Six months ago, this would have sounded delusional coming from Diamond. But today he’s defying the laws of celebrity gravity. Sprawled out on the couch, he holds forth on his Fit Club–approved 1,000-calorie-a-day diet, his “high-minded” way of thinking, his penchant for British comedies. He talks about pretty much anything. Because for the first time in years, people are listening. “Did I mention my official MySpace page?” he asks. “There’s lots of imposters out there.”
Dustin Diamond’s re-emergence is a victory that would horrify any celebrity who’d ever had a decent career. But Diamond didn’t have a decent career. And like other celebrities without decent careers, Diamond has had to rely on the devaluation of the currency of celebrityand the blogosphere’s bloodthirsty interest in wardrobe malfunctions, bad boob jobs, and pop stars’ “forgetting” to wear pantiesto claw his way back into the cultural conversation.
“It’s not like he’s gonna get attention for doing Shakespeare,” says Randy Clark, an assistant professor of media studies at Clayton State University, in Atlanta. “He’s gonna get attention for doing a porn movie. Plus, it’s not like he had much to lose.”
Everything is bigger here in Screechville. Aside from his mammoth manhood, there’s the 60-inch flat-screen TV, the entertainment center that spans an entire wall of his living room and groans under the weight of numerous game systems, and the 20 or so statues of the Grim Reaper, Freddy Krueger, and other heroes of horror. (In the bathroom there’s a homemade corpse and a bloody meat hook left over from a Halloween party.) As Diamond sinks further into his cushy sectional, his pentagram necklace falls into view. He sees that I’ve noticed it. “We like to be part of the ‘Halloween community,’” he explains. “You know, go on haunts, collect masks and costumes, host haunted houses.”
But the fright circuit will have to wait. He’s a comedian now, and has been since The New Class, a Saved by the Bell spin-off, went off the air in January 2000. He has road stories about hanging out with Lewis Black, rejecting cocaine payoffs, hiding in an icebox to avoid a riot, and getting shot at in a dingy St. Louis club. He makes plenty of money, too, he assures me.
But judging by the video on his MySpace page, his comedy appearancesat least the ones he did in the British Islesare reminiscent of the kind of cringe-inducing variety shows favored by David Brent on The Office. In London he judged a contest in which drunk couples simulated sexual positions onstage to Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me.” In Scotland he did the same, crowning two girls making out as the winners. At one gig, he took the stage as the Saved by the Bell theme played. The crowds were frothing. Some showed up with brown mustaches messily painted on their upper lips. Yet he insists that his sudden spike in popularity has nothing to do with his sex tape. “I’ve never worried about being in a rush to be popular,” he says. “Right now I make great money, and as I get more recognition as a comedian and show the world how good my stand-up is and where my mind goes, the more money I’ll make.”