Artie Lange has been through a lot the past four years; heck the past fourteen years; hell, make it 40.
He says as much at the end of his new stand-up special, which premieres at midnight tonight on Comedy Central: “Thank you for not forgetting me, guys. I’ve been through some hell.”
Lange easily could have called this hour “Through Some Hell,” “I’m Still Standing” or “The Comeback Kid.” But it’s not quite a comeback. And he’s still wrestling with demons. And so he calls his latest hour, “The Stench of Failure.” It follows his second best-selling memoir, “Crash and Burn,” published last year.
Recorded in his native New Jersey, the hour opens with a simple scene that, if were truly scratch and sniff, would give off the stench of coffee and cigarettes, not failure; albeit there is more than an unhealthy air of shade thrown by Lange toward an unidentified young man who passes his path. But Lange’s path has taken him home, back to Newark. He walks past the intersection signs for Hunterdon and 14th (where his father grew up, and to whom he dedicated the hour) and onto the stage at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Victoria Theater. Downtown Newark is familiar turf for Lange. But not for the right reasons.
“I know this area because I used to do heroin,” Lange cracks. Or he’d leave with a bