Artie Lange is a man that needs little introduction. His journey from New Jersey longshoreman to comedy superstar has been well documented by his daily contributions to The Howard Stern Show and in his riveting autobiography, “Too Fat Too Fish.” Whether it is playing the role of the actor, comedian, New York Times Bestselling author, radio sidekick or all around wildman, there are few trails that Artie Lange hasn’t blazed over the past few years. We have all been on the edge of our seats as the roller coaster ride that is the Artie Lange saga has unfolded on The Howard Stern Show and in the press. Even in the darkest chapters of Lange’s story, two things that have never been in question are the way he relates to the common man and the plethora of razor sharp material that he brings along when he hits the stage. Now, this comedic legend is giving back to the fans who paved the way to his super-stardom by giving them something that they have been clamoring for several years — a live comedy album by the name of ‘Jack and Coke’. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with this comedy icon to discuss what drove him to pursue comedy as a career, the milestones he has crossed along the way and what the future holds for one of comedy’s brightest stars. So without further ado, ladies and gentleman, we give you the legendary Mr. Artie Lange…
First off, on behalf of myself and a lot of the people I know, I really have to thank you and the rest of the guys at the Howard Stern Show for keeping a lot of us sane in our cubicles over the years. You guys are amazing.
[laughs] No problem, no problem!
Looking back, what drew you to comedy initially and what made you throw caution to the wind and take a shot at it professionally?
Ya know, it is a story that is common among a lot of comedians. It started with me being a fan of it. I can remember watching ‘The Honeymooners’ and wanting to be funny on TV, then seeing Richard Pryor or George Carlin when I got older. Also, guys like Eddie Murphy, Sam Kinison and watching Howard Stern or Dave Letterman. It was being a fan of it… I think people would say I was a bit of a class clown… and really, it was not having anything else to try. I didn’t go to college. So it was either that or maybe unloading trucks for the rest of my life. That’s a big time way to motivate you! [laughs] The first time I started out in comedy, the first time I ever tried it, I was nineteen, in 1987. I meet people who were in college and had way better options than to keep going to New York to try and be funny every night. They moved on and got better jobs, but with me it was like, even when I bombed in the beginning, a chance at getting into it was way better then anything else that I could have been doing.
Well we all know that it has paid off for you now, but was there a particular moment where you said “Ok, now I’ve made it!” as a standup comic?
Hmmmm, the moment that I felt like I made it? I had done standup before the Stern Show and I had become a regular at clubs and stuff like that. There are plateaus when you do standup comedy. When you first become a regular at a club and they give you a spot, that is cool, but I wouldn’t say it got through to me then. “Making it” is such a strong term. You see, when I got on the Stern Show, I knew I was going to be able to get a bigger audience but I also knew that I would be under the microscope more, so I wanted my work to be better. When I put out my first DVD, “It’s The Whiskey Talking,” I worked really hard on that material, a major distributor put it out, people bought it and seemed to like it, I said “That’s makin’ it, I guess!”
You just released your first live comedy CD, “Jack and Coke,” which is comprised of much of your material from the last 4 years on the road, what was that like to put together for you?
It was difficult. Ya know, once ya put something out, you sorta blow the material. It’s not like music where you can keep singing the songs and stuff, ya know? People have to hear something different in comedy. I played Carnegie Hall in 2006 for the New York Comedy Festival and I did my old act which was a lot of “It’s The Whisky Talking” and sorta buried it there. Because I had played Carnegie Hall and was on the Stern Show, I was able to be playing theaters and making a lot more money. So, money motivated the writing process a little bit and I started comprising some new stuff that I had been thinking about and developing it. I started at little clubs and went to theaters and between three and four years of touring with it, it finally got tight enough that I said “Ok, I am ready to do another DVD type thing!” So it was a long process motivated by time and money, ya know? I needed a new act to tour with if I was going to tour and touring meant way more money after Carnegie Hall then I was used to, ya know?
Definitely. What is the biggest challenge for you as a stand-up comic?
The biggest challenge? Just consistency. Ya know, it’s almost like baseball players. Baseball is a long season and you can go 4 for 4 in a game and you want to try to avoid a slump and stuff like that. In baseball it is expected that you might go into a little slump but with comedy, if you go from city to city, every show has to be good. Of course, there are better shows than others but there are times on the road that I wish I had taped a particular set because it was great. There are a lot of factors, you could be tired or it’s a crazy crowd that is more rowdy and you might do a show that wasn’t as good as the last one. Then you are like “Fuck! I know how to do this, I know how it works! Every show should be good!” Consistency is the biggest challenge, consistently doing it well and putting on a good show.
You have said on the air that you are taking a break from the road in 2010 after your upcoming gigs. Did you have any reservations about taking time off or making that decision?
No, not at all because I am really beat and anyone that knows me knows that I have had some problems in the past with some uhh… substance abuse here and there. [laughs] Where that flares up a lot is on the road. Now that this stuff is on tape and out there, I felt like it is time to take a break. I need to write a new act anyway and I also need to write a new book! I signed a contract to write a second book and I just started that. They want it out by September of 2010, I’m told, so I have another project to do, a book to write. Taking time off now is the perfect time to do it.
There is an hour and a half of material on this thing (Jack & Coke) and I’ll tell ya, it is a lot of stuff that I wanted to purge, all the stuff that I had been doing and felt is ready. Now I start from scratch and write a new act, so I will need time to do that and write the book. I wanted to get Jack & Coke out for the holidays, it is a good thing business-wise, obviously. So again, now is the perfect time to take off, I have no reservations about it.
It is good to hear that your second book is in the works. Do you have a working title for it yet?
