‘Bell’ rings: Dustin Diamond cashes in as dimwitted stand-up comic
Exploring the underbelly of TV fame might have provided plenty of material. But Diamond’s caught between reruns and reality.

What now, Dustin Diamond? After all, there’s nothing tougher than being TV nostalgia in your mid-20s.

It’s been five years since the dingbat TV series “Saved By the Bell” squeezed every ounce of “geek-dom” from Diamond and the “Bell” series franchise. Diamond – who recently turned 27 and is stuck with his high-voiced, nerdy character forever – continues in show biz and it’s not always pretty.

That’s how he landed for five shows at Comedy Club on State, formerly Funny Business, last weekend.

At its most popular, “Saved By the Bell” featured a six-person cast, including five impossibly attractive “high school” students – and Diamond’s square, punchline-ready Screech.

Financial troubles have already caught up to Diamond, and he currently lives in Port Washington, a Milwaukee suburb. It’s odd, but he didn’t mention those Wisconsin ties during his headlining set.

Instead,  it’s time to cash in on his sizable fame and about 250 people filled the club to watch Diamond’s sketchy stand-up act.

To open his raunchy set, Diamond took the microphone and rattled off swear words. OK, we get it: The straitlaced Screech delivers every naughty word possible, a desperate opening to the show.

After this initial volley of profanity, he stopped and mocked a seemingly shocked patron, saying, “Damn, Screech is bitter!”

A few moments later, he did a pre-planned impersonation of a confused audience member showing up and complaining, “That ain’t Urkel.”

Still, he never wavered too far from his unique position on the celeb food chain, thanks to those “Bell” reruns airing endlessly and cementing his character’s notoriety.

But this was the kind of rare stand-up show that the comic, Diamond, appreciated crowd members shouting out comments.

When a crowd member mentioned Diamond’s appearance on the dreary celeb worshipping “Star Dates,” Diamond responded:

“I’m clear my career is not sailing,” he said. “My next step is doing security with Gary Coleman.”

On stage in Madison, he also reflected on his unusual show business life, adding that most stand-up comics hope to get a TV show. His path is in reverse.

And that’s a ladder Diamond can’t climb.

Still, maintain some sympathy. Remember that Diamond was “Saved By the Bell’s” youngest cast member by almost two years. Diamond has added considerable weight since his lanky “Saved By the Bell” heyday, but almost every TV or film appearance he makes these days he plays himself – or, really, Screech.

He’s also game for just about anything, it appears. Among his gigs are playing bass in the band Salty the Pocketknife and fighting on Fox’s “Celebrity Boxing 2.” In the latter, he pummeled  “Welcome Back, Kotter’s” Ron “Horshack” Palillo, who is nearly 30 years older than Diamond.

Exploring this underbelly of TV fame might have provided plenty of material.

But he’s caught between reruns and reality.

For instance, late in the show, Diamond recalled a typically absurd episode of “Saved By the Bell.” Diamond described the episode when Jesse (Elizabeth Berkley of “Showgirls” fame) passed out from a caffeine pill – and this detail even had Diamond rolling his eyes genuinely at the inane plot twist. Then, Diamond continued, Jesse was found by hunky Zach (Mark-Paul Gosselaar).

Diamond proceeded to turned that scene into a porno scenario. The crowd of now-adult “Saved By the Bell” fans went bonkers. Absolutely bonkers.

Admission was $12, but Diamond made plenty more after the show. Diamond quickly set up a booth in the lobby. He signed autograph photos for $10, but the real moneymaker was posing for Polaroid photos with fans for another $10. When the line finally dwindled, his assistant held a considerable stack of cash.

And Screech lives on.

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