By John Benson
Just as Screech made Zack and Kelly look cool on “Saved by the Bell,” actor Dustin Diamond is now hoping his memorable fictional character does the same for his career.
The problem is show business doesn’t treat the Screeches and Steve Urkels of the industry very well. In fact, for every child actor that doesn’t end up in prison, on drugs, dead or featured on reality television, there are seemingly dozens that do.
As for Diamond and the aforementioned list, he’s not dead, didn’t do time but did appear on “Celebrity Fit Club.” However, these days he’s mostly known in his post-“Saved by the Bell” years for a nasty sex tape that shamelessly sold out his celebrity as nothing more than a quick money grab.
“Life is all about surviving, finding yourself happiness and making sure every day you’re glad to wake up,” said Diamond, who now makes a living touring 47 weeks a year as a stand-up comedian. “A lot of people feel unfulfilled. I think I’ve had a very blessed life. I’ve had so many opportunities and so many wonderful things that have happened to me. Obviously, I’ve pulled some stunts, but those are behind me now.”
Diamond has convinced himself that the sex tape and reality-show shenanigans were the product of being a stunted adult who as a child chose a full-time job on television over enjoying recess at the playground.
Today, Diamond is 36 and fully committed to his stand-up comedy career, which at 14 years and counting he proudly pointed out is longer than his acting career. Cloudy, as mostly everything else in the funnyman’s life, is his story about becoming a comic. It involves some shady guy — who he refuses to name — from Northeast Ohio who showed him the ropes but now has asked Diamond not to reference publicly.
Whatever the case, Diamond, who returns to the Youngstown area for shows Friday and Saturday at The Funny Farm, describes his style as observational. His influences range from George Carlin to Mitch Hedberg.
“I’m a people watcher from way back,” Diamond said. “I do a lot of crowd work. I think addressing relationships is probably the No. 1 theme across my comedy. Not just romantic but from relationships with your pets, co-workers, parents, bosses, inanimate objects. That’s really where I focus my attentions.”
When talking to Diamond, it’s hard not to think about lost opportunities. Not so much for his ill-advised career choices or whatever psychological struggles any childhood actor experiences growing up in front of the camera, but the fact that if he had just played the game and bided his time, he could be a part of the nerd zeitgeist.
More than a few times in the conversation he mentions “The Big Bang Theory,” which is the epicenter of geekdom featuring grown-up versions of his beloved Screech.
The one question that remains is whether Hollywood will ever open its arms again and offer him a role to perhaps legitimize his career and put him on top again.
“I think Hollywood, and the world in general, is all about forgiveness and seeing the underdog come out ahead,” Diamond said. “And playing Screech, I was the king of the underdogs.”