He’s gone from “Saved by the Bell” star to porn star and reality TV villain to stand-up comic – in our exclusive interview, Dustin Diamond tells us he’s simply misunderstood and dishes about the 90s show a generation grew up with – plus that time he pranked Mario Lopez’s mom.
So Dustin, you’re performing at Crossroads in Garwood on Saturday - how did you get into stand-up?
The long and short of it is five days after our wrap party for “Saved By the Bell: The New Class,” I took a girl on a date to a movie theater. I saw that Brea Improv was right next door and saw a name on the marquee I recognized. I went in to say hi and he said, ya know, you don’t get stage fright, you don’t get nervous, you have great delivery – would you ever consider doing standup? … He brought me on stage that night and now I’ve been in the business for 13 years.
How would you describe your act to someone who has never seen you perform?
I like observational comedy - things everybody knows and everybody experiences but nobody talks about. … For instance, every time I go to an airport or anywhere crowded there’s always one person on their phone that’s really, really loud. I pretend to get on my phone and sit right next to them and overpower them with my loudness – I annoy the hell out of them. Basically it’s to show them this is what you’re doing to other people and it’s not very nice, stop it. I’m working on comedy within that confine. Everyone is so polite. … I like being people’s mouthpiece.
I saw the video you posted where you roam NYC as a ninja for hire; would you ever take to the streets as Screech?
Well a buddy of mine just asked me to be groomsman at his wedding. I told him I’m going to call NBC’s wardrobe department and get a full Screech outfit and I’m not going to break character the entire night.
I think you’re on to something there. You could rent yourself out for 90s parties. People would pay a fortune.
Funny you should mention that, because I’ve been doing these 90s parties and they’ve been really popular. People are encouraged to come dressed up. I have retro arcade games, retro gaming systems, the DJ is playing hits from the 90s. I’m more than just the host. I interact with people. It’s great to hang out and enjoy one of my favorite decades.
You’re kind of a part of 90s nostalgia. Do fans get that warm and fuzzy feeling when they see you? You must bring them back.
Yeah, but it’s weird because I’ve kind of been infamous for being a douche bag because of a mistake I made, which I didn’t see as mistake in the beginning, on “Celebrity Fit Club.” I played the bad guy on that. That’s not a regular reality show. It’s scripted to an extent and you do multiple takes. For any good story you need an antagonist. You need friction. The producers originally wanted Warren G to do it, but he’s just nice and soft spoken, such a sweet guy. The reason I chose to do it was everybody was always, the Screech stuff, the Screech stuff. I’d like to get a role on maybe “Dexter” or “Breaking Bad” or something. I’d like to play a killer or psycho or drug-crazed bank robber – something that would be fun for expanding my acting. Since the show ended I’ve had probably 3,000 scripts cross my desk and they are all Screech clones. … I thought eight weeks of me playing the bad guy, I could totally make it believable – be a person who has to have the last word always, who no matter what you’re talking about they always know a little bit more than you. … The producers loved it because it got huge ratings, but then the public totally turned on me. Unlike me, they didn’t see it as TV – they saw reality.
Do you think you’re misunderstood because of “Celebrity Fit Club”?
Oh absolutely. I’m the most non-confrontation person in world. … I don’t go out and poke fun at people. I don’t put people down. I played the underdog for so many years that I was a source of inspiration for people who were the real life Screeches. I’ve had people tell me, man, you helped me get through high school, you helped me get through tough times.
People must recognize you all the time. What’s the weirdest encounter you’ve had with a fan?
At the height of the show I was getting upwards of 7,000 fan letters a week. The weirdest was a guy who wrote me a letter that said he sent me his spider and wanted me to meet him and then send him back safely. I look in the envelope and there’s just a squish. There were weird things going on for everybody. I had stalkers. I had one girl ask for a bodily fluid, an article of clothing, a lock of hair and a personal possession because she wanted to make a voodoo doll of me.
Did you oblige?
No! Not like it would have worked anyway, but you never know.
What was it like to suddenly be a star?
The show became so big, so fast that it really became a whirlwind, crazy time, which is one of the reasons why I did all my crazy antics later with the book and the sex tape, which was fake. You never see my face or anything else in the same shot because there was a stunt person that was brought in. The only reason I did that, is that my buddy said, hey Paris Hilton’s sex tape made $14 million. It was like, woah, $14 million. He said, dude why don’t you make a Screech sex tape? You’ve got to be worth at least one million. And I said, ya know, I could totally fake that. I had to take that shot. If she made $14 million, what if I could at least make one or three or five. I had to know. … I’m 36 but I’m kind of 15 years behind in maturity because I’ve had a job since I was 8 years old. Other kids would come home and go play, and I had to go home and learn my scripts.
Because of all your stunts, you seem to have a big contingent of haters, especially online.
Some people say, oh yeah, Dustin Diamond he’s an a******. How do you know? A TV show you saw once? I’ve never robbed anybody. I’ve never become a junkie. I’m not out there drinking and driving. I don’t cheat on my wife. I’m a really good person, I think. I’m happy with that.
So I have to get into the “Saved By the Bell” questions here. You said you guys did 260 episodes. Which was your favorite?
The instant thing that comes to mind is the prank episodes. The reason I like those is when you are working together every single day, every single week all day long – remember what you see in 22 minutes after commercials took us five days. We were putting in 12 to 15 hour days. It’s a heavy ordeal and gets boring after a while. The prank episodes started spawning everyone pranking each other, and that to me was fun and brought out that little devil, playful side of me.
What was your best prank?
Oh man, well, Mario and I had dressing rooms with a communal bathroom. I stretched cellophane across the toilet and put the lid down.
Yeah, it’s a classic. My dad told me about it. I finally hear Mario come into dressing room and I’m up against the door, waiting for a scream – and the scream did come but it was not Mario. It was Mario’s mom!
Oh, it was so bad. I was like, nooooo wrong target. But she’s a wonderful woman, so she didn’t throttle me or anything.
Do you ever watch reruns when you catch them on TV?
Oh yeah, here and there. Most people have home movies or photo albums from when they were younger. For me, I have all my important years from ages 11 to 21 on video.
Do you have a favorite Screech line or catch phrase?
“Zoiks!” was such a good word. I’m a big fan of Scooby Doo and he says “zoinks!” “Zoiks” was kind of kind of tip of the hat to “zoinks!”
You’re 36 now – what would Screech be up to at 36?
Ya know, that’s the problem. Jimmy Fallon wants to do a reunion, and I think a reunion would be totally fun, but the problem is I wouldn’t want to stink it up. I think it would be awkward of me at this age to try to play so goofy. There would be people sitting back saying, that was sad, Screech shouldn’t have done that. It’s probably best to just leave it alone. If it’s bad you can’t take that back.
I read that you are still friends with Dennis Haskins who played Mr. Belding. Are you close with any of your other SBTB co-stars?
Yeah, Mario and I talk. We want to try to work a reality show out. We’re concocting a little something-something.
Are your other co-stars mad at you for publishing your tell-all book, Behind the Bell?
What’s funny is even my book was not fully legit. They were not going to give a first-time author carte blanche to do whatever he wanted. And it had to be 80,000 words, and I wasn’t going to count them. They way it worked was I told stories and I talked to the guy who was going to write it as me. He sent over something to proofread and they were using my stories and filling in words because they’ve got to make 80,000. I think in my book the term “douchenozzle” was thrown out a bunch. I’ve never said “douchenozzle” in my life. But it was either this way or no book, and in acting you can’t guarantee that you are going to get work. I got sent stuff to proofread and I was correcting a bunch of things in it and then instead of sending it back again all of sudden I got a letter saying it was done. So the final product that came out was kind of my story but not really. I said the cast members were fooling around with each other and they made that into 80,000 words worth.
So is it true that you’ve slept with 2,000 women like the book says?
No, that’s another one of those things. … The guy was like how many women have you been with? I’m a comedian at heart, so I was being kind of coy with him. … I said it as a playful thing and they printed it as gospel.
What’s your life like at home in Wisconsin? What do you do for fun?
I’m pretty laid back. I’m not like a let’s go out and party and tear up the town guy. I’m a homebody. I like cuddling with the Mrs. on the couch with the dogs.
Tell us about your wife. Do you two plan on having kids?
We do plan on having kids, and she’s fantastic. She’s my best friend, and marrying your best friend is the greatest thing you could every do. We want three kids – one of each: His, hers, its. We’re gonna get the embroidered towels.
Anything upcoming we can expect to see you in next?
I might actually be doing a Kickstarter fundraiser for a sitcom script I’ve been trying to get off the ground. It’s not an easy process, but I think the world needs some more good sitcoms out there. I’m pretty proud of it.
Can you give us any details about it? What’s the premise?
Ah-ah-ah not yet! It’s one of those things that if you are too loud about it, it all goes psssssssh.
I read you were friends with Jaleel White who played Urkel on “Family Matters.” When people saw uber-nerds Screech and Urkel together did their heads just explode? He has to be the one guy in the universe you could sit and have coffee with and totally relate.
Oh, absolutely. Jaleel is a good guy. We met before “Saved By the Bell” when we worked on film together called “Monster Squad.” … And then we become the faces of TV nerd-dom for an entire decade, an entire generation. He is just a really talented, funny guy with his timing and his character. You’ve got to respect that. We were friendly but we never really hung out – that’s interesting, though. Maybe I should put together a buddy flick – a Screech and Urkel movie but not quite Screech and Urkel.
I would pay to see that. I feel like being a nerd is cooler than ever suddenly. Do you feel a responsibility to advocate for nerds?
I feel like I’m the king of nerds! I like Dungeons & Dragons. I like World of Warcraft. I like comics. I like chess. It’s kind of “chic to be geek” now. And if you look at it, everybody is awkward. Everybody is uncomfortable in some situation, even the people who are just the coolest and smoothest. Deep down everybody has a little bit of Screech in them.
READ MORE: Super fans should check out our extended version of this interview, here.
Follow Diamond on Twitter: @dustindiamond
Tickets for Saturday’s show are still available and can be purchased here. Crossroads is located at 78 North Avenue in Garwood. The show begins at 7 p.m. and also features Joe Carney, Big Rich From Jersey and Zack Bratkovich.