Next story: Lacemaking exhibit at Castellani Art Museum
by Cory Perla
Standup Artie Lange talks about the dark recesses of his comedy
For comedian Artie Lange, heartbreak and catastrophe go in, and humor comes out. It’s really that simple for the 44-year-old best-selling author, comedian, radio show host, and actor. Lange has learned to take the pain of addiction and depression and turn it inside out. He hasn’t had the easiest life, as anyone who has read his New York Times best-selling book Too Fat to Fish has learned, but Lange has persevered if only to make people laugh, and work out his problems on stage.
Lange and his radio show partner Nick DiPaolo will perform comedy on Saturday, September 1, at the Seneca Niagara Events Center in Niagara Falls.
Artvoice: When you sit down to an interview like this are you ready to answer anything thrown at you or are you just sitting there thinking "For the love of god, don't let them ask me about drug addiction or suicide"?
Artie Lange: I’m ready for anything. Whatever you want to talk about brother.
AV: I think most of your fans know by now that you attempted suicide a couple of years ago. You spent some time in a psychiatric ward for a while. Obviously those were some dark times. Were you thinking about comedy at all while you were going through that?
AL: Was I thinking about comedy?
AV: Yeah, when you were sitting in the psyche ward did you ever think about comedy or your career?
AV: Oh well yeah, when I was in the psyche ward, sure. Everything that I had ever done that was normal was on my mind. I was wondering if I would ever do any of it again. It’s funny because no matter how dark it gets you never stop being a comedian. Stuff would happen to me on the ward and I would go “God this would be a great story to tell on Letterman or a funny thing to put in my stand-up act.” So sure, you never stop thinking about it, but at that point I didn’t know what was reality or what wasn’t. I thought maybe I did die and I’m in fuckin’ hell, because that place was disgusting. The biggest thing in my mind was how the fuck do I get out of here?
AV: What popped you back into reality?
AL: Time, really. Everyone who I talked to who was clean or in some sort of program told me that everything that I was thinking at that point, I couldn’t really count as being real because of how warped my mind was from drugs, specifically heroin. They said the longer that you’re off that shit, every single day that you’re off it you’ll start to think clearer. You’ll start to think normal; you’ll come back to the real world. You’ll realize that there is a chance that you could get back into life and maybe be as good or better than you were. That’s what it was for me, being literally locked down in a facility where I couldn’t take drugs. It took time; it took almost a year and a half of not being on dope to get back to normal. Time is what happened.
AV: When did you realize you were funny?
AL: When I was really young. I grew up in an area that had a lot of tough kids. I realized I could get out of fights with someone who I knew could kick my ass by being funny. I can remember there was this black chick, Tanya Davis, and she was big. In the fourth grade she was big and she broke my friend Joey’s nose in a fight. Joey was a tough kid but she punched like Muhammad Ali. She came over with a right hand. I tried to break up the fight but then she wanted to fight me so I started doing a Howard Cosell impersonation, like I was the announcer of the fight or something, and I made everybody laugh. That sorta freaked her out a little bit and she didn’t know what to do, so she didn’t break my nose. That’s when I first learned I was funny.
AV: As a stand-up comedian you're essentially talking to yourself on stage. You have audience reaction but there is no conversation really, at least hopefully not, unless someone is heckling you. As a radio personality it's all about having an interesting or funny conversation. Which do you prefer?
AL: That’s a hard question, radio or stand-up. I love stand-up comedy but when stand-up comedy goes well—and by that I mean not just killing. I’m talking about when you’re killing the material that you actually like and respect and it’s not just something you know people will laugh at so you can get out of there and get a check. When that’s happening, it’s fantastic. But you know, I never really did radio until I sat in on Howard (Stern’s) show. I’ll never forget what Howard said to me after that first show. I knew I did really well because everyone was laughing, and Howard looked at me and said “it’s fun, isn’t it?” and I said “my God, yeah.” Just sitting in front of that microphone and just goofing around and it’s going out to all of these people live. It’s amazing. I got to learn how to do this radio stuff by literally sitting four feet from the best guy who has ever done it for nine years. Talk about a training school for radio. I would see the way he would handle callers or guests, and I’d see the way he’d change and what he would do. There is nothing about radio that I don’t like. If I could only do one thing for the rest of my life, it would be a radio show.
AV: Is radio more spontaneous?
AL: Oh God yeah. Absolutely. Stand-up is supposed to seem spontaneous, but normally it’s an act you’ve been doing forever on stage. It’s a comic’s job to make it seem like he’s thinking of all of this stuff off the top of his head. Even heckler responses are something you’ve done a million times. But radio is. It has to be spontaneous.
AV: Tell me about one of your favorite moments on the Nick and Artie show.
AL: A woman called up, it was probably a woman doing a character because nobody could be this crazy, or maybe she was just crazy, who knows. But she said that if you kill and boil a cat, and eat its bones you would become invisible.
AV: Was she a witch?
AL: She claimed to be a witch, yeah. She had a really funny voice, I think her name was Jen and she was from Naples, Florida. She kept saying that she was stalking me and she wanted to kill me.
AV: When you talk to someone like that are you thinking like “Yes, this is the caller I’ve been waiting for” or are you just a little freaked out?
AL: No, with this person I wasn’t freaked out at all. I could tell she was either too crazy to pull it off or it was a joke. She had a real entertaining voice and I wanted to bang her by the end. But anyways, I tell her that I want to try the cat thing and Nick makes a really funny cat sound—he can make a sound almost like you’re choking a cat. So he started doing it into the mic and she started almost having an orgasm and she’s screaming “kill that thing, kill that thing!” That’s the hardest I’ve ever laughed.
