Artie Lange Is a Rock Star Trapped in a Comedian’s Body
The hard-partying comedian talks about his love of Springsteen and his hatred of Kanye West.
The phone rings at 3:14 PM and it’s Artie Lange. He’s punctual by a minute but sounds like hell on the other end. That’s Lange in a nutshell. The 47-year-old comedian, despite having a well-documented history of drug abuse, alcoholism, gambling, womanizing, arrests, and suicide attempts has managed to somehow elude death and live a professionally successful life. He’s authored two best-selling books, starred in movies, had an eight-year tenure on "The Howard Stern Show," and has toured the country doing standup. He lives the rock and roll lifestyle without the rock and roll. It’s no wonder then that Lange has taken cues from his hard-partying musical heroes like Keith Richards. He even once famously left rehab two weeks early to be profiled by Rolling Stone.
Lange recently exorcised some of his demons in a new standup special “The Stench of Failure” filmed in his home state of New Jersey. The special airs this tonight on Comedy Central and we recently caught up with Lange…
Noisey: So I see from your new special that you were very deeply affected by Adam Levine’s acne commercial.
Artie Lange: [Laughs] Yeah absolutely. From a comedic standpoint, it’s just a guy who’s got everything and now we gotta worry about him having acne? A lot of my comedy comes from a bitter, angry guy who doesn’t like when a good-looking rich guy bitches about something other than cancer, you know?
It’s not just him, those commercials have been done by Justin Bieber, Katy Perry—
Yeah. I remember I’m sitting at home one night flipping through the channels and I saw it and I wrote it down in a notebook. Then the next day, I was on tour somewhere, and I bitched about it on stage and it got laughs so I just kept it in.
I know you’re a big fan of the classics like the Stones, Springsteen, but are there any current artists you like?
Oh Jesus Christ. That depends on your definition of current. I don’t really know of a lot. The Black Keys are alright I guess. I used to really like The White Stripes but they broke up. I liked them a lot. That was one of my favorite albums in a long time but that’s already 12 years old. Time flies by. As far as people you could see in concert, my God, there’s no one. I just saw Eagles. Fleetwood Mac, I saw Bruce, I’m going to see Stones. Well, you tell me.
Well, I saw on Fallon, you said you would “bang the One Direction kids.”
Yeah I can’t stand them. I mean, God bless them, they seem like a bunch of poor kids who made it. But I can’t stand it.
What about like, Kanye West?
No, I think he’s bullshit. It’s overrated. Very much overrated. And he’s so self-absorbed. It’s funny, my fiancé is 29 years old. I’m 47. And so she sees how much I like Springsteen. I was watching his speech going into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And she couldn’t believe how into it I am and my attachment. And she goes, “I don’t have anybody in my generation that any of my friends like that much.” And I said, “Well, of course you don’t!” I mean, you gotta relate to something to be passionate about it. You gonna relate to some black kid screaming about how he fucks the hottest bitches and has the best cars and the biggest jewelry? There’s some beat that makes you move, but it’s all about a beat, it’s not about what he’s saying. You could say anything over that “Ni--as in Paris” beat. The genius of that is whoever wrote that, the guy who wrote that, it gets people moving and after that, you can write whatever the fuck you want. Springsteen was a guy who—I grew up in Jersey at the Jersey Shore, trying to get laid under the boardwalk and had no money and going to telephone booths and talk to my girl all night, sometimes it was raining. I had cars that didn’t work—he sang about that. And that connected with me. And your generation doesn’t have anything close to it. And she understood that. There’s nothing you can relate to in Kanye West’s songs if you’re a 14-year-old kid.
Yeah, that’s Taylor Swift.
I mean, you’d have to ask a 14-year-old girl. Because I don’t know. It seems like she’s breaking up with all the rich people.
From the shows you go to and your time on the "Stern Show," you’ve probably met a lot of your musical heroes. Is there anyone you still get starstruck about or are you just jaded about the whole thing.
Oh no, I’m not jaded at all. That was one of my problems at "Howard." I was on "The Howard Stern Show" for nine years. I became a good friend of his for a while and I was starstruck five or six years into it. That’s the difference between getting to meet somebody you were a fan of when you were a kid—that’s a big difference. Springsteen I’ve met now a couple times. He called me on the phone once. We talked for like an hour after I got out of rehab. He was trying to help me. I met him in Paris after one of his shows and hung out with him. But no, even him, I’m insanely starstruck to see him. He might come see me do standup, someone was telling me when I do South Jersey, and I wouldn’t even wanna know he’s there. Don’t even tell me. I’m not gonna be able to talk.
Did you say on "The Tonight Show" that Keith Richards cost you $25,000?
Yeah, it was years ago. The Stones did a concert in Atlantic City that was sponsored by the Borgata and I went down there—I was still on "Howard"—and they gave me all VIP status to go down and see them at the Convention Center. And they had just passed a law where, even in Atlantic City unless you’re in certain rooms gambling, you couldn’t smoke inside. So I go see the Stones and lit up a cigarette. The guard standing next to me said, “You can’t do that.” And I said, “Why?” And he just goes, “Eh, it’s the new law, I’m sorry.” And I said to him, “You’re telling me Keith Richards isn’t gonna have a cigarette?” And he goes, “Yeah, no one could. Not even the Pope.” So I said, “Alright, I’ll bet you a thousand dollars Keith Richards has a cigarette. We’re in Atlantic City, let’s get into the spirit of things.” So this guy was game. So five minutes later, the lights go down and you hear the riff for “Satisfaction” start to play and there’s a spotlight on Keith Richards. He’s two feet in front of us smoking a cigarette, with a guitar. Him and Ronnie Wood, in the concert, I’d say smoked 50 cigarettes. The kid looked at me and I’m laughing at him and he said, “When we get to the casino, I’ll give you a thousand dollars in chips and I’ll give it to you. So I went there, he gave me a thousand dollars in chips—I really wasn’t even gonna gamble—but I said, “Ah fuck it, I won a grand.” And with that thousand dollars, I started gambling and I lost $26,000.
That’s a classic “me” story.
You have a reputation for partying pretty hard. Is there anyone you’ve met in music that can keep up?
I was with Slash one night before he got sober, years ago. I was hanging out with him at The Whiskey in New York City. We were drinking brown liquor pretty strong and I got talking to him—I had blow on me. I believe he did too. He was still going strong when I left there at about six in the morning. Just as much partying as me, but thinner and better looking.
You’re a guy who’s really into music. You ever meet someone you idolize and think, “Wow, you’re a lot shittier than I thought you’d be?”
No, there were people I already hated and just confirmed it. Brian Austin Green had a rap album out once and was one of the worst human beings I ever met. He hosted "MADtv" when I was on it. This was like, 20 years ago. And he had just started rapping. And we wrote a sketch where he’d rap in the sketch and he could never get it right in front of the audience, kept blowing it. And he got so mad and kept blaming other people around him. Eventually got it together where it looked alright but he was just blaming everyone else for making a mistake. He was annoying. But it would’ve been more disappointing if he wasn’t.
I don’t know, I hung out with the guys from Poison. They did a sketch with us. They were actually really cool. I hung out with Axl Rose one night too. He seemed like an alright guy. A little arrogant. Springsteen was the greatest—thank God, that would’ve been really disappointing. Who else? Guys I met through Howard—Paul McCartney was the nicest motherfucking guy. Ozzy Osbourne was a trip. But no, no real disappointments.
If you could hang out with any musician—alive or dead—who would it be?
Keith Richards. I love the Stones. Those albums that Jimmy Miller produced. The input they had—Beggars’ Banquet, Let It Bleed, Exile on Main St. Those five albums in that six or even year period, that to me, is even better than The Beatles at the end of the 60s or Bruce in the 70s, even.
Did you read Keith Richards’ book?
Yes. I’m surprised he remembered so much shit. I read all these articles before it came out that he was having a hard time remembering shit and my God, the details in that book are insane. It’s amazing.
When you were writing your book, did that give you a deeper level of appreciation—the details?
Yeah, I mean, the two books I wrote, I’m only 47, so the details in my books were sometimes a little fuzzy. But he’s got what, like 700, 800 pages of shit there. I love how that book opens—him on the road in ’75, driving through the Bible belt. I like that he gets so petty that he says Jagger has a small dick.
Dan Ozzi has never partied with Slash but he did he did meet Moby in an airport once. Follow him on Twitter - @danozzi