Dustin Diamond, a.k.a. Screech, brings comedy act to High Point
For a solid decade, America knew Dustin Diamond as Screech, the occasionally-endearing-but-usually-just-annoying nerd on the teen sitcom “Saved By the Bell.”
Truth be told, all these years later, that’s still how most Americans see Diamond. He may have put Screech behind him, but we haven’t — which, as you can imagine, has been a source of frustration for the 36-year-old Diamond, who now does standup comedy and is trying to forge a career in movies.
“It’s been a blessing, but it has been a curse a little bit, too,” Diamond said during a telephone interview. “People say, ‘Oh man, look at Screech — look at what he’s doing now.’ I mean, maybe I wouldn’t say it’s been a curse, but it definitely has its silver lining and its dark middle.”
Diamond, who will bring his comedy act to High Point this weekend, was just an adolescent when “Saved By the Bell” debuted in 1989. In contrast to the cool characters played by the likes of Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Zack), Tiffani-Amber Thiessen (Kelly), Mario Lopez (Slater), Elizabeth Berkley (Jessie) and Lark Voorhies (Lisa), Samuel “Screech” Powers was all geek, with a penchant for science, chess and loud, obnoxious clothing.
He held on to Screech as long as he could, reprising the role for two spinoff series — “Saved By the Bell: The College Years” and “Saved By the Bell: The New Class” — but when the end came, he tried to move on.
“When I got off the show, I started auditioning for a lot of things,” Diamond said. “As an actor, you want to continue working. You’re proud of the success you’ve had, but you don’t want to be held back by it. At every audition, they’d say, ‘We liked it, but we see too much Screech.’ And I would say, ‘Guys, I can’t change my bone structure — give me a chance to do something else.’ It was kinda holding me back.”
Of course, anyone who follows pop culture knows Diamond didn’t completely disappear from the spotlight. He showed up on a number of game shows and reality shows, including “The Weakest Link,” “Celebrity Boxing 2,” “Celebrity Fit Club” and “Hulk Hogan’s Celebrity Championship Wrestling.” He appeared as himself in the movie “Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star.” There’s even a Dustin Diamond sex tape out there.
And then came “Behind the Bell,” Diamond’s infamous tell-all book about his years working on the popular sitcom that made him famous. His revelations about the cast members’ sex, drugs and wild parties were disputed by other actors — and he became somewhat of a pariah — but he stands behind what he wrote.
“It was all true — otherwise, it would be libel,” he said. “You can’t print something without legal repercussions, so the facts have to be checked out, and the publishing company has lawyers go through everything.”
What many people don’t know about Diamond is that since the “Saved By the Bell” spinoffs ended more than a decade ago, he’s been performing standup comedy.
“I’ve been doing comedy for 14 years,” he said.
It began only a few days after he finished shooting “Saved By the Bell: The New Class.” Coming out of a movie theater with a date, he noticed a friend was performing at a nearby comedy club, so they went in to catch his show. During a break, the comedian told Diamond he would be good at standup comedy, and asked if he had any interest in giving it a try. Diamond said yes, and during the comedian’s next set, he actually invited Diamond to the stage.
“I had no material, and my heart was pounding,” Diamond recalled. “I had been in the business well over a decade. I was a veteran of TV and shouldn’t be getting nervous, but I’m telling you, standup is totally different from doing a sitcom.”
Diamond ad-libbed for about three minutes and got some laughs, he said — just enough to make him want to try again. So he performed every three or four months for a year or so, then decided to try comedy as a career rather than just a side project. He’s been doing that ever since, and today he tours more than 40 weeks a year, he said.
A lot of people come to Diamond’s shows out of curiosity.
“They want to see Screech,” he said, “but I’d say about 99.8 percent of the time, people will say ‘We didn’t know what to expect and we thought it could be a train wreck, but you were really good.’ ”
Be forewarned, though: This is not Screech you’ll be seeing on the stage, and his act is pretty off-color.
“I do an adult act, because I’m not 11 anymore,” he said. “I admire the guys who can write clean material, but I grew up with Eddie Murphy, George Carlin and Andrew Dice Clay, and those guys were all doing dirty material. That’s what I do, too.”
In addition to comedy, Diamond is also trying to establish a career in movies. He just completed two horror movies that should be released this year, “Scavenger Killers” and “Captured Hearts.”
He also talks of wanting to settle down with the woman in his life and have children.
“I’ve done a lot of rebellious stuff, but I’ve matured now,” Diamond said. “I think it’s out of my system now.”
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Want to go?
Dustin Diamond will perform four shows this weekend at the Joke Factory Comedy Club, located in the High Point Plaza Hotel and Conference Center, 135 S. Main St.
Artie Fletcher will also perform.
The shows will be Friday and Saturday, at 8 and 10:30 p.m. both nights.
Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 the night of the show.
For more information or advance reservations, call the hotel at 889-8888.