AV: You appeared on Louie this month as a Chemical Truck Driver. I see a very, very subtly ironic message there, you being a Chemical Truck Driver. How was it working with Louie CK?
AL: I’ve known Louie for a long, long time, from the comedy scene or whatever you want to call it. He would always tell me he wanted to do something with me on the show, and I would always tell him that I’d love to do the show. He called me probably about 12 hours before he wanted to shoot the thing and told me “Tomorrow I’ve got this thing you can do, it’s a small thing but I think it’ll be funny. Would you want to do it on the show?” and I said “Heck yeah, whatever you need.” So he gave me his address in the East Village—it’s funny because we didn’t go through an agent or anything, he just called me on the phone—so I stopped by and he told me what to do and it was hilarious. Louie has the perfect combination to become successful. First of all he’s brilliant, second of all he’s really funny, and third of all he does everything. He’s got a work ethic like a Mexican who comes here illegally and wants to stay here. I’ve never seen anything like it. He holds the camera, he directs the stuff, he writes it, and then he acts in it. I’m going “My god I just don’t have the energy.” It was impressive to see a buddy of mine doing all of that. He’s a true sort of auteur, and he’s got a deal with FX—what they call the “Woody Allen” deal—where he just tells them; “look, give me money for a season of shows and you can’t give me any notes, no one from FX can come from the set, and at the end of the year I’ll give you 13 episodes and you can’t change anything.” That’s impressive to see. I’m very, very happy for him.
AV: I have some friends who won't watch Louie because they say it's too depressing, which is funny because it's a comedy show...
AL: [Interrupts] Well it is and it isn’t. I understand where they’re coming from but I mean look, those friends sound like pussies. They gotta man up and just watch it. Here is how I describe a Louie episode: It’s like an Edgar Allen Poe short story. Louie is great because he knows how people behave. Even in a Woody Allen movie you’re going to get unbelievably funny stuff or you’re going to get depressed because he’s a realist. This is how people act. People act in ways that are very, very disappointing most of the time. Louie keeps it real like that in every episode and also gets hilarious comedy out of the way people really act. The episodes have both, so I don’t think you can call it a comedy show. It’s just its own thing. If you read Edgar Allen Poe, some of the stuff is so dark it’s funny, but ultimately it’s depressing. That’s what I think it’s like. If those buddies of yours appreciate art it’s a chance to actually see it happening on TV. They’re not going to see it on Two and a Half Men.
AV: I feel like you kind of walk that same line, taking something that is very depressing and working it into your comedy. Is that a tough thing to do?
AL: Yeah, sort of. I’ve dated girls who have told me that when they watch my act and I’m telling a story about, you know, shitting my pants on heroin or drunk driving—and even though everybody laughs—they wish that I could do something more like Jerry Seinfeld. For the people that love me it could be depressing to hear because maybe they were there the night that that happened and it was anything but funny. It’s like being in the psyche ward. I have jokes in my act about being in rehab and being in a psyche ward. I do an impression of a counselor I had in rehab in Miami. While it was happening it was anything but funny, but people laugh at it during my set and the people that are close to me are thinking “well shit, I wish it was that funny when it was happening.” It depresses them but I’d rather tell my tale in a funny way and maybe people will get something out of it.
AV: Looking at the way your life has gone, it seems like there is nothing you could do but be a comedian.
AL: [Laughs] I’m not going to be on the police force. Now a days, with background checks—you’re right man—with my background, forget it. I can’t even vote for Christ’s sake. You’re right when I think about it. I better make this work.
AV: Tell me about the best thing you've ever done in your life, and the worst thing you've ever done.
AL: Well the worst thing I’ve ever done in my life was stabbing myself in the stomach that morning because I knew that the only two people who could have found me were my mother and sister. I wasn’t thinking like that, I wasn’t rational, but in the back of my head I had to know that. They did find me and I’ll never get over that guilt. Thank god they seem better and everything seems fine but the guilt of that will never fully leave my body, so that’s a no brainer. The best thing I’ve ever done I think was going to do stand-up in Afghanistan for those guys. I always said I wanted to do it and my agent kind of called my bluff and told me there was an opportunity to do that. I said to myself “Wow, I can’t pussy out here. I gotta do this.” I realized I was going into a war zone and my mother was worried but I was with Marines and everything. Guys would come back from missions doing God-knows-what, and they’d sit down in all of their gear, in that heat, and they would just be like “Ok make me laugh, dance like a monkey or something.” I would have done anything at that point, dance around like a monkey or whatever. How grateful they were. So if I had to pick one thing, it would probably be that and I would do it again if I could. I just hope we get all of those guys the fuck out of there soon.
AV: Can you tell me a little bit about your new book, Crash and Burn?
AL: It picks up where Too Fat To Fish left off. It’s about what happened to me. My stand-up act has a quick snippet, a comedic version, of some of the stuff that happened. Crash and Burn is what happened in long form: What I was going through and the darker side of the rehab and the psyche ward, and what was going through my head the morning I stabbed myself. What I was thinking afterwards. What it was like waking up after that. It’s got a lot of comedy in it that comes from that, but it’s the real, full story, which has a lot of darkness in it. The title comes from when I was working at a port as a longshoreman. I was deciding whether or not I should quit the port and become a comedian. I was sitting at the bar with my buddy’s older brother, Chucky, and he goes “fuck it man, go for the good life. If you got talent just go do it. If you crash and burn at least you tried. You’ll feel better if you crash and burn than if you never tried.” So every time I’d see him after that he’d shout “crash and burn!”blog comments powered by Disqus
Issue Navigation> Issue Index > v11n35 (Week of Thursday, August 30) > Crazy Funny
This Week's Issue • Artvoice Daily • Artvoice TV • Events Calendar • Classifieds