face value, thinking that the show was playing to racists when it was actually a lampoon of racism. And “Dice,” I think, did willingly play to those elements. But there was also something else, something more complex, going on.
That was exactly what Rick loved about “Dice.” Like Rick's own racist character “Vic” in the Run-DMC movie Tougher Than Leather, Clay tried to convince you that he was the worst bigot in the world; then again, there was something about the person delivering it that made you… unsure. Like Abbott & Costello—with whom Rick was obsessed—Silverstein combined base impulses with sophisticated form. Rick's college friend and mentor Ric Menello called it “high-low,” a combination of lowbrow and highbrow: art that seems aimed at the cheap seats but has a higher concept at work the whole time.
What convinced me was Clay's second album, The Day The Laughter Died. If all Rick and Clay wanted was to get paid, they would have made another album of nursery rhymes. Instead, Rick asked the most successful comedian in the world to walk into a nightclub, stand on stage, and not tell a single joke all night. For two excruciating discs, “Dice” sighs, smokes, vents, yells, and basically does everything he can to alienate his audience. He accuses a man in the audience of having sexual fantasies about his daughter, who is sitting uncomfortably next to him. The person in the audience who laughed the loudest and the longest all night was Rick Rubin himself.
One brilliant moment that comes at the end of the album: When “Dice” says “This could take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour,” he then quickly blurts “Back! Get it?” You can almost hear the audience squinting to understand the joke. “Dice” just keeps going and going, becoming more manic as he does. “Hour! Back! Get it?” Then, after a few dizzying minutes, he looks out into the crowd and says: “You don't get this bit. Do you think I do?”
You understand, in that moment, that telling a joke and being funny are not the same thing at all. And it's that jewel that Rick saw clearly, buried in all the bullshit.