Courtesy of Artie Lange
Artie Lange is a true comedy icon. Though he’s well-known for his time on The Howard Stern Show, that's just one stop-off on a long and varied career. He was also a cast member on MADtv and The Norm Show; appeared in three comedy specials; and co-wrote, produced, and starred in the 2006 film Artie Lange’s Beer League. The comic also has two New York Times bestselling books, Too Fat to Fish and Crash and Burn (and plans to release his third book sometime this year). Lange currently hosts the Artie Quitter Podcast and is part of the new HBO comedy Crashing, where he has a recurring role. SLM spoke with Lange about acting, standup, and his current projects.
Do you recall your first exposure to standup? Oh god, yeah. I was 19 years old. July 12, 1987. It’s a date I’ll always remember. The original Improv in New York City on 9th and 44th, in Hell’s Kitchen, not there anymore. It was a hot day. I had been thinking about doing it since I was 16 or 17, and I never had the balls. On The Howard Stern Show, I heard an advertisement for Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead at Giants Stadium, and I went. I took mushrooms, had a psychedelic experience, and when I came down from the mushrooms, I had the balls to drive into New York, and I parked in front of the Improv. I got an open mic, and I went on at 1 a.m. and bombed for seven minutes. The woman that owned it, she was so nasty to me. I said to her at the end of it, can you give me any advice? She said, I give advice to people who got by the audition. It was like f— off, welcome to New York. I went home happy: I had the balls to go on stage. I said thank god I have nothing else going on in life or else I would’ve went back to college or any other skill. I had nothing else, so I kept going back until I got good.
You are no stranger to TV shows and movies. Was that always a goal? I wanted to just be funny. I wanted to be in comedy. It’s weird and such an odd thing in life: My father turned me on to The Howard Stern Show when I was 13 years old. He climbed roofs for a living, he got to about the 10th grade, my old man, but he worked harder. He made a living putting up TV antennas in the ’70s and early ’80s. One day, he came home, summer of ’82. Howard had been on NBC and New York for two months, and he would come home specifically to laugh at Howard, and it was a bonding thing, so I said I want to be on the radio one day. Then I saw Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, all these guys in movies and doing standup, and I said I want to do standup, I want to do movies, and—I watched the Honeymooners and The Odd Couple—I want to be in TV. I wanted to be in everything.
Was the transition between standup and TV difficult? What’s funny is I have zero training. At the end of one scene that we shot, Judd Apatow was like, 'That was really good. You’re a good actor. Where’d you go to school?' I said, 'Nowhere.' He said, 'What do you mean, nowhere?' I said, 'I’ll take you to the New Jersey port, where I unloaded orange juice for a couple years. Those guys were characters.' I didn’t have money to go to Northwestern or anything, which is what he liked about me.
My first job as a sketch comic on MADtv was the first TV audition I went on. I didn’t feel like a seasoned actor—I felt like a conman. My savior there was Quincy Jones. He produced MADtv, and he could tell I was just this blue-collar guy winging it. I think he related to that.
With so many comedians getting their own television shows, have you thought about creating your own show? Yes, absolutely, and getting a part on this show Crashing—where Pete [Holmes] is playing himself as a comic and Judd producing it—has really been fanning the fire. I do want to play a version of me, but right now I’m having so much fun doing Crashing.
What goes into creating each week’s podcast? I've never been good at preparation. That’s why I wasn’t a good student. I just don’t like preparing, I like winging stuff. Howard saw that I wasn’t the type of guy who was going to stay there all night writing stuff. He saw that if he just started talking about his weekend, I can be someone who could make the story funny, and that’s how I looked at the podcast. Danny Falato, who produces it, is sort of a kindred spirit that I’ve known for five years. We have the same sense of humor, and I tell you what, we just work good together.
You have two New York Times bestselling books. What can we expect with your third book? I figured out that my central theme with my life, success, and screw-ups is a gambling mentality. It’s not a great one, but it can help you at times. I like to take risks and roll the dice. For instance, when I was 23, I had a great job at the port unloading trucks. I was making 70 grand a year with the union. I was giving my mom money to try and survive, and I said to her, 'If I wake up at 50 and didn’t at least try to be a comic, I’ll be more depressed than a human being could possibly be.' She was so cool. She was like, 'Chase the dream.' So that’s what the book is about: why I take these risks so much, what it’s like when they don’t work out, and what it’s like when they do.
How has this election affected your material? You talk to comics who try to avoid politics. This is a time you can’t. I don’t have any political affiliation when it comes to comedy. I just try to be funny. If a joke is funny and it seems to be pro-Trump, I’ll do it just because it’s funny. If it’s pro-Hillary, Democratic, liberal, I’ll do it because it’s funny. Trump claims he doesn’t drink, but he always says stuff like he’s drunk. [Mimics Trump] 'I’ll build a wall around Mexico. Who’s going to pay for that? The king of Mexico, you idiot!' You’re not going to get in a fistfight about it, and that’s where I try to keep it.
Are there any subjects you cover in your standup that seem to go over really well in the Midwest? Sports. Nobody loves sports jokes like Midwestern people. They’re so dedicated to their teams. I love that, and I’m a big sports fan. You make jokes about the team that they love, but the thing they love more is goofing on the teams that they hate.