You Don't Know (Andy) Dick
On his 20th attempt at sobriety, the comedian has been clean for almost two years. His career is finally starting to get back on track.
Photos by Jamie Lee Curtis Taete
Gropings, genital exposures, grand theft: Andy Dick's litany of offenses to society is long and egregious. Even more remarkable than a storied career of comic hilarity that saw him co-star NBC sitcom NewsRadio for five seasons, host his own The Andy Dick Show on MTV, and sashay his way to the seventh round of Dancing with the Stars, is the trail of destruction and bemusement Dick has left in his wake, fueled by alcohol, cocaine, and an utter inability to keep his hands to himself.
Take a deep breath. In 2004, Dick was arrested on suspicion of indecent exposure after allegedly drunkenly mooning the denizens of an LA-area McDonald's. In 2007, he was famously dragged off the set of Jimmy Kimmel Live! after repeatedly fondling potential future first daughter Ivanka Trump. The next year, he was arrested for exposing the breasts of a 17-year-old girl in the parking lot of a Buffalo Wild Wings while "extremely intoxicated." Dick pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery, but was arrested again two years later in Virginia after grabbing the crotch of a bouncer and forcing a kiss on a man at a bar. In 2011, Dick was accused of exposing his genitals while dressed in drag and rubbing his scrotum on an audience member's face during a standup show. In 2014, Dick, on a bicycle, rode up to a man and stole the necklace from his neck. Valued at over $1,000 by the victim, the act constituted grand theft. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Bad behavior, indeed. But the incidents that make it into the police ledger or the tabloids are just the tip of the gropey iceberg. When the cameras are off and the cops aren't around, Dick's behavior has been even worse, and tales of his foibles are passed down around dive bar smoking patios of Los Angeles like folklore. Having a run-in with Andy Dick is something of a rite-of-passage for any Angeleno worth their salt, so much so that he has ascended to urban legend status in the city, like the chupacabra or the ghost of Marilyn Monroe. For a period, Upright Citizens Brigade improv squad ASSSSCAT would ask audience members to raise a hand if they had ever ridden an elephant. They would follow up by asking if anyone had received unwanted sexual advances from Andy Dick. The second group was almost always larger.
"When I would get ahold of one of the recovery centers, they would hang up when they found out it was me."—Andy Dick
Field research corroborated this notion. "He stopped me while I was running with my shirt off," Daniel McCollister, 31, a gardening consultant from Venice told me. "He asked to fuck me. I declined, but I did invite him to see our band live that night. He came. He was wasted, got onstage, showed his scrotum to the crowd, and then came to our afterparty and tried to fuck me and my male friends again."
"He strangled me outside of No Vacancy in Hollywood at 2 AM," says Chris Dodds, a 27-year-old photojournalist. "Shortly afterward, he apologized and came with us to an after-hours club, but he wasn't allowed in because of something that happened the week before."
"I saw him by himself, wasted, sitting in the stairwell at Cinespace," says Michael Allen, a 42-year-old projectionist from Hollywood. "He was sobbing and holding a cage with a bird in it."
Dick's antics have oscillated from uncomfortably amusing to concerning to downright sad with both frequency and velocity. People talk about Dick as if he were a force of nature, a torrential downpour of bad manners with no boundaries. His cartoonish transgressions are so public and often that it's become difficult to separate the human being from the caricature. But somewhere amid the whirlwind of sloppy intrusions is a person clearly not in control of his demons and who, at least in the quiet moments, knows that the situation stopped being funny a long time ago.
At the tail end of 2014, his career on the rocks, all of his bridges burned, and his health failing fast, Dick got sober for what he claims to be the 20th attempt. At the time of writing, almost two years later, it has stuck.
"I had to stop drinking, or I was going to die," Dick tells me from a couch at Soba, the sober-living facility in Malibu he's called home for almost two years. "I could see it very clearly. I was bleeding out of my ass. I was going to die."
"I would always say that I didn't have a problem with drugs and alcohol," he recalls. "But I would drink when I was happy, when I was sad, when I was anxious. Without drugs or alcohol, I was depressed, frustrated, angry. Honestly, it just stopped being fun when I was crawling around on the floor to find the phone, not able to dial because both my hands were shaking. When I would get ahold of one of the recovery centers, they would hang up when they found out it was me. No one wanted to help me because I was unhelpable. Why would they bring me in just to have me die in their bed?"
Even more alarming, Dick's son, Jacob (one of a trio of Dick progeny) had picked up some of his father's bad habits. "He got 5150'd," Dick explains, referring to California's involuntary psychiatric hold and confinement law. "He was going crazy from speed, trying to set things on fire. I was drinking heavily, saying, 'That kid needs help!' Three months into his sobriety, it hit me hard that I'm an asshole. I couldn't even come to terms with what a dick I was. I was obviously the one with the real problem. So I made a deal with him that I would stay in treatment as long as he did. He not only completed treatment, he works at the clinic as a technician. He drives the van around with the crazies in the back. He's kickin' ass!"
Dick says that his reputation was so bad at this point that Soba was the only facility in town that would take him. After the first week, a period of grueling detox, Dick had nowhere else to go, so he just stayed put. "I had exhausted family and friends. No one wanted me. I didn't have anywhere to live, literally, no apartment, no house," he says. "I had spent a good two years couch surfing prior to that. And liking it! It's not a sad, boohoo story. I was loving it, or at least I told myself I was."
One of the couches Dick lived on belonged to Mike Gamms, a 27-year-old comedian who went from being Dick's equally inebriated sidekick to his sobriety mentee. "What most attracted me to Andy at first is that the reputation I had heard about him was all terrible. People told me to stay away from him, that he was bad news, an asshole, that I would get in trouble," Gamms tells me. "My thought was [that] people have said those things about me before, too. I've been in a place in my life where I was doing really destructive behavior and making a lot of bad choices, and I still had friends that believed in me. I figured there had to be more to him than that."
The duo cavorted around Los Angeles, crashing parties, talking their way into music festivals, and, they say, almost getting into a fistfight with Slayer at the VH1 Rock Awards after Dick pilfered the band's magnum bottle of Grey Goose. "We hung out every single day, all day, for like nine months straight. Either I was sleeping on his couch, or he was sleeping on mine, or we just weren't sleeping," says Gamms. This intimacy has afforded him some insight into what makes Dick tick. "Andy's most fun trait and his downfall is that he's absolutely spontaneous. Whatever is in front of him, he'll just do. He's never satisfied. He always wants to do more," Gamms says. "We could have had the most crazy, fun experience ever, and he's already thinking of the next thing. He's addicted to life. And when you're chasing the sun like that, you're gonna get burned a few times."
"I've had multiple guns pulled on me," confirms Dick. "Cocked and ready to shoot, but I've laughed my way out of it and gotten them to laugh. I've been punched in the face a number of times. On two separate occasions, the punch was so hard and so painful and so out of the blue that I shit in my pants. Twice. That means you're getting punched hard. I've fallen over and landed on my head. I can't even count how many times I've pissed myself. I've shit the bed. I shouldn't even really be here. I should be dead."
Dick's notoriety as a loose cannon fed back into his bad behavior. Barflies, fellow wastrels, and casual observers alike would enable his substance abuse, often goading him into volatile situations for the sake of a story. "It's really easy to get in those situations," Dick goes on. "I just get fuckin' drunk. All eyes are on me from drink one to drink 21. They've been snapchatting, tweeting it, videoing it the whole time. And they love it. There would be people who would feed me drugs and alcohol just to rattle the monkey's cage. They were feeding the beast. I'd go to these after-hours where cocaine was everywhere, and everybody wanted to be able to say they'd done cocaine with Andy Dick, so everybody would give me cocaine. I never bought cocaine. Ever!"
"When he's sober, he's a really brilliant, funny dude. But we didn't see much of that."—Molly Hankins
This pattern of enabling Dick's addiction was repeated by the people he surrounded himself with. Molly Hankins was a tenant and neighbor of Dick's for five years, in an eight-unit apartment building in West Hollywood that Dick owned and lived in at the time. "It started out fun, but sometimes it was so sad," Molly says of her time living there. "When he's sober, he's a really brilliant, funny dude. But we didn't see much of that." Surrounded by a posse of enablers comprised of fresh-faced Hollywood neophytes awed by his celebrity and sycophants looking to use his notoriety for self-gain, Dick would party to reckless extremes on a nightly basis. Drink and drugs were requisite, and destruction of property––from bongs to bones to Volkswagen Jettas––was a common occurrence.
In 2008, as a result of financial issues, Dick was forced to sell the property—but his anarchic specter remained. "After Andy took the deal, he kept coming back," says Hankins. "He'd show up at like 7 AM on a Saturday and just lay on the horn for 20 minutes. He'd pee on our doorstep. He'd show up with his kids and make us feed them."
"I would lose my barometer of what was appropriate when I would drink. I wasn't just over the edge, I was dive-bombing into the cesspool of what's not OK," he admits. "I've ruined so many friendships because of it. I've left a wake of dead relationships. Some people won't talk to me ever again. I've missed so many opportunities––I lost all five of my houses and my eight-unit apartment building because of neglect and financial mismanagement from being drunk all the time. I really did lose everything."
The key to Dick's behavior, other than the booze and drugs, of course, is his relentless and compulsive sexual appetite, something he admits goes all the way back to his youth. "I didn't have any parenting. My mom was a secret alcoholic. I always say I was raised by wolves," Dick says of a childhood that saw his family relocate frequently due to his father's Navy postings. "I think I was sexualized very early on. I don't know how it happened. I never saw pictures, no porn, movies. In first grade, I remember lining up all the kids in my neighborhood, bent over on a picnic bench with their pants down. I was playing bongos on their butts."
Dick came out as bisexual (and "try-sexual") on Dr. Drew's Sober House series in 2009. "People are surprised to hear I have a family," he says. "They think I'm gay. I can't help what people think. I really can't. I made my bed, I gotta lay in it, too. I have to fuck in it. And I'll fuck who I want."
This all leads to the greater question: Is Andy Dick redeemable to society? To those who know him well: Mike Gamms, his daughter Meg Dick, and the many aspiring comics he still mentors, the answer is yes. Even Molly Hankins, his former tenant, still refers to Dick as "a genius." But in the eyes of many others, the answer is and will always be no.
"People think I'm just a fuck up who never tried," says Dick. "I deserve it. I really do. That's the sad part. Whatever comes my way, in terms of public humiliation, I brought it upon myself. But that doesn't mean that it doesn't hurt my feelings. I'm constantly battling and struggling and trying to work it out. I'm always trying to be sober or, even when I was drinking, trying to manage it. I'll never overturn people's negative expectations of me in my whole lifetime. Even if I'm sober for 20 years. The job that they hire me for could be the job that I snap on. There's nothing I can do for the rest of my life that's going to give everyone a full-on, reassurance thing.
"I've been the boy who cried wolf––'I'm great now!'––I've been on every major talk show going, 'No no, you don't understand. This time. I'm good. I'm fine! Everybody rest at ease and relax!' and then I'm drunk that night," Dick continues. "Literally, sometimes it would be that night. There's no such thing anymore. I've stopped trying to be that. I'm never going to say that I'm never going to drink again. I might drink again. I have to be honest. I'm so old anyways at this point that if I started drinking and died this year––you know what? So did Prince, so did Michael Jackson, they're dead at my age. All of 'em."
These notes of fatalism belie a deep-seated understanding that Dick knows the gravity of this attempt at sobriety. At 50 years old, it really is now or never. Dick at least tries to get his kicks in healthier ways now. "I get up at 6:30 AM every day and jump in the ocean by myself. There's no one else swimming. It's me and the sharks," he says. "I feel the danger so deeply, I know that I could go that way. When I'm about 50 yards out there, where I can't even hear the waves anymore on the shore, that's when I start giggling. It's a high! I really could die. And that's the way to go. I should have died with drugs, but being eaten by a shark while out at sea would be the best way to go out. The only glitch in that plan is if I don't die, and I'm just missing a leg or an arm. Now, I'm the one-armed fuckin' comic."
Despite the bridges he's burned, Dick's career has begun to show signs of life since getting sober. He's featured in a memorable episode of the Judd Apatow produced Netflix series Love, in which he played a true-to-life version of himself slurring his way around Los Angeles that he will reprise in season two. He also enjoyed a cameo in Zoolander 2 and appearances on Workaholics and 2 Broke Girls. He even teaches an acting class and has taken on an official ambassadorial role for Soba, the sober-living facility he says might be his home for life. "I don't plan on moving out," says Dick. "Every day, I mentally pack my bags. But I'm afraid. I really would be one step closer to drinking if I left. It's best if I don't seriously entertain the thought of leaving."
Dick's also back onstage, taking on gigs at small comedy clubs around LA. Outrageous but intimate, the performances function more like a group psychological excavation of Dick's psyche than a stand-up routine.
"I decided that part of my sobriety has to be going back to my roots of why I really love it, going onstage for no money, doing what I did when I first got to town," he says. "It's therapeutic, it's cathartic. I want to move people or help people. Mostly, I'm so selfish, I want to help myself. I do my best thinking onstage," he pauses, before adding: "Besides, what the fuck else would I do? Start training to be a dentist?"
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