It seems almost immediately after ending his runs of the hit tween 90s sitcom Saved By The Bell and two follow-up series, Dustin Diamond has been a wealth of controversy in the news. Most recently, his 2009 tell-all book Behind the Bell was adapted into the Lifetime movie The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story which furthered his infamy in the eyes of fans of the popular show. From TV to movies to books to comedy to reality television, Dustin has ridden the series almost everywhere. And now, he’s taking it to Broadway! Well off-Broadway that is. Dustin is now starring as himself in Bayside The Musical, which is “the unauthorized musical parody of TV’s Saved By The Bell.” Currently running at Theatre 80 in New York City. We recently spoke with Diamond after his opening night performance to get the scoop on why he wanted to be a part of the musical, why Saved By The Bell has stood the test of time all these years, and musicals vs stand-up.
How did you get involved in Bayside The Musical?
Tobly McSmith [half of the duo Bob and Tobly McSmith] wrote the show and created it. They had been doing it for a while, and I heard about it through my agent and manager. My manager actually lives in New York, so Tobly had contacted him and he ran it by me. I said I’d love to see the show, so I came down and watched it, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was asked to be a part of the cast; the first time I came in, I kind of just slipped in. I wasn’t written for. The next time I came back, though, they decided to incorporate me, and the show was rewritten. I couldn’t be more flattered.
Did you give any advice or tips to the cast about their characters?
Everybody does when you’re working with people every day on performing. You have ideas for things, you get ideas from other people, and you hone and craft your moments with people. I’ve probably gained more than I’ve given.
It seems like there’s so much love for this show, from the cast perspective. Where do you think that comes from?
This is part of an era, a generation, the 90s. It’s captured in this, and it parodies itself very well. Being able to sit back and laugh at yourself and have the audience laugh even louder and enjoy that…there’s no way you could feel bad during any of it.
Compare the rush of stand-up to a show like this.
Stand-up is totally different than theater. It’s its own beast. You don’t have a supporting cast, music, lights, or sets; you just have you and your jokes, and you live and die by them. Theater and any kind of TV or music performance where you can actually work with a script and practice and hone things out, it’s just a different experience. The rush of a live audience overall, though, is what keeps us coming back. I can’t imagine doing a TV show without an audience; it just wouldn’t be the same. We had a live audience for 260 episodes, with about 400 people every night.
You’ve probably heard this question a million times, but why do you think Saved by the Bell hasn’t died after all these years?
Luck, really. We were the first live action Saturday morning sitcom ever, so we were competing against Bugs Bunny, The Smurfs, and things like that. I grew up with cartoons and we kind of replaced Saturday morning cartoons. A part of me is nostalgic about it and a part of me is against it, but it’s nice to know that we were the flagship for that front. We were the tip of the spear; all the other things that came down after that were similar productions. There was Malibu CA, City Guys, California Dreams, and maybe two or three others that I don’t keep track of. They’re all part of the same production, so we started something.
From the voice of Dustin Diamond, explain the show to fans who want to come see it.
I think you’d already have to be a fan. People are going to come down because they know what it is. If they don’t, friends are going to tell them, “Hey, you got to check this out, let’s get you caught up to speed with Netflix or what have you.” Then they’ll bring them down and they’ll get the jokes. There are a lot of inside jokes, but also some performances that you don’t need to know the inside stuff for. But no one comes down alone, people come down with friends. And our target demographic is so wide, and it always has been. It’s 18 to 80, really. I’ve had people that weren’t even born when the show was on ask me for my autograph. They’re 20 years too late, and they’re still a big fan of it! I think we’re still on 16 times a week in 106 countries. It’s pretty beefy.
What do you have upcoming that fans can check out besides this?
I’m doing stand-up all the time, obviously. It’s weird to not be doing stand-up on the weekends here in the city. I’m going to be getting up around the city. It’s like working out at the gym: if you take two or three weeks or a month off, you can’t take a month off and then run in a marathon. You can’t do it. Stand-up is weird because the only way to get better is to keep doing it. You can’t practice in front of your friends, in your room, or backstage.
I’d say that and a FIAT commercial is what I have upcoming. I don’t know when it’s going to air. We haven’t shot it yet. But they can look out for me on that. Flip channels. Maybe I’ll be on in the back of a cab somewhere.
We’d like to thank Dustin Diamond for taking a few minutes to speak to us. You can catch Dustin live in National Lampoon’s Bayside The Musical which is currently running at Theatre 80 in NYC. Get tickets now!