A comedy phenomenon is sweeping campuses across the country. It's Dustin Diamond, formerly known as "Screech," leader of the geeks in the hit '90s sitcom, "Saved by the Bell." Diamond is now spending 47 weeks a year touring college campuses across the country, promoting an anti-drug message along with his unique brand of humor. Hillel of Metro Detroit intern Athena Kolbe caught up with The Dust after he performed an evening of stand -up comedy for Wayne State University's Jewish Student Organization.
So why don't you start by telling us a little about yourself and how you got started?
It's a long story, but basically one day when I was 8 years old, I was shopping with my mother. I got really bored and climbed up to where the mannequins were and started imitating them. That's when a busload of Japanese tourists came by and commented on how lifelike I looked. Someone from the store approached my mother and suggested I try modeling. One thing led to another, and two years later I was on "Saved by the Bell."
What about your Jewish upbringing?
The first time I visited an Orthodox home the family was like, "What's the matter with him? He doesn't know Hebrew. He doesn't know anything about Judaism." It's really hard to be an outcast with your own people and feel like you're so out of touch. I'm not very religious and my parents didn't really practice Judaism. I did have a bar mitzvah - yes, I'm a man. Actually, when I started to work with ["Saved by the Bell" co-star] Elizabeth Berkeley, it was the time when I first became interested in finding out what it means to be Jewish.
Let's talk a little bit about your message.
Basically what I'm trying to say to college kids, it's an anti-drug message. You heard me tonight, I'm saying it's just not cool to get wasted all the time and to smoke a lot of pot. There are better things to do with your time. I use humor to say this because you can't get a message across by preaching. And with this age group, people won't take you seriously if they don't feel you have the same experiences that they do. When I'm up on stage freestyling, it's a lot like politics, I try to get my message in subtly. I touch on the drug issue, I don't bash students over the head with it.
And you do this, very effectively it seems, using comedy. Changing lanes a bit here, where do you see comedy mixing with Jewishness?
Well, there's no great Jewish comedians today like in the past, at least not on the level of some of the oldies. We've got folks like Ben Stiller, but there really are no Jewish icons in comedy today. Really it is needed, someone who can get out there in the trenches and be both a great comedian and have a strong Jewish identity.
What about you? Are you a Jewish comedian or a comedian who happens to be Jewish?
Honestly, I'm a little bit of both. I'm stilling finding my way and finding out what it means to be Jewish. I guess that's part of my message too, that even at 28 or 29 you can still be trying to figure out who you are and what being Jewish is all about and that's OK.