Many people know him from Mad TV and the Cult Classic film Dirty Work, more people know him as the “fiiiyaa”-breathing third chair on the Howard Stern Show from 2001 – 2009, and, unfortunately, a lot of people know that he made an attempt to take his own life in early January of 2010 after years of drug and alcohol abuse. If the graphic details are important to you, you can Google them. In this interview, as well as onstage, Artie Lange openly discusses going from intensive care to two psych wards, to two rehabs.
He was forced to tackle his problems head on and the comic in him found a lot of humor in a more dark and hopeless situation than most people can imagine. Lange is determined to stay on a clean path. When Artie called me Tuesday, a content clarity could be heard in his voice as he discussed what he learned during his recovery process, and as he fondly remembered his days at the Stern Show.
Artie can be heard talking sports and breaking other kinds of balls Monday through Friday on the Nick and Artie Show, along with friend and comedian Nick DiPaolo, as well as seen performing stand up live around the country most weekends. Saturday, August 11th fans have a chance to see Artie, Nick, Dave Attell, and Jim Norton (the “Anti-Social Network” tour) at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, IN. The Horseshoe Casino has a great venue for comedy and it’s just 20 minutes outside Downtown Chicago. TICKETS
Who were your biggest influences in comedy?
Well of course Howard, Howard Stern. I was listening to him since I was thirteen. He’s probably the biggest one, but John Belushi, Bill Murray, Richard Pryor. Stand up-wise, probably Richard Pryor. He turned tragedy into comedy, that’s something I’ve tried to do my entire career. Those guys are pretty much it. A lot of people, but those are the big ones.
When did you first feel like you made it in show business?
When I first saw my name in a TV Guide crossword puzzle. It was on a plane, I used to read TV Guide all the time, it’s probably obsolete with the internet now. I was on Mad TV… I saw a clue “Lange of Mad TV,” and the word was “Artie.” I got to fill it in, it was the only clue I got in the whole crossword puzzle. I had my friend finish it for me and I framed it. That made me think, “Ah sh*t, I must be on television at least.”
Have you ever used stand up as a type of therapy?
Yes, always. That’s a good question. I use it as therapy big time. I think every comedian does. If you’re able to do stand up, it’s the best way to vent on the planet. You just make believe the audience is some shrink or psychologist you’re yelling at about your problems and hopefully they find them funny. To me, all a comedian is is someone who complains in a funny way.
Most people bitch about stuff, but a lot of people are annoying when they’re complaining. Like Seinfeld is just a guy who bitches about stuff. He just bitches about this, that, and the other thing, but he happens to be hilarious whe he does it. Especially now in my life, I’m using stand up as an absolute modem for therapy, it’s great.
How has what you went through changed your stand up?
It directly changed the material. The last couple years I’ve been in psych wards and rehabs and I have a lot of jokes and stories I do about that in my act. Usually a comic gets a solid hour that he does for a stand up special and by the time you see it he’s been doing that hour on the road for a couple years. And I think that hour, whatever area you’re going through in your life, reflects your outlook on things, and where you’re at emotionally. So it’s different because I have a totally different perspective on the world.
Going through what I did the last couple years, I saw the Abyss. I was looking at the end. I didn’t think I was going to come out of the hole I was in. Now coming out of it, I appreciate a lot more things. I hate certain things more, but I love certain things more. It all comes out in the act. So it affected it quite a bit.
Are you worried about discussing anything onstage that could trigger something?
Yeah everything (laughs). People say what’s a trigger for you? I say when the sun comes up and when it goes down… One of the perspectives I have on life is that triggers are going to be all over the place. I live in New York, I work in New York. I do stand up on the road. I have a house on the Jersey Shore, twenty minutes from Atlantic City.
Triggers are never going anywhere unless I build a cabin in Colorado… It doesn’t matter. I just have to be strong. I have to say I’m not going to let potential triggers let me ruin my life or let me prevent myself from bringing stuff up in stand up. I’ve always worked where nothing is taboo in stand up for me. I just go into it head first.
How did Howard reach out to you after the incident?
By phone… He called me in a psych ward. Right after I came out of intensive care I went into a psych ward and Howard called me a couple times there before he even got me. There’s a direct line into the psych ward that the patients are allowed to pick up at certain hours and the first couple times he tried me, these other crazy patients picked up.
There’s this one crystal meth kid who had bags under his eyes, big Howard fan. He kept talking to me about stuff, and one day he came knocking on my bedroom door there and I opened the door and he goes “Howard’s on the phone,” he was shaking like it was God on the phone. I just imagine Howard having a small talk with this guy. We talked for a good forty-five minutes to an hour. He was very very encouraging and I just said, “I’m thinking about you.” That’s how. It was very nice how he called me in the psych ward, it’s crazy.
Are you able to listen to the show anymore?
Sure. In the beginning it was kind of hard, I just listened the other day. Howard loved his dog so much, I almost considered calling him as if a person in his life had died to console him, but I was like, “I don’t know, that’s a little goofy.” But listening to him talk about Bianca dying… I just remember when they got that dog, how much they loved that dog, and I felt bad for him and Beth when I heard about it. I heard about it on the show like other fans would. So no, I try to listen when I can, but my hours are weird now. I’m not the kind of guy that downloads shit or listens to repeats, but whenever I hear it, it’s always funny.
Was the hardest part of what you went through being in the public eye?
It was the hardest and the easiest. When it first happened I thought I disappointed my family, my friends, and that included my fans at Stern. Howard created a family-like atmosphere there, and God, radio fans… I’ve been lucky enough to work in TV, movies, stand up, writing a book, radio fans are more intense and more intimate than any kind of fans you’ll have. For ten years I drove to work with them every morning. So in the beginning I felt like I let them down and it was hard. But when I was coming out of it, when I started to surface and go out in public, it was like I had this entire extended family that always told me how much they missed me and it made me feel good, it was a good thing.
Still now at gigs when I go to a different city I haven’t been to since it happened… we were in Philadelphia, the Boston area recently, the New York area, after the show we do this meet and great, people hug me as if they know me, like they’re my cousins, “We’re so happy you’re alive, we miss you.” It’s such an outpouring of love you can’t even make a joke about it. The most cynical person in the world can’t be weird about it, it’s just so nice. So it’s good and bad, but the good outweighs the bad.
In Artie’s Book, Too Fat to Fish, it seemed some of Artie’s drug and alcohol problems could have stemmed from an accident involving his father. Artie skipped going to work with his dad one day when he was 18 years old, and his father took a bad fall from a ladder. The injury left him a quadriplegic and after living in pain for four years, he passed away due to complications from the injury. Artie blamed himself for not being there to hold the ladder.
Were you able to stop blaming yourself for what happened to your dad?
My father fell off a ladder and it was my job to hold the ladder when I went to work with him. I was hung over and blew off going to work with him and he fell off the ladder. He never blamed me for it, obviously. But in my head it was very hard to get over and instead of dealing with it, I self-medicated and stayed high and drunk.
I don’t blame everything on that, I used it as an excuse for a long time. I think I got over that years ago but I used it as an excuse for years after because people give you sympathy and stay away from you, “Look man, you’re not going through what I’m going though,” and I really got over it a long time ago. I basically learned to bullsh*t. Stop bullsh*tting people, I’ve been using that excuse, my father falling and the guilt as a crutch for far too long and there’s something deeper to it than that.
What was your first set back like?
I went to the Comedy Cellar. It was in the heart of my bad depression, it was like in December of 2010. I had come out of two psych wards and two tries in a rehab. I was at home doing nothing and I went to a psychiatrist and he said, “The first thing we have to do is to get you out of bed.” I said “Well how are you going to do that?” He said “Well, we’re going to give you this stuff (a pill) but if you google the sh*t it’s a methamphetamine, just like Aderoll, it’s what they give these poor teenagers now to get them hooked on speed.
So I take this medication one night and I feel f**king great, go figure. I’m like, “I’m doing a set.” So I call up the Cellar, they let me come down, I did 15 minutes and I kill. I have all these stories with psych wards and they all work great and I saw some friends there. Dave Attell had called in for his availability and they put me on with Dave, I talked to him, and I felt good about myself.
I saw Craig Gass there and he took a picture with me and put it up on Twitter and somebody called page six and it was all over page six that I had come back. They said nice stuff, that the set was funny. That was good and bad too, that attention. It was great that they cared, but I was like the lead story, it would be better to do this quietly. It was right around then that my agent called me and told me that Giraldo had died. It was how he died. At the Hilton there, the Stress Factory where I had been before, some crazy woman and pills and it really hit home because the Cellar too was always a place where I saw Greg. The next time I went after he died I sat in a chair, and he’d always sit across from me for some reason in the same seat and we’d talk, and I started thinking to myself, “Giraldo’s not on the road, he’s not in Milwaukee, he’s not in Kansas City, he’s dead. He’ll never be here again. It’s not like he’s on the road and we’ll see him.” The finality of death hit me like crazy. It was hard. It was hard. I write about Greg a little bit in my next book.
What’s something you’ve carried with you from your recovery process?
The biggest thing is changing the people in your life, even the people who mean to be good but aren’t, because they don’t understand what you’re going through and they never will. And it could be a girl, or a friend who will outright just drink in front of you and you explain to them, “Look I’m not preaching to you, you do what you gotta do, I’m envious you’re able to do that and have a normal life, for some reason I’m not, so either you can’t do it, or I can’t be around you and that’s just how it is.”
I’m not saying it’s every situation, but some situations it’s hard for you and you need some support around you, like, “I’ll have a club soda with you and hang out.” Some people can’t do that and I respect that, but they have to respect I can’t be around them. Those are hard decisions to make but I had to make them. A big part of my living is stand up. I work at casinos and halls and places that sell booze, theaters that sell booze, every comedy club lives on booze, so you’re going to be around it, but it’s nice to have maybe a couple of real close people who even though there’s still drinks around you say, “Hey man, I’m with you, let’s just have a cigarette and a water… or something.”
What’s your favorite moment from the Stern Show?
Okay, the “Biggest Hemorrhoid Contest” right… This guy, the guy that ended up winning, bent over and opened his a** cheeks and he had an alien in his a**. I’ve never seen anything like it. They had a real doctor there checking him to make sure they weren’t fake.
The guy had like a red, big air balloon that came out of his a** and when he bent over Howard looked at me laughing and almost throwing up because he had to turn his head, and I looked at Howard and said, “Howard, what are we doing?” He Looked at me and said, “I don’t know.” Then I said, “Well if you don’t know then we’re all in trouble.” (laughs hard) To me that sums up the show, it’s just third grade humor at its finest and sometimes even we were like, “What the hell are we doing?” It was always just nothing but fun.
Who’s your favorite Wack Packer?
You gotta give it to Beetlejuice. That’s tough, Jeff the Drunk has a dear place in my heart. The most grotesque is High Pitch Eric, I just don’t know what he is. Jeff the Drunk is a close second, Crazy Alice I love. Eric the Midget obviously… the Sinatra is Beetlejuice.
Where did you and Norm (MacDonald) first meet?
At the audition for Dirty Work. I got off of Mad TV, another time in my life where I screwed up my life, I got thrown off of Mad TV in early 97 for getting arrested for possession of coke and like five months later I started doing stand up again. I was ready to start driving a cab, then I got a call from my manager and he said, “Hey, Norm MacDonald has a movie it’s like a buddy comedy. He wants to audition you to be the other guy. Saw you on Mad TV and thought you’d be good for it…” I was like, “Really?” I was a big fan of Norm. I never met him.
I flew out to audition, then that’s when I met him, at the screen test for Dirty Work. It was like I knew him forever. Norm likes people who have an edge. We shot dirty work in Toronto, I went up there for two months, and the first day that we worked together was a rehearsal day and that night before the first rehearsals Norm said, “Hey, man you want to get dinner and shoot some pool at this pool hall on Young Stree in Toronto?” I said “Yeah.” I’m a pretty good pool shooter. I used to make money at it a little bit.
I won two thousand dollars off of Norm in Nine Ball the night before. So we started gambling and it got crazy. I told my agent. He said, “He can fire you! Let him win! Let him win!” But Norm is an honorable guy. He gave me two grand in Canadian money, which to me was like Monopoly money, it was meaningless. I spent it at the first strip club we went to, but he didn’t rip me off. Norm and I got to be friendly quick.
What’s your favorite Norm story?
A review came out in one of the papers of Dirty Work and the review of my performance said “Artie Lange has all the charm of a date rapist,” and my mother read it and she almost started crying, like the guy was calling me a date rapist. Norm said, “Put your mom on the phone, I’ll cheer her up.” I put Norm on the other line and Norm said, “Mrs. Lange, a date rapist has to have way more charm than a regular rapist. A date rapist has to get a date.” Then my mother started crying harder. I said, “Norm, why don’t you just hang up.” That’s Norm’s way of consoling. Just a brilliant comedic look at that situation.
What’s behind your great chemistry with Nick on the show?
We’re kindred spirits, man. He’s like a long lost brother, he’s the Boston version of me. I’m not a political guy, Nick is, but my belief is probably more to the right than anything, so I like joking about it that way. Nick and I have comedy based on hating political correctness. The mortal enemy of comedy is politcal correctness and sensitivity. Nick and I are like soldiers in that war. We’re both kind of like outlaws.
It’s hard for Nick to ever compromise what he thinks and I really respect that. He won’t meet show business halfway, he’s just going to keep thinking the way he thinks and do comedy that way. In the age of apologizing for everything, we just look at… comedians are trying to make people laugh, so you have to give us a little leeway, it’s what we do. If we say twenty things and one of them is offensive you can’t make us apologize for it. Everyone has to go back to having a sense of humor and Nick and I operate on that. That’s why I think we like each other so much.
With the backlash to things said during comics’ sets such as Tracy Morgan’s and Daniel Tosh’s, do you think comics are being held too accountable for their words?
Anyone that gets mad at Tosh and Tracy for what they said, and I’m not defending them for what they said, what they said is harsh, but I’d be a hypocrite to be offended by it because I’ve said stuff probably worse on stage, it just hasn’t been publicized. It used to be when you were in a comedy club in Cincinnati at midnight, you were there all by yourself, it was you and those people. You said whatever you had to to get a laugh and you got a check.
Now with Twitter, and phones and cameras, every motherf**ker around you has a camera and a video camera and a picture album on them, it’s crazy. Now it takes one jerkoff on Twitter to start a thing. All of a sudden you’re trying to defend yourself, people are trying to get you to apologize, you might lose your job. It’s so ridiculous, there’s gotta be a revolution soon. There’s not any other way.
Mel Gibson’s phone call to that Russian broad, I don’t defend what he said, but I’ve had conversations with broads who’ve gotten me so mad it makes that phone call look like an episode of f**king Glee. It’s just when a woman gets you mad you say whatever you want. You never hit a woman, but I’m all for saying whatever you want, and calling them c**ts sometimes washes over me like heroin, I love it.
Try stand up for a living if you’re mad at Tracy or Tosh and then see if you don’t get pissed off at a heckler. You’re trying to make a living, you’re trying to entertain the people that paid a lot of money in that room and some a**hole is yelling out over you, you get insanely mad and you lash out at them and the only real weapon you have is your mouth and sometimes it doesn’t come out so right. I defend and support Tosh and Tracy, obviously. Big time, any comic that doesn’t is a pussy.
Some critics of Alternative Comedy have called it “safe.” Do you feel it’s a safe form of comedy?
No form of comedy is a safe form of comedy. When you get up there and try to make people laugh on any level it’s dangerous, but Alternative Comics take a lot of hits from comics like me who are maybe more traditional, but what’s funny is funny. I have nothing against Alternative Comedy, I have nothing against guys who tell one liners. If it’s funny, it’s funny.
It’s just that some of the people in Alternative Comedy get these attitudes offstage that are so self-rigtheous that you want to strangle them. It’s just like, “Shut the f**k up, nobody cares what you think about the rainforest and nobody cares what you think about my act and that I sound mean. If I sound mean go f**k yourself.” Don’t critique me, I won’t critiuqe you. But if they can get onstage and be funny then I respect it.
They asked Eddie Murphy once, “Is anything offensive to you?” He said, “If something is funny it’s not offensive.” If it makes you laugh it can’t be offensive because it’s funny. In the early 60s the Republicans were really uptight people, so George Carlin and Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor would f**k with them and it would make you laugh, and the liberals had a great sense of humor. Now the direct opposite is true, these ultra-liberal f**ks who might be in Alternative Comedy have no sense of humor, they’re completely uptight about political sh*t, and the Republicans seem to have a sense of humor so it’s fun to f**k with the liberals.
A comic will f**k with anybody who can’t take a ball breaking. Like a playground, you tease them more. Now it’s more fun to f**k with liberals because they’re more uptight and I think Alternative Comics fall into that category. If somebody calls themself an “Alternative Comic” that’s fine, to me if you’re funny, you’re funny, call yourself whatever you want, I don’t care.
Can the White Sox go far in the postseason this year?
Baseball is weird this year. The Yanks are insanely good, they just got Ichiro. Jeter has been in the league eighteen years, he’s made the playoffs seventeen. It’s just boring as a Yankee fan, the season starts October first. I can’t get psyched for a Yankee / Oriole game in June, I don’t care.
But the White Sox are one of those teams that could surprise people. Like how Detroit ousted the Yankees in the first round last year, and the Yanks could choke again, and they will as long as A Rod’s in the line up… I see the White Sox as one of those teams that could be surprisingly good in the postseason, so I like their chances. They’re as good as anybody is in the postseason, that’s for sure.
How bad are the Cubs?
They’re Theo Epstein bad. What he did in Boston I guess was great, but you don’t give a guy that doesn’t suit up twenty-five million dollars. You just don’t do it. The guy has to at least wear cleats if you’re going to give him that kind of money. I think that was a mistake. You need the players. I think the best thing about the Cubs’ season is Ron Santo’s going into the Hall of Fame. But I love games at Wrigley. When we go out there for the gig, I’m going to go see a game at Wrigley.
When can we expect the second book? and what will it cover?
Almost positive it’s coming out in November. It’s called Crash and Burn, Joe Buck wrote the forward for it. It’s a real honest account of the last few years of what happened to me and what I went through. Some things that happened before that, that might have lead up to it and relate to it, and it’s a very honest look at what happened to me. Which is kind of extraordinary. I was real f**ked up and I lived to tell about it, so that’s what it is.
Follow Artie on Twitter @ArtieQuitter
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