By Chaunce Hayden.
There’s only two things troubled comedian Artie Lange and I have in common… we’re both from New Jersey and we’re both banned from the Howard Stern Show. After that I can’t begin to imagine what Artie is going through. Few people have experienced the sad and tragic lows of drug addiction that Artie has and lived to tell the tale. Hoboken’s second most famous
native has known fame and wealth few could only imagine, but today the former Stern side-kick is barely a shell of his former self. It’s a tale of self hatered and self destruction that should have killed Artie long ago, yet somehow the comic continues to live in his own morbid chamber of horrors.
Many years ago when Artie was at the top of world I sat down with him to talk about his good fortune becoming his boyhood idol Howard Stern’s on-air right hand man. At the time Artie made it no secret to me that he had addiction issues. Little did I or anyone else know that in a few short years Artie would be sitting in a prison cell, his face deformed by drugs and his
career in shatters. Here’s a look back at the Artie we knew and loved… let’s hope he gets well and finds his way down that long road back. We miss you Artie.
Did you really get thrown off of “Mad TV” for using cocaine?
Artie: Yeah, while I was in L.A. I actually got arrested and thrown in jail for possession of coke. Cocaine was a real problem, I take it. Yeah, it was. But I haven’t done coke in almost five years.
How long did you go to jail for?
I was in the L.A. County Jail for about three days, then I went back to Jersey for rehab. But I stopped doing “Mad TV” after that.
What was it about L.A. that caused you to spiral out of control?
I was doing comedy in New York for years. I had never been to L.A. before. The first time I ever went to L.A. was for the
screen test for “Mad TV.” But before I knew it, I was living out there doing the show. Actually, I had already had problems
with booze and coke in New York, and when I got to L.A. I was pretty depressed. Things just escalated. Something had to
happen. Either I was going to get better or just die.
How do you feel today?
Coke isn’t even an issue anymore. It’s just not something I would ever do again. I see coke as a representative of the devil.
But you still drink?
Yeah. I used to drink every day. But now I just drink once a week when I go out
Most people who are in your situation aren’t able to drink socially.
I know. But I was able to kick the drugs and that turned me into a normal human being, to the point where I was able to
have a few drinks on the weekends.
Why are so many brilliant comics also very self-destructive?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s because to be funny you have to have some sort of loser aspect to you. You know what I mean? People love laughing at losers. Look at Joe Piscopo. I thought Piscopo was funny on “Saturday Night Live,” then he broke the cardinal rule of comedy, he got in good shape! Who the hell wants to laugh at a guy in good shape with money? That’s a guy you want to hate! A great example is Richard Pryor. He was the best comic ever because he was such a f—kup, but he was also brilliant about going on stage and being honest about it. His stories about screwing up were amazing. He was like a poet talking about f—king up.
He didn’t have to write an act. All he had to do was live his life for a year and he’d have a new hour of material.
Speaking of self-destructive people, what is it like sitting in Jackie Martling’s chair? Do you feel like you’re under a microscope?
Yeah. But first of all, I think they all appreciate the fact that I’m a huge fan of the show. They can tell that I’ve been listening since I was thirteen. And obviously I was a huge fan of Jackie, too. I loved everything he did. The whole group was just great together. So the first couple of days I felt a lot of pressure, not because I wanted to be hired permanently, I just wanted to be good on the show. But it’s funny because every time I speak it’s supposed to be funny or important to the conversation. So I try to edit out the stupid shit in my head and just say stuff when I think I’ve got something funny to say. So yeah, I did feel pressure, but they all have been so incredibly nice to me for some reason, which is great. I’m just starting to finally feel like part of the family. I love that
it’s working out, it’s been like a f—king dream come true.
Have you ever left the show feeling angry at yourself because of something you said or maybe didn’t say?
Never angry. It’s funny though, the show is four and a half hours long, but I remember every single thing I say, including
the stupid stuff. So there have been days when I thought, “That was a dumb thing to say.” But I’ve never really been really
angry about an entire show. Just individual things I’ve said that I thought sucked.
Is Howard very different than you thought he would be off the air?
The reason the show works so well is because everyone on the show is pretty much how they really are. The guys you hear
on the air are really them. I had an idea that Howard was a good father and a pretty ethical guy who got on the radio and
let it all hang loose like a lot of other great comedians. And that seems to be exactly what he is. He seems to be a good, loyal
guy. I mean he f—ks on you but you can f—k back on him. You can give him shit and he’ll take it. I’ve never seen him act like a
jerk toward anybody there. I was always under the impression that he would be overly nice and respectful toward women and
the guests he has on the show, and he is. When a guest is off the air, no matter what happened he always makes sure that he
thanks them a lot and has a nice conversation with them.
Is there any down side to being a part of the show?
