Artie’s Rolling Stone
He is one of the funniest stand-up comedians in the country– a multimillionaire with a best-selling memoir, hordes of fans and even the occasional groupie. So why can’t Artie Lange stop trying to kill himself?
By Vanessa Grigoriadis
America’s Biggest Loser:
Artie Lange, the 300 pound 41-year old sidekick to Howard Stern, is one of the most complicated, crass and insecure comedians working today– and one of the most successful. He makes a ton of dough: $700,000 per year at Sirius XM and about $3 million a year on the stand-up circuit. Too Fat to Fish, his memoir, is on the New York Times bestseller list. Random House has already signed up his next book for $800,000. There’s only one problem: Lane is a carousing, overeating drugged-up mess who can’t handle the mundane details of life, like keeping a girlfriend, cooking, cleaning or even getting an e-mail account. “Every single aspect of my life is totally fucked, other than work,” says Lange. “Without my career, you couldn’t find a bigger loser.”
Lange’s persona is a mix of vintage Andrew Dice Clay, obese tragic clown– a niche carved by John Belushi and Chris Farley– and, in the mold of David Sedaris, master anecdotal storyteller of the life of white, blue-collar males. He’s good at one-liners– “Crystal meth is a good drug if you need to walk to St. Louis one weekend” is one of his favorites– but most of his humor centers on the difficulty of being a man in America: a greedy, selfish, bottomless pit of need, without a way to communicate with women, who never seem to say what they mean. Lange overcompensates for his loneliness with drugs, drinking, hookers and gambling, and many of his jokes are about this too. Women are only foils in this drama. “A couple years ago at the Super Bowl in Vegas, my ex-girlfriend Dana wanted to put in a real live bet, in Vegas, with her mother,” he says in one bit. “Twenty minutes before the game, I take the Eastern European hooker off my cock, tell her to keep clapping her hands so she doesn’t steal anything, and call Dana up. She goes ‘OK, we want $50 on the under. What do you have??’ Very calmly I say, ‘I have $50,000 on the over. Good luck to you and your mother.’”
Dana left Lange three and a half years ago– “we broke up because of religious beliefs: She didn’t believe I was God”– and he’s still heartbroken about it, though it seems like he’s much more attached to the idea of her than the reality. (The truth is we were at each other’s throats every 10 seconds,” he admits). These days, Lange lives alone, in a two-bedroom condo on the Hoboken, New Jersey, riverfront, decorated by his mother. It’s a cheerful place, done in an earth tone style that could be called Crate and Barrel Masculine, with bookshelves stuffed with biographies of his idols, from Chuck Berry to Woody Allen, wall of Al Hirschfield drawings and an extra bathroom “just for broads.” Striped drinking straws are arranged carefully in a jar, and a stack of umbrellas rests by the front door. “My mom has always taken care of me, and now I have a maid that I call my ‘Mexican Ma,’” he says. “When I lived at home, I never bought shampoo or soap. I just opened the cabinet, and they would be there.”
These days it’s just him, his mother, and his sister– his father, a TV-antenna installer from Newark, New Jersey, fell off a ladder on the job in 1985 when Lange was in his first year of college. His dad was his best friend and hero, and Lange used to work for him during the summers, holding the ladder as he climbed on roofs “like Superman,” says Lange. Artie Lange Sr. was a quadriplegic until he died four and a half years later from “losing the will to live,” says Lange cryptically. This would seem to the be the key to Lange’s personality: the blow of losing an idealized father who looms ever more heroic in one’s mind, the battle to measure up to him lost for eternity. “That’s part of it,” says Lange. “But that pain is long over. There’s got to be something else.”
What’s wrong with Artie Lange is the kind of million-dollar question that no one has satisfactorily answered, so it’s best to ditch it and just look at the particulars. He has been on and off of heroin for three years. In fact, he was on a five-day bender during the photo shoot for this article, before Christmas. Our photographer was in his living room, and Lange was hiding in the bathroom, snorting a dime bag. He gets into drugs like this every couple months, before trying to go straight again. Then he gobbles the opiate-blocker Subutex to ward off withdrawal, or he downs a whopping 20-odd painkillers like Vicodin and Percocet per day, or he dries out in rehab centers of various disciplinary ideologies. This time, Lange got shipped off to a detox center in Florida for a 21-day program of cucumber juice, therapy and wheatgrass enemas. “I had to get a doctor’s prescription for an apple, because apples have too much sugar,” he says. Seven days later, he was ready to split: A weed-smoking, Neil Young-loving chick from Pittsburgh with whom he once had a fling was on vacation in Miami, and he wanted to get into her pants. He ditched the detox center and booked a room and the Setai hotel in Miami’s South Beach for $1800 a night. He took that woman to a $300 dinner at an Italian restaurant, and the next night he treated another lady to a $750 meal at Nobu. He spent $120 on a haircut and $1800 on two pairs of sunglasses. Then he started to think that it would be good to make back all the money he just wasted, so he booked three shows for later in the week at Caroline’s comedy club in Manhattan for $35,000. The whole rehab thing was expensive, costing him about $17,000. Checking out early, he reasoned, didn’t leave him a penny poorer. Plus he didn’t want to postpone the interview with Rolling Stone any longer. He’s always afraid that everyone secretly hates him, that everything he’s worked for is going to be suddenly snatched away.
So here he is, on January 7th, back in New York on The Howard Stern Show two weeks earlier than planned, and his mother and sister are furious. Even Stern is upset. Lange sweats into the microphone, his new $900 sunglasses clapped on his face; at least he’s not nodding off today, which has been known to happen. The rest of the staff bust his balls: “Artie wouldn’t stay in rehab, he had to go-go-go,” chimes in a producer, to the tune of Amy Whinehouse’s “Rehab.”
“I’ve never heard of someone kicking drugs with wheatgrass enemas,” declares Stern co-host Robin Quivers. “There are a lot of layers Artie needs to confront.”
“Are we retarded to have thought you were falling asleep on the show because you ate too many cupcakes?” yelps Stern producer Gary Dell’Abate.
Lange promises that he’s ready to stay straight. He wants Stern to drug test him (“It’s a daddy complex!” exclaims Quivers). Stern parries: “you don’t have to lie to me, Artie,” he says. “You can tell me when you’re on heroin, because I don’t care.” But Lange keeps pressing the point. Peering through his lightly tinted glasses, with a lot of mischief but also genuine sadness in his watery blue eyes, Stern shakes his head. “It’s a saga,” he says. “Artie is involved in a saga.” In his forward to Lange’s books, Stern puts it another way. “He’s fucked up!” he writes. “That’s it. He’s fucked up. He’s just like us, only 10 million times worse.”
Here are the ways that Lange is fucked up: He can’t get into a relationship that lasts longer than six months. He likes to blame other people for his problems. He lies a lot. He eats a lot. His chin and cheeks are swollen from eating too much, giving his face the look of a pear. He ate a whole pizza the other night, just having the blues. He is uncouth and thin-skinned. He will do anything for a laugh. When he was younger and pulling goofs to get girls’ attention, he once slipped a robbery note to a cute bank teller, in an homage to Woody Allen’s “Take the Money and Run”, resulting in one of his many arrests.
As in every good Italian family, Lange’s mother is a saint, and his father was a scoundrel. On the day Junior was born, the elder Lange was on trial for keeping $200,000 in counterfeit bills at their house in Union, New Jersey, for a loan shark. “In my neighborhood, we were always taught that the mob didn’t exist, but if they did, they were very nice people,” says Lange. After his dad fell, Lange tried to be the man of the house — losing his virginity to a Brazilian hooker in the back seat of his dad’s handicap van was the first step. He took a job as a longshoreman at Port Newark, where he unloaded orange juice concentrate from South America between meatball breakfasts and visits to his bookie. At 24, he quit the union to pursue his dream of becoming a comedian, working as a cabdriver for cash. When he booked sets in Manhattan, he’d double park his taxi in front of the club, run in for 20 minutes, then clock back into the job.
In 1995, after only three years on the standup circuit, Lange caught his break: He was cast as an original member of Mad TV, the Fox sketch-comedy show. He moved to Los Angeles. For whatever reason– again, we could speculate on his deep need to screw up– he developed an addiction to cocaine, even drinking it in glasses of Jack Daniels when his nose became too sore for another line. At 28, he tried to commit suicide with pills and whiskey. “I was 100 percent serious about dying,” he explains.
Lange didn’t take rehab seriously– he paid off the director of the center to write him a note saying that he was able to take a role in the film “Dirty Work”– but Chris Farley’s death, from booze and speedballs, shook him to the core. “I’d just been with him and I’d even tried to bang the same hooker that he had — just so I could say I’d done it,” says Lange. “I couldn’t believe he died.” He went straight for a while, until he began to feel lonely when he did standup. He started to take prescription pills to fill the void. “When I’m on the road, there’s always some kid in the audience selling Percocet or Vicodin,” says Lange. One night a dealer gave him some advice. “All that Vicodin is bad for your liver,” he told Lange. “Take heroin, man. It’s better for your liver.”
There’s not much that’s funny about Lange’s heroin addiction, and even he doesn’t seem to have any new jokes about it. It’s brought a fresh roster of shady characters into his life, like a drug-dealing ex-stripper from New Rochelle, New York, with whom he’s having a fling. She shot him up in his sleep last year (Lange usually snorts the drug). “She said, ‘It’s just skin-popping, I didn’t tie you”, he says. “It was 12 hours of euphoria.” Then there’s the doctor whom Lange pays $1000 a visit, for the comfort of knowing that he won’t leak to the tabloids. A house call is extra dough, as he found out when he missed a Comedy Central roast for Bob Saget this summer, after a binge. “My agent called me and said, ‘Comedy Central says you have to come to this thing,’”, he says. “‘They’ll get you to a private plane at Teterboro, a private doctor on the jet, and if you still can’t do the show when you get to L.A., they’ll just eat the $65,000 in costs.’” Lange turned them down. “I was like, ‘I know these kinds of doctors– if I beg him to shoot me up with morphine, he’s going to do it to keep Comedy Central happy. And I’ll have a heart attack over Missouri.’”
That’s the way it’s been this year: Lange’s missed a lot of his commitments. Backstage at his stand-up gig at Caroline’s a day after he reappeared at the Stern show, he seems uncomfortable as a friend– who is wearing a shirt that says ‘Amsterdam’– brings up all the fun stuff that he didn’t make it to this year: the Bruce Springsteen concerts, the bachelor parties, the sports games. Lange interjects, reminding him that there’s one thing he didn’t miss: the weeklong tour he did for the troops in Afghanistan. “I had to do that,” he says firmly. “I would have killed myself if I let down the USO.”
So is Lange going to make it? Some days his spirits are down, like they were after his show at Caroline’s. Two blondes from Long Island sitting in the front row had even thrown themselves at him, and he barely even got excited about it. “I’m over drunk chicks,” he says, though he palms their numbers for future use. That night, he stays up until 6 a.m. watching a documentary about Charlie Parker, whom he idolizes, and not for his music. He gets to thinking about a girl he likes in Seattle. “She texted me, and I really got depressed,” he says. “Why can’t I be with that girl? I would rather be a plumber with her in Seattle than have this gig.”
Other times, Lange seems to be doing all right, particularly when there’s tomfoolery to be had. He’s great fun to be with in the car, zipping through New Jersey in his silver Mercedes. No one’s allowed to wear a seat belt. “I don’t play that shit!,” he says. “That’s un-American.” He blasts through a couple of stop signs and floors it to the Holland Tunnel, pulling into the E-Z pass lane. “I think I figured out a scam,” he says excitedly. “I’ve been blowing through E-Z pass all year without paying!” He talks about his car. “I remember when I got my first Mercedes in Los Angeles, and I thought I was a big deal because I had a 500 CL, you know, I got somewhere in life,” he says. “And some kid was like, ‘Hey, I’m thinking of getting this car too, do you like it?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah I like it. I like blow jobs too.’ Then the kid always sucks my dick. It’s great.”
On 50th Street in Manhattan, he pulls over to do an errand, leaving me in the car. A cop immediately starts to write a ticket, so I park down the street. “You didn’t have to do that,” Lange says, huffing and puffing as he runs up behind. “You could have just told them that you were with Stern and Artie.” He cackles maniacally. “I can get away with anything.”
Artie’s Rolling Stone Article Discussed. 01/21/09. 6:20am
Howard talked about the new Rolling Stone that just came out with Artie’s article in it. Howard said that Artie took his clothes off for the article. Artie said that the article is horrifying and awful. Artie said that he’s sick of these writers that grew up more privileged than him and they clearly get upset that he’s making more money than them.
Artie said that this reporter didn’t say anything where she lied but there are little digs and knocks. Artie said that there was something about his father being a scoundrel ”as in every Italian family.” Artie said she was trying to be funny and she’s just not funny. Artie said he hates being judged like she seems to be doing in that article and he’s not going to put himself through that anymore.
Gary came in to talk about what he saw in the article. Howard said that he didn’t think it was all bad. He said that there were some good things in there too. Artie said that the title of the article is ”America’s Biggest Loser.” Howard said he smells at least 10 minutes of stand-up from that article.
Gary said that they start off talking about Artie being on the Stern show and she doesn’t really talk about how funny he is. Artie and Howard said that’s not true.
Howard said he didn’t see it as harsh as Gary did. He said that it concentrates on what Artie talks about in his book. Howard said that he would want to read his book after reading this article.
Artie said that she claims that he’s got kind of an Andrew Dice Clay thing about his stand-up. He said that she was complimentary about him being like David Sedaris. Artie said that’s kind of a compliment to him. Gary said that she compared him to someone that no one knows though. Artie said that she says that he’s a master anecdotal story teller so that was a big compliment to him. Howard said that it’s okay if she did that but it’s a major thing for her to compliment him like that.
Howard said Artie revealed that he was shot up with heroin in the article and he’s never talked about that before. Artie said that was about 2 years ago and this chick did it without him knowing that she was going to do it to him. Artie said that he ended up throwing up from that because it was so extreme. He said that he saw her unwrap the needle to use but he didn’t know that it was going to be for him. He said he ended up throwing stuff around her apartment but eventually calmed down from the high. Artie said that was about 2 years ago and it’s never happened since.
Gary asked him about his coke nose story in the article. Artie said that he thought that his nose was starting to get beat up from the cocaine he was using and he put it in a drink one time. He said he didn’t even remember telling her that story but it made it into the article.
Artie said that he’s very sensitive to people being condescending to him. Howard told Artie that he knows that feeling because he’s in Rolling Stone magazine and that’s a big deal. Howard said that he was anxious to work with the reporter and he opened up to her.
Artie said that there are passages in there that are very crazy. Howard said that they are shocking but it’s very much like his book so it should be good book promotion. Howard said it’s really accurate and he thinks that it can be a good thing.
Gary said that John Belushi’s wife was upset about the book that came out bout him because they focused on just one part of his life. Gary said that’s kind of the way he feels about this article about Artie. She was focusing on just a part of Artie’s life.
Artie said that this chick quotes his stand-up in a way that she says that it’s funny but crude. He said that the Italian family thing was the thing that bothered him. Howard asked Artie if this is going to drive him back to heroin. Artie said that it won’t because it makes him think that it’s time to regroup.
Howard said that maybe the next article will be about Artie being clean and sober. Artie said he knew this wasn’t going to be a puff piece. He said that kind of chick hates guys like him when she goes out.
RollingStone.com fires back: Artie Lange: The Story Behind the Story:
Artie Lange called Rolling Stone writer Vanessa Grigoriadis an “uppity bitch” on this morning’s Howard Stern Show, but Grigoriadis tells Rock Daily the comic is “really generous and sweet.” Grigoriadis, who profiled Lange in the current issue, adds, “Although I think he may have been trying to kiss my ass. Also, he’s very fat.” He’s also very troubled: When Rolling Stone’s photographer arrived at Lange’s Hoboken, New Jersey apartment to photograph the funnyman for the story “America’s Biggest Loser,” Lange was admittedly in the midst of a five-day heroin bender.
“His apartment is hilarious,” she says. “It was entirely decorated by his mom. There is nothing in that apartment that makes any sense to Artie Lange. He put out all these vinyl records so I can see them.” Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town and Neil Young records were left out in plain sight; Lange also made it clear he was a big fan of Hunter S. Thompson, so the Rolling Stone interview was especially important to him. So important, in fact, he reportedly left a Florida rehabilitation center early so not to delay the profile any longer. “I’m sure he was really happy that his name is on the cover with a picture of Bruce Springsteen,” Grigoriadis says.
Even though Grigoriadis and Stern agreed the profile is an accurate portrait of the comic, Lange vented that the piece was “horrifying and awful” and complained that Grigoriadis was condescending. “I usually don’t tell people, ‘Wow, I’m such a fan,’ I just don’t do that,” Grigoriadis says. “I hung out with him three times, and by the third time it was almost uncomfortable, because it was so clear that he wanted me to be like, ‘Oh my God, Artie, you’re the best.’ So I was like, ‘You know what, dude, I’m just going to sit here and ignore your attempts to bolster your confidence.’ ”
Lange also accused her of instinctively not liking guys like him. “I don’t think I’m better than him. I don’t think I was being condescending. I think he’s really funny, and I liked his book, I thought it was really good,” Grigoriadis says. “I don’t think the article was condescending either. Look, I’m sure he’s not happy about the picture [above]. I wouldn’t be happy about the picture either. But honestly, I don’t think the article is bad. Just look at his book.”
Lange’s insecurity also came out when Grigoriadis told him that most of his stand-up routine was probably too offensive to publish in the interview. “He got really offended, and said, ‘Do you think my stand-up is offensive?’ I said, ‘I thought that what was you were going for.’ Apparently he does not take criticism well. He was like, ‘Saying my stand-up is offensive is like insulting my livelihood. I don’t want people to think they shouldn’t come to my stand-up,’” she adds. “That was the only thing I said to him that was even borderline confrontational.
“This is the whole problem with Artie: He’s a crazy attention-seeker,” Grigoriadis observes. “He wants the attention. It’s like a huge daddy complex with Howard Stern. He wants to be bad and good and have Stern make fun of him and also care about him.” The wear of doing stand-up and then waking up to do the Stern show is also affecting Lange. “That’s a hard thing on your body, even if you’re not doing what he’s doing.”
“Look I got into comedy so I could stay out all night,” Lange told Grigoriadis, “And I get the one fucking great job in comedy that’s like having a paper route.”
Despite his funny demeanor and rock star habits, Lange’s patterns surprised Grigoriadis. “You’d expect that someone like him, when they’re out on the road, after the show is like ‘Right on’ and runs around and gets totally wasted and picks up some hooker,” Grigoriadis says. “But what really goes on is that he goes back to his hotel room, gets high and hangs out by himself and stays up all night. And that’s very scary. That’s a stage of drug use that’s linked to depression.”
Here are the scans of the article: Artie Lange – Rolling Stone PDF.