"Everyone knew Zack was gay. Admit it."
With those few words, Dustin Diamond screws with my head. What's Screech from Saved by the Bell trying to pull? Back in the '90s, I watched SBTB three times a day, memorized entire episodes and still never picked up on that possibility. But thanks to Diamond's comment, I start looking for clues. And I quickly think of a few: Zack Morris was, in fact, a cross-dressing, duck-loving, '80s-style pop singer who went to Principal Belding's office far more often than he should have.
While I'm pondering all this, I almost forget the reason I'm talking to Diamond in the first place. The 27-year-old actor, celebrity boxer, chess player and musician is now tacking another title on his résumé: stand-up comedian. But rather than shove his child-actor past aside, as one might expect, Diamond embraces it for his routine. "I don't hide from the Screech issue," he says. "I talk about it onstage. I take pot shots at myself, at the cast. People are curious."
Dustin Diamond performs at 8:30 p.m. and 10: 30 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m., 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. Saturday at Hyena's Comedy Night Club, 2525 E. Arkansas Lane, Arlington. Tickets are $10 or $15 for preferred seating. Call 817-226-5233.
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Of course, Diamond no longer carries himself like the socially challenged, super-nerd character he portrayed for nearly a decade, and his gravelly voice and mature subject matter are what you'd expect from a 27-year-old man doing stand-up. But not Screech, right? "It's definitely not Saturday morning," Diamond says. "I'm not very PC, and I want the audience to know that. When people leave the show, they're either going to say, 'Whoa, that was awesome. He was really funny,' or, because they recognize me as a wholesome, geeky, lovable goofball, they'll say, 'Whoa, I can never watch that show again.' Either way is OK with me."
I ask if there's any comparison to draw with Bob Saget, who found fame on family-friendly shows such as Full House and America's Funniest Home Videos only to return to stand-up and shock people with vulgar material. Diamond's long response defends and explains Saget's career, which leads me to believe he's heard this question before. "The best comedy comes from truth," Diamond says. "Bob Saget comes out and talks about fisting the Olsen twins, and people say it's gross, but how many guys out there who live by themselves are looking at the Olsen twins, saying, 'Whoa, they're gonna be hot. I can't wait till they turn 18'?"
Aside from that gem, he offers only a few specific bits from his routine, calling laughter "the body's orgasm" and joking that he was on track for "doing security work with Gary Coleman." He never so much expressed confidence in his new line of work as he did enthusiasm, though, and that seems to be the key reason he's giving it a shot. "I like the challenge. You're onstage with a microphone, a smoky room and a drunken audience who's saying, 'OK, funny man. Make me laugh.' Boom: The spotlight is on you. It's you and your ideas, and that's it. If you can make that audience laugh, that's a good feeling."
As he's saying this, though, I'm still trying to figure out Zack. I mean, gay? He chased after that hot nurse once, and then he dated that girl in the wheelchair. I can't help but ask about SBTB, and Diamond's OK with that. "That's the thing everyone gets hung up on. 'Do you worry that Screech will always be mentioned?' Hmm...no. That means they're aware of a major milestone in my career. Screech is what broke me big and what made me known to the public, to the world. I need to just keep doing the comedy act, and eventually, just like Bob Saget...well, nobody says 'Dan Tanner is filthy' anymore."