At the conclusion of the final spinoff television program of “Saved By the Bell,” Dustin Diamond said he was told his entertainment career would come to a “Screeching” halt.
But the actor who played Samuel “Screech” Powers is a nerd who knows how to adapt. And improvise, too.
Five days after the program’s wrap party, Diamond went onstage as a standup comedian.
“I was really terrified because I didn’t have any material planned but I liked that rush,” said Diamond, who two years later made standup his full-time profession. “I decided, ‘I am going to take the water wings off and jump in the deep end and either sink or keep swimming,’ and have been doing standup ever since.”
Diamond, 37, is a different kind of shock comic. Sure his humor is racy – his upcoming Lake Tahoe and Reno shows are rated “R” – but first-time audience members don’t expect that kind of humor from person who played Screech.
“Saved By The Bell” was a Saturday morning children’s sitcom about a group a high school friends and their principal. It had two spinoff shows about the characters as they grew older. Diamond was the only actor to star in all three programs.
Known as Screech to the entire nation, being typecast was a major concert.
“I was told my career was probably done,” Diamond said. “The better known the character, the harder it is to break out of that mold. But I found that standup was an excellent transition. You will never run out of work as long as your mind is intact and don’t lose your marbles. There are tons of options and opportunities to put your wit and creativity to work and for someone who likes to keep their brain sharp. I notice funnier and funnier things as I get older and older.”
Adult humor is natural for Diamond, he said, because he grew up in the 1970s.
“The kind of humor I grew up with was Richard Pryor, Andrew Dice Clay, Sam Kinison, Robin Williams, George Carlin, Eddie Murphy,” Diamond said. “That’s the kind of humor I grew up with, breaking boundaries and cutting edge. I am very tame today compared to Louis C.K. and Daniel Tosh but there is still some shock to be had from people seeing me and expecting the 11 year old they grew up with.”
Diamond was, in fact, 11, when he was cast for the television show. He had already been an actor for three years, appearing in nearly 50 commercials, more than a dozen television shows and a handful of movies. He started as a department store catalog model. When passed an audition with an agency, his career skyrocketed.
“To land a character that became a cultural phenomenon and a pop culture icon, that’s really an amazing thing,” Diamond said. “A lot of people want that. They want to be famous but to actually have that happen when you are completely unexpected of it is amazing.”
Numerous child actors have struggled and even died in early adulthood. How did Diamond survive?
He really is a nerd.
“I’m not a drugie, I don’t smoke cigarettes and I am not a big drinker,” he said. “My vice is I like video games and I like computers and martial arts. I like a lot of nerdy stuff which keeps my life very clean. There’s not a lot of trouble to get into with the chess club.
“I think a lot of the pitfalls and party lifestyle that snagged everyone chewed them up and spit them out really quick whereas for me burning the midnight oil is writing or filming. Hell, I don’t even get sunburned because I am in the computer room late at night. I think I ended up dodging the child star bullet from every angle when I was a kid.”
Tahoe Comedy North
When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 6
Where: Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room
Tickets: $15 in advance or $18 on the day of the show.
Ticket Information: (775) 833-6333
Additional Info: www.tahoecomedynorth.com
Where else: Reno Pioneer Underground 8:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 8 and 6:30 and 9:30 Saturday, Aug. 9