Although this column usually devotes itself to previewing coming shows, the May 12 edition of Saturday Night Live featuring Andrew Dice Clay as host and the hubbub surrounding it is too interesting to let pass without comment.
In the heydays of Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, skeptics would sneer, ''Yeah, but can they be funny if you take away their four-letter words?'' Supporters of these taboo-busting comedians would say, ''Of course they can.'' And indeed, many times Bruce and Pryor ''worked clean'' and still convulsed audiences with laughter.
But as far as Andrew Dice Clay is concerned, 1990's most argued-about comic breaks that tradition: Unlike Bruce and Pryor, Clay isn't worth arguing about; take away his four-letter words and he stands exposed, a dull doofus.
Nothing Clay said on Saturday Night Live was funny, and that's less of a subjective opinion than usual viewers at home surely could hear that Clay elicited fewer laughs than any Saturday Night host since Ron Ziegler.
One sketch, featuring Clay as a dad providing sex education to his son, required NBC to use its five-second-delay option to erase a few explicit words. But without the force of the virulent obscenity that suffuses his stage shows and records, Clay was a numbing cross between Rodney Dangerfield and Fonzie.
The rest of the Saturday Night cast members seemed vaguely stunned, trapped in a publicity stunt they hadn't bargained on. The sketches were thick-witted and clumsily performed even the ones without Clay. Phil Hartman's usually clever ''Anal-Retentive Chef'' segment was stultifying.
Earlier in the week, cast member Nora Dunn had announced she wouldn't perform on the show. Dunn, the only current cast member whose work has consistently evinced a feminist political sensibility, called Clay ''a hatemonger.'' Musical guest Sinead O'Connor also canceled, replaced by two acts, the Spanic Boys and Julee Cruise.
The best thing about the Clay debacle was what it revealed about hip-TV- comedy labor relations. At first, SNL producer Lorne Michaels told reporters he respected Dunn's gesture of protest; as Saturday neared, however, Michaels was saying things like ''(Dunn's) contract was up; this was the end. We're in the process of making some changes. . .''
Agent Bernie Brillstein, who represents Michaels as well as cast members Dennis Miller, Dana Carvey, and Jon Lovitz, told The Washington Post, ''I know what I'd do if I were the producer. (Dunn) would be history.'' Gee, I guess Andrew Dice Clay's attitude toward women isn't that unusual after all.