Right now, it is tentatively titled “College Is For Losers.”
When you released your first book, “Too Fat To Fish,” did you have any idea that it would soar to the heights that it did?
No. People mentioned things like “Oh maybe because you are on The Howard Stern Show you will get on the New York Times Bestsellers List.” I thought that was amazing. I was like “Oh that’s cool! That would be great if that happens!” But for it to open up at number one, that’s insane! [laughs] No, I didn’t expect that at all. Then the paperback came out, I never thought the first book would do well enough to have a paperback. When the paperback came out I was like “Well, who knows?! Maybe people won’t care.” but that got up to number six and was on the list for a while. Not at all did I expect that, no.
If they made “Too Fat To Fish” into a major motion picture, I was just curious who you would like to see play the role of Artie Lange?
[laughs] It would be funny if I fucked it up so hard that I couldn’t even play me in the movie for at least a little while! [chuckles] But if they were going to cast somebody?
Clearly that kid who played a young Darth Vader, Hayden Christensen. He would be perfect for me. They’d have to put him in a fat suit. Lemme think, hummmm. Someone who looks like me I guess. [laughs] Jack Black looks like me but I don’t think he has any interest in playing me! [laughs] I don’t know, I guess everyone says that they want Robert De Niro to play them but he is getting to old for that now.
Yeah, I think you are right.
I wanna play me. That’s it, I am putting my foot down!
You live a very public life by way of the 5 hours a day that you are on the Howard Stern show. Has that been a blessing or a curse for you?
It’s a little bit of both because when you are honest about stuff you make a connection with people. Any comedian or performer would tell you that the one thing that they want to do is make a connection and that is what that does but it effects other people in your life too, ya know? Like if you are out with your girlfriend and people recognize you and they come up say something like “Oh, is this your girlfriend?” and you are like “Yeah, Ya know, yeah!” Or they know stuff that you talked about on the air that you don’t even remember saying. One time I was on stage in Phoenix or something and some guy yelled out “Hey Art, did you pay that parking ticket?!!” and I was like “What parking ticket?” so he says “Remember, you said you got a parking ticket in Chicago?” and I’m like “No. I guess I paid it, I guess!” [laughs] They know shit that you don’t even remember talking about! But it is fun. 99% of the people that come up to me are very nice. If you got a crisis going on, they say “Hang in there, we’re rooting for you!” For me it is more of a blessing because it is like having a bunch of best friends that I have never met, ya know?
You have brushed elbows with so many icons in your career and even become an icon yourself. I am curious to know what the best piece of advice that someone has given you along the way, in your career?
Best piece of advice, hmmm. That’s an interesting one. Quincy Jones, when I was first doing MAD TV, when I first came back from rehab with the troubles I was having, I saw him at a shoot for a sketch. He put his arms around me and he hugged me. He said “I’ve been thinking about you man, I’ve been thinking about ya!” It was really cool, he goes “I know a lot of people got a lot of problems with drugs, like Miles Davis had a problem with drugs.” It was just so surreal to me that a couple of years before this I was a longshoremen and now Quincy Jones is talking to me about Miles Davis. He said “You just got to get to a point where you know your limitations and balance everything out.” Knowing your limitations is a big thing because some people can do it and can go that hard and some people can’t. They can’t balance everything. If you go over your limitations your balance is off and you can’t do anything. I think that is true of partying or of work. Some people get so big that they cant sing, act, dance or whatever and they end up becoming a joke. I think something as simple as knowing your limitation and keeping your balance is good personal and professional advice.
What do you think the biggest misconception about yourself is?
I think it’s that I am homophobic or a misogynist. Nothing could be further from the truth, believe me. I make a lot of jokes and a joke is a joke. I won’t apologize for making a joke but I really don’t hate anybody just for being who they are. There are individuals that I have hated over the years because they are them! [laughs] But I don’t have a hateful bone in my body for any group of people. It’s the direct opposite. Even when some people come up to me in a positive way, idiots that laughed at Archie Bunker because they agreed with him, they think I am one way and nothing could be further from the truth.
Last one for you, Artie. Do you have any words for the critics or the fans?
Well, critics are weird. I don’t know what to say about a critic. The line has become so blurred. Some critics are just fans and now with the age of the internet, everyone is a critic. Everyone’s got a blog or something. I have never been someone who has gotten great reviews, so I am sorta over that. A critic is gonna do whatever they want and I don’t really have much to say to them. But to the fans, I want to thank them for making me feel so welcome wherever I see them. I think being on the radio gives you a stronger bond with fans then anything else. I think that Howard Stern’s fans love him way more then Brad Pitt’s fans love him, ya know what I mean? It’s a strong connection! Howard has created a great atmosphere there that I have been able to fit into. I would tell the fans thanks for making me feel like I am part of a family that they are in too, I really appreciate it. And thanks for spending their hard earned money to see me or buy something. It’s not easy nowadays to go see someone at a club or whatever, so I appreciate all of that.
Very cool. Anything else we should know about before I let you get on with your day?
Not a problem, Artie. I picked up “Jack and Coke” earlier this week. It’s a 5 out of 5, man. Having seen you a few times over the past couple of years, I think it really encompasses all that you have done in that time period in a great way.
Wow. That is great to hear that!
Yup. You hit the nail on that head with this one, my friend.
Thank you! I appreciate all the kind words and I appreciate your time as well, man.
Take it easy, Artie. All the best to you and your family and “Thank ya for your call!”
Absolutely! [laughs] You too man!
For all the latest news of Artie Lange, upcoming tour dates and more, visit his official website at www.artie-lange.com!
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