The following is the true account of an evening spent watching Dustin Diamond (Screech from Saved by the Bell) perform a stand-up comedy routine on Halloween night, 2001…
There were eight of us. I won’t mention any names, because in my opinion, voluntarily attending a live Dustin Diamond performance deserves the same level of anonymity as testifying against mob kingpins. Forgive me. That’s just my bitterness talking. Truth is, back then, all eight of us wore our love for Saved by the Bell on our sleeves.
We weren’t the only ones. Dustin was performing twice that night in Seattle, an early show and a late show. We arrived about 35 minutes prior to the early show, as we were legitimately concerned that this baby would sell-out. Sure enough, a line snaked around the side of the club. Excitement was in the air. Prior to that night, there was a decent chance my first born son would have been named “Screech.”
Before Dustin came on stage, a couple comedians came out to warm up the crowd as part of the opening act. Their material was decent, but looking back, their opening lines were ironically the funniest part of their act…
Opening Comedian: “Alright! You guys are a great crowd! Thank you! I’ve just got a few jokes for ya…. Because I know you’re all excited to see Dustin Diamond!!!!”
And the audience responded with thunderous applause. The funny thing was, the comedian wasn’t joking. Zero sarcasm. All of this was said with a straight face. Sometimes I wonder if there are some justifiably starving comedians out there with the line “Opened for Dustin Diamond, Fall 2001” on their resume…
Finally, it was Dustin Diamond time. Screech came out wearing a stocking cap, a black leather jacket, and jeans with a chain wallet. He was also sporting a goatee. Apparently he was trying to reinvent himself as a longshoreman. Coupled with coarse language, his new look was an obvious attempt to toughen his image. Unfortunately, it was the most unconvincing rendition of a bad-ass since M.C. Hammer shortened his name to just “Hammer” and started wearing Atlanta Falcons clothing. Nobody was buying into this transformation, and it only became further ammunition for drunken audience members.
Judging by his opening line, it was apparent that Dustin Diamond was ready to welcome the inevitable heckling:
Dustin Diamond: “Alright, how many of you are here tonight to hear some jokes and have a good time?”
(The audience applauded accordingly.)
Dustin Diamond: “Ok, ok… how many of you are here tonight to get wasted and make fun of SCREECH!?”
(This was followed by an eruption of applause and cheers.)
And the evening went downhill from there…
First off, it is safe to say that Dustin Diamond is the most bitter former child star on earth, which is really saying something. It’s a real Catch 22. Here you have someone desperately trying to dissociate from the character of Screech and move on with his life. On the other hand, he is far too willing to gratuitously capitalize on his former celebrity stature. I guess it is something I would wrestle with too. Sure, you’d be called “Screech” until the day you die, but occasionally you’d get to cash a paycheck for boxing Tonya Harding.
Needless to say, the show was a tremendous letdown. Dustin had no original material and zero organization to his presentation. In other words, he would have been right at home here on Zillionaire. His entire act consisted of the recycled jokes you receive in email forwards. We literally paid 13 dollars to hear Dustin Diamond recite dumb blonde jokes for an hour. Tragically, he barely discussed his past on Saved by the Bell or provided us diehards with insider insight into the show. For instance, he could have disclosed how much input he actually had in his wardrobe decisions while on the show. (I’ll bet it’s more than you think.) Or he could have detailed how Screech spent his entire high school career sexually harassing Lisa Turtle. He could have kept all of us on the edge of our seat discussing this.
Sadly, the only preparation that went into his act was rehearsing comebacks to the incessant heckling from the audience. While his pathetic comedy routine certainly warranted heckling, I felt bad for Dustin nevertheless. During his act, audience members would just shout out phrases like “Mr. Belding!!!” or “Where’s Zach?!!” These unimaginative taunts actually rattled him. To Dustin’s credit, there really is no comeback to this. Seriously, how do you respond to someone yelling the words “Mr. Belding!!!” at you? This was the one blessing of attending his performance. To this day, in a heated game of basketball, I know I can rattle my opponent by simply shouting “Mr. Belding!!!” at him. There’s no recourse, and no trash talk that can top it. That’s how you get into your opponent’s head.
And yet, the show went on. He had to fill up time. You could tell he was watching the clock. Frankly, we all were. Nobody in that room had any intention of remaining there one second longer than necessary. The end of the show was spent watching Screech monitor the second hand on his watch until the precise instant his hour was up. At that point, he gathered his longshoreman outfit together and walked offstage to a smattering of boos, profanity and some mild pity applause.
I’ve got to hand it to Dustin though, up until that night I had never left a comedy show feeling depressed. Seriously, watching “Schindler’s List” would have been more uplifting. Of course, we all have to make our career choices in life. Apparently, Screech has elected to stand on stage and let a crowd of drunken college kids berate him for an hour as his chosen profession.
Thanks to the merciless heckling by a handful of audience members, it was one of the few times I was able to exit a place with absolute certainty that I wasn’t the jackassiest person in there. (Other notable times this has happened: Any event that my buddy Tonseth made an appearance at.)
As we left the comedy club, we passed by dozens of people lining up for the late showing. This produced an ethical quandary. Do I warn these people of the impending letdown and rip off they would soon experience? Ultimately, I rationalized that Dustin Diamond could realistically commit suicide any day now, and this might be one of the last remaining opportunities to see him perform on stage.
And that was how I spent Halloween back in ‘01. Walking to my car in the rain, I wished that Dustin had just come out as Screech, wearing suspenders with fluorescent yellow Zubaz pants. He could have given us fictitious updates on Zach and Kelly’s marriage and Slater’s courageous bout with syphilis. The audience would have left that night happily thinking that Screech and Zach are still concocting crazy schemes well into their mid 30’s. Is that too much to ask? The show has been off the air for almost 10 years. Seriously, we just need a fix every once in awhile. Sadly, miracles only happen on Christmas… not on Halloween.