Um … (long pause) It’s funny, I’m obviously still pursuing other things in show business even though this is a great gig, but …
(pause) For example, today I was talking about my audition for a movie that George Clooney is doing, and we all started goofing on him. Hopefully he has a good sense of humor, but if he doesn’t and he hears about it, he just might go “F—k Artie.” The
other thing is I remember the first weekend “The Mummy Returns” opened and Howard said to me, “Artie, you think Brendan Fraser’s an idiot, don’t you?” and I said, “Yeah!” That day my agent said to me, “What are you saying that for!” But I made the decision that it’s way cooler to have fun on the Howard Stern Show than to ever do a movie with Brendan Fraser. So I guess I made the choice in life that I’d rather be on the Howard Stern Show than in the third Mummy movie with Brendan Fraser.
What if, by chance, you do get offered a part in a movie? Will Howard allow you to leave the show for weeks at a
Yeah! It’s a great situation they gave me. If I do get a job that might take a few weeks to do, I can leave and come back.
They’re very cool with it. They made me a deal I couldn’t refuse.
How shocked are you that Jackie Martling would walk away from such a dream job? I don’t know all the details about it. I guess it came down to money. I know first hand now that there’s nothing I would do to screw up this situation. Other comics like Norm MacDonald and David Spade have said to me I got the greatest gig. They’re really happy for me. So being on this side of it, I don’t know what happened to Jackie, but I do know that I wouldn’t do anything to screw it up, that’s for sure.
Both you and Jackie did the Hugh Hefner Friar’s Club Roast recently. Did you happen to talk to Jackie that night?
Yeah, he was real nice to me. He came up to me and gave me a hug and said hi.
Was that an awkward moment for you?
A little bit, yeah. Because the last thing I wanted to express to him was a lack of respect. I’m really a fan of the guy. I just wanted to let him know I’m a fan and that I lucked into the show. It’s funny, people come up to me and say I hear you replaced
Jackie. But I think that’s a term that Howard doesn’t like. I’m not the new Jackie. My function on the show is very different than
what Jackie did. I don’t really write jokes, and Howard is nice enough to let me speak, so I talk more.
A.J. Benza also seemed to have had a similar situation on the show as yours, but blew it when he punched Stuttering John in the face live on the air. Did that incident make you think differently about the show?
Look, that was one of the greatest days in radio! As a fan of the show, I thought A.J. was entertaining on it. Howard definitely liked him too. But they made the right decision, because you have to have such an incredibly thick skin on that f—king show. Everybody catches shit, relentless shit. And that’s what makes the show so great. You can get mad and yell, but you have to try and let it roll off your back, otherwise it’s going to affect you. And if somebody is allowed to actually hit somebody, then you can’t have them back because eventually somebody would end up stabbing somebody!
Have you ever gotten mad enough to hit somebody on the show?
Never. No. My theory from day one was not to piss anybody off until I get to know them. It’s easier to goof on a guy you
know. Although now I’m getting a little more comfortable, but so far I don’t have enough personally invested in the
show to get really mad about something. Although one time a guy called up to say my sister was hot and he started
talking about her on the air and that aggravated me. It was just some guy I met a couple of times who wanted some air
time. But I never got what I would call angry.
With the nationwide fear of contaminated mail, are you at all worried that anthrax could end up making its way
to the Howard Stern Show, and worse yet, on your own hands?
A little bit, yeah. I hope this doesn’t hurt us, but I think the attitude on the show is pretty casual. Look, Howard says it
as a joke, but a lot of people do believe he’s the King of All Media. I mean, he’s from New York and he’s mad. He’s definitely a guy who represents the people, and he said things after the attack like we should get all the terrorists. That alone would make him a target. He’s not just a radio guy. There’s a big difference. So in a lot of ways I think Howard would be a target. And I’ll be honest, a few weeks ago I had a bad fever and I was definitely worried. So the doctors checked me out and gave me some antibiotics. I was really worried about it because, after all, I am working in a high-profile place. In fact, I remember the day Mayor Giuliani came up to the studio to accept a check from Howard for the money he had raised, and I couldn’t help but think, Jesus Christ, talk about a
target! I kept looking for the quickest way out of there! They all seem pretty cool about it, but maybe they shouldn’t be.
Are you finding that some distant friends are warming up to you with the hope of getting on the show?
I’m seeing a little bit of that. Nothing blatant yet. A few comics I know are trying to get me to plug their stuff. And
I have to say, “Look, how am I supposed to mention that?” It clearly has nothing to do with me and I’m just doing
someone a favor. However, I will say that being on the show immediately gives you a rep at a strip club.
That leads me to my next question. Have you found that getting laid is much easier these days?
(Laughs) A couple of times I’ve met girls in bars and I’ve at least gotten a phone number because they know I’m on Stern. But I haven’t done anything as blatant as going into a strip club and throwing the name around. Telling a stripper that you can get them on Howard Stern is like telling a terrorist you can get them a one-on-one meeting with Allah! Stern is like a strippers’ Mecca! That’s like telling an actor you can take them to the Academy Awards! It immediately gives you something to talk about.
Swear you haven’t hooked up with a stripper because of the show?
I swear I haven’t used my powers for evil… yet! But I’m getting weak. That may happen soon.