2003 flashback: Five questions with Dustin Diamond (Screech from “Saved by the Bell”)

FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2011 file photo, Dustin Diamond attends the SYFY premiere of "Mega Python vs. Gatoroid" at The Ziegfeld Theater in New York. Diamond died Monday after a three-week fight with carcinoma, according to his representative. He was 44. Diamond, best known for playing Screech on the hit ’90s sitcom "Saved by the Bell," was hospitalized last month in Florida and his team disclosed later he had cancer. (AP Photo/Peter Kramer, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2011 file photo, Dustin Diamond attends the SYFY premiere of "Mega Python vs. Gatoroid" at The Ziegfeld Theater in New York. Diamond died Monday after a three-week fight with carcinoma, according to his representative. He was 44. Diamond, best known for playing Screech on the hit ’90s sitcom "Saved by the Bell," was hospitalized last month in Florida and his team disclosed later he had cancer. (AP Photo/Peter Kramer, File)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Dustin Diamond, who played the iconic Screech character in the sturdy “Saved by the Bell” TV series and its subsequent spinoffs, died Monday of lung cancer. I interviewed Diamond 18 years ago for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution when he was trying to do stand-up comedy. He appeared at the now defunct Funny Farm comedy club in Roswell.

Here is that story, which ran on June 5, 2003.

DUSTIN DIAMOND SPENT A DECADE playing “Screech,” the lovable nerd on “Saved by the Bell.” Now 26, he’s trying to define himself beyond that character, crisscrossing the country with a stand-up act. He performs at the Funny Farm this Friday and Saturday.

AJC: So what should we expect from your stand-up act?

Diamond: It’s a Dustin Diamond show, not a Screech show. I pepper in references to the show here and there, but this isn’t a “Saved by the Bell” trip down memory lane. I do potty humor. I do bedroom humor. I swear a little bit. I have a dark sense of humor. Not everybody expects that.

AJC: A lot of child actors have had trouble transitioning into adulthood. What’s your worst vice since you left “Saved by the Bell?”

Diamond: I’m a video game nut and a shopaholic. Like I just bought the “Enter the Matrix” video game in every format possible: PlayStation 2, GameCube, XBox and PC. It’s almost wired that when I go out, I have to come back with a bag full of stuff.

AJC: If Gilligan, Urkel and Screech were in a wrestling match, who would win?

Diamond: If we were all in character, definitely not Urkel. Screech would do OK. It would be pretty stupid to watch though.

AJC: How did things work out with you and that bodybuilder from the show “Star Dates” [in which celebrities supposedly date regular people on camera]?

Diamond: They were actresses. The audience was supposed to believe it was real. They gave me $10,000 for three hours a day. I just had to smile and look like I was interested. Why not? What they didn’t show on camera was me calling my girlfriend every 20 minutes telling her everything was cool.

AJC: Any regrets about doing “Celebrity Boxing 2” and beating up Ron “Horshack” Palillo, who’s 20 years older than you?

Diamond: I didn’t want to do that. I think reality shows are degrading. But I write sitcoms for Fox and wanted to work with them. So I gave them a huge offer: $750,000 and two appearances on “Mad TV.” They actually faxed over a contract for $750,000. I’d punch my grandma for that much money.” [A Fox spokesman said he can’t confirm how much Diamond got, but added, “I can tell you that’s a preposterous claim.”]

THE 411: 8 and 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. $13.50. Funny Farm Comedy Club (inside StarTime Entertainment), 608 Holcomb Bridge Road, Roswell. 770-817-4242, www.funnyfarmcomedyclub.com

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