I grew up in Brooklyn, so I learned the hard way.
Did you inherit the Diceman attitude?
Clay: It comes from my mother. My mother had a motto: Do things and ask questions later. It was like when my sixth-grade teacher used to push us around during fire drills. We called him John Wayne. Once he slapped me, and I told my mother about it. She marched up to school and made him apologize in front of the whole class. Years later I was with my mom at a cheap hotel. Next door was the posh Browns Hotel. My mother wanted to go there, and I told her that they would throw us out. She looked at me and said, “Andrew, just do it and ask questions later.” We went there and we stayed. Thanks. Mom.
”I got an act,” I said to Johnny. “Could you imagine if I came onstage as Jerry Lewis’s Nutty Professor and turned into John Travolta from Grease?”
When did you know you wanted to be an entertainer?
Clay: When I was seven years old. That was all I was good at, entertaining. I was doing guys like Jerry Lewis, Elvis, Louie Armstrong, John Wayne. I was playing drums when I was seven.
When did you start doing comedy?
Clay: When I was 21, I saw Grease with my friend Hot Tub Johnny at the Oceana Theatre in Brighton Beach. See, at 17, I was already doing Travolta as Vinnie Berbarino. But that night it hit me. As we were driving home, I go, “That’s the act. I got an act.” I said to Johnny, “Could you imagine if I came onstage as Jerry Lewis’s Nutty Professor and I take my magic formula and I turn into Travolta from Grease?” So the very next day, I’m in a studio on Kings Highway with the Grease record, and I say, “Can you get the lead vocal out of this song?” Next thing. I’m booking studio time.
I go see the movie like a dozen times. to get the exact routine he does. Three weeks later, I go to Pips Wednesday night, their audition night. I’m in the kitchen in my Jerry Lewis garb, and the owner walks in and he gets scared, he sees this nut. You’d never recognize me once I put it all together. He goes, “Who are you?” I’m in character already, and I go, “I’m the guy you said looks like Travolta.” And I’m trying to stay in character. [Then he] brings me onstage, my family is there, my mother, my father, my grandmother, my sister, my aunt. my uncle, my cousins, Hot Tub Johnny. I come onstage being this human pity, which is the whole hook of the act. The crowd is booing, “Get the fuck off!” I’m echoing the crowd, “Boo, boo, get the fuck off, you cocksucker, you prick.” This is Brooklyn. The lights go out, I mix the formula, the crowd is still booing, and all of a sudden I snap my fingers, they turn the lights on, the hair is slicked back, I turn around with the cigarette — dead silence in the room. And then they’re screaming, “Fuck, yeah!” They’re nuts, they thought it was Travolta. They’re flipping out. I come up to the mike and I go, “So — you thought it couldn’t be done, right?” They’re like throwing the place apart. I do the “Greased Lightning” number, I’m on my way out of the place, the owners stop me and go, “You got a manager?” I look at my father and I go, “That’s my manager.” I had ten minutes, [and then I was] headlining my first week.
And it’s just been one success after another since then. How do you explain it?
Clay: Number one, I think I’m better than any comic who ever worked the planet. I can walk out in an arena without knowing a thing in my head. A lot of guys do an HBO special or an album, and they’ll do that same material for the next five years. I would be bored to tears. When I’m in concert, there are certain things I have to do because they want to hear it, like the poems. Or the impressions — I don’t mind doing it as long as I get 40 minutes out of stuff that is just a month old. I feel that a real comedian — dirty, clean, or whatever you are — should just be able to walk up and be funny. Jerry Lewis doesn’t have great jokes. He’s funny. He was funny when he was 15 and he’s funny now. Don Rickles — does he have to say a word? Rodney Dangerfield. These are just funny men.
There must be times when they don’t laugh. What does it feel like?
Clay: I love that. There are certain jokes I’ll do tonight in Pips — a big buildup. and at the end I kill it. To hear Nassau Coliseum go silent, you know, is just the funniest thing in the world to me. I’m supposed to be the greatest comic ever and you could hear a pin drop in the room. But then I get them back a second later, because I’m controlling them. I studied Elvis. Nobody had stage presence like Elvis, so I studied the best, only I didn’t go out to become a singer. I’m a comedian.
You see some guys out there and you wonder what they’re doing in comedy.
Clay: A lot of them are just public speakers. Today, anybody that’s got the balls to walk in front of a microphone and put in three, four years could put together an act. Some people laugh at them. So if there’s a need for it. why not? The good ones will survive.
Do comics support one another?
Clay: They hate each other’s guts. When I see them sitting together, knowing what they say about each other, it’s like, why don’t you just not talk to each other? They all think they’re in competition with each other when they’re not. Pricks. Motherfuckers. Scum of the earth, as far as I’m concerned. I wish I could say different. I’m not saying that there aren’t a few in there who aren’t nice people, but I’m looked upon as the prick because I’m up there with the black leather jacket, with the dirty mouth, with the bad attitude, and then you see all these other guys wearing their player jackets and their nice button-down shirts, and they’re not cursing, but it’s inside them. It’s what’s inside you that counts. I always felt I was the Serpico of comedy.