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Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012

Dustin Diamond Revisits The ’90s

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It’s been an inglorious run for Dustin Diamond post-“Saved by the Bell.” Since waving goodbye to the show in 2000, Diamond has appeared on seemingly any reality show that would have him, including “Celebrity Boxing” and “Celebrity Fit Club”—where he feuded not only with his fellow contestants, but also with the show’s host and his trainer—and declared war on the kid’s show that made him famous by releasing a traumatizing sex tape called Screeched: Saved by the Smell and a bitter memoir, Behind The Bell. In the latter especially nasty tell-all, Diamond boasted of bedding thousands of women and took down his former cast-mates one by one. He directed particular vitriol toward Tiffani Amber Thiessen, who he flatly called a “whore.” Like most of his attempts to reclaim fame’s spotlight, the book gave the impression of Diamond as a resentful hothead with a questionable grasp on reality.

He’s not really as awful as all that, though. The Dustin Diamond I interviewed earlier this month, at least, was a surprisingly affable, mostly down-to-earth guy—nothing like the unhappy curmudgeon he so often comes across as. Speaking to promote his upcoming Bayside Bash ’80s and ’90s dance party at the Turner Hall Ballroom on Saturday, Dec. 29, the chatty former child star admitted that he’s made some bad decisions, some of them in a misguided effort to undo his typecasting.

“The challenge for an actor is you want to distance yourself from the iconic characters you played,” Diamond said. “When other roles would come around after ‘Saved by the Bell,’ the producers would say, ‘We want somebody with great facial expressions, good comedic timing and a good comic presence,’ and I’d say, ‘This is perfect.’ But then when I’d read for the roles, they’d invariably say, ‘Look, we love you, but we just see too much Screech.’

“So I did some of these reality shows, like ‘Celebrity Fit Club,’ which was all scripted, mind you,” he continued, “and I figured, this will give me eight ways to play a bad guy, and this will be great for getting on ‘Breaking Bad,’ or on Dexter’s slab, or one of those type of serious things. But people saw that and just thought that I was unapproachable or mean, for lack of a better term.”

Diamond no longer seems interested in playing the villain. Lately he’s been working to rehab his soiled image and as part of that process he’s re-embraced “Saved by the Bell.” He now discusses the show fondly in his stand-up act and throughout our interview he spoke of his time there with gratitude, even as he lamented that it came at the expense of having a normal youth.

“The thing about me is my upbringing was very different from most people,” he said. “Because there was so much work involved in the show, a lot of my life was put on hold. That’s why as an adult I’ve had some antics and done some crazy stunts, and maybe I was too old for them. But for me, I’ve always been 10 years behind. My maturity level in my 20s was that of a 15-year-old. That’s just the curse: You want a kid in the industry, and that’s what happens. I had to do my homework in the car while driving an hour and a half around Los Angeles to go to auditions. It really felt like a lot was taken away from me. Now, it worked out and I’ve had an interesting life, with a lot of positives, but those kid years you can never truly get back.”

It was in part out of nostalgia for those formative years that Diamond began throwing ’90s-themed parties at his Milwaukee-area home, gatherings that became the inspiration for his upcoming Bayside Bash. It’ll be a large-scale version of those house parties, with retro video games (as you might expect from the real-life Screech, Diamond is a big gamer), ’80s and ’90s music and video projections. Diamond won’t be handling the music, though he expects the DJs will probably play a little Bell Biv DeVoe and maybe a little Ace of Base. For his part, he’ll just hang out, pose for pictures and socialize. “I don’t know anything about DJing,” he said. “I’d rather stick to playing beer pong with strangers.” (Organizers couldn’t confirm there will be beer pong, but Diamond seems to have his heart set on it.)

Diamond said he’ll consider taking his parties on the road if they attract enough interest, but he’s happy to write them off as a hobby if they don’t.

“I think that the ’90s did have its own feel, and its own voice,” he said. “I appreciate that now that I’m older and wiser, so these parties are a vehicle for capturing my youth in a bottle again, even if just for a night. I’m taking a time period that meant so much to me and showing others what I loved about it.

“For me, the parties really aren’t a hard sell, because I don’t involve myself in something unless I have an interest in it,” he continued. “Unless it’s a ‘Fear Factor,’ eat a roach for $10,000 offer. Then I’ve got to eat a roach, brother.”

Doors for Dustin Diamond’s Bayside Bash at Turner Hall Ballroom on Saturday, Dec. 29, will open at 8 p.m. with DJs James Freshluggage and Dori Zori.

 

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