Artie Lange isn’t dead yet. I know you’re thinking it. Better yet, Artie Lange knows you’re thinking it. The comedian and sidekick for Howard Stern calls this the happiest time in his life. He’s the only performer in this week’s New York Comedy Festival to have two headlining gigs, Friday at Town Hall and Sunday at Avery Fisher Hall. In between, he’s driving up to Boston to take part in Denis Leary’s annual Comics Come Home. "It’s a crazy weekend for me," Lange told me last week. Isn’t every weekend crazy for him, though?
Just talking about the festival got him reminiscing about last year, when he played Carnegie Hall. " Caroline Hirsch and her people there, Louis Faranda, they’ve always been great fans of mine," he said. "But a guy like me getting Carnegie Hall, that’s as big as it gets. It sold out in two hours. Great story, and it shows you the power of the Stern show."
He said his Town Hall gig sold out during the American Express pre-sale. "Look, it’s a great point in my career and you try to enjoy it while you can, because there’s ups and downs as you go," he said.
Why squeeze in Saturday in Boston? "I did seven episodes of Rescue Me. Denis Leary did me a great favor, so I said I’d do this for him."
Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. That’s sure a long way from your first gig in New York, right?
"The first gig, technically, was the first," he said. "July 12, 1987. I was 19. I did my first stand-up spot ever, not an open mic. They did a lottery at the legendary Improv…It was a Sunday night, they were packed to the gills. It was a small room but they were packed. Comics who wanted a break lined up outside, they put numbers into a hat and drew for 10 spots. I drove in and I was so proud of myself for driving in because I had the balls to do it. Just that I was going was going to be good enough for me. Sure enough, first time up I got number 10. They had real comics up to keep the audience happy, about every three comics they slipped one of us in…I remember it was so hot that night…90 degrees…I went to Milford Plaza to try out my act. I realized I was so unprepared. I was in the bathroom. I thought I was by myself doing five minutes, but there was a guy s—-ing. I had nothing. I bombed."
But it didn’t matter much to him because they had plenty of alcohol, even for a 19-year-old, and Lange drank OJ and vodka all night. "I was basically lit when I went up. I was bombed," he said. "Mimzy, or whatever her name was, I went up to her afterward, she was such a bitch, she said ‘I only give advice to the people who passed.’ I remember driving back into Jersey disappointed but at least happy that I tried."
He still remembers one of those original jokes. "One of the first bits that I did that night was a lame song parody about Cheers. ‘What if those Cheers were about a gay bar called Queers? I wrote a song about it!’" Last year, he used it as an encore closer at his Carnegie Hall gig.
The impact of the Internet on comedy gives him mixed feelings. Lange said it’s hurt the record business. Comedians may have lost money, too, but he said the exposure may be worth it, even in his case. "The books, I’ve sold over 100,000 of them with no advertising, but they said if I didn’t let kids download it for free I’d sell 10 times as many," he said. Same goes for the DVD. "Technically, they’re robbing me, but then again, they’re all seeing it. It’s exposure. Dane Cook is the great example. What he’s done as a business model should be copied and modeled by every comic on the planet. It’s good and bad, but for comedians it’s mostly good."
What’s the most recent thing that’s made you laugh?
"On the Stern show?"
"We tend to laugh at tragic things more than comedy, I’ve got to tell you. The hardest I laughed was doing the show. We had a bit called porn stars playing Family Feud with each other. It was old ones vs. young ones…we had an 80-year-old…describing having sex with a priest and I lalmost threw up laughing."
But make no secret about it. Being on Howard Stern has been very very good for Artie Lange. Especially on the road.
"This year, I’ll break a record in terms of income but also business," Lange said. "2007 I was out on the road 28 weekends out of the year. But then you throw in 6 a.m. on the radio? I almost died this year. 2006 was more about a movie I had out. I wasn’t on the road as much but I did promotion. I know I make the money because of Howard, so I’m a realist, but I’m going to try to slow down next year."
"If people asked me how Howard Stern changed my life? Before I was on the Stern show, I had a career. I made about 800 grand a year from comedy alone. But stand-up wise, I was playing Zanies and Funny Bones in the Midwest," Lange said. "I went from the Funny Bone in Ohio to Carnegie Hall. That’s how the Howard Stern show changed my life. It’s been the happiest time in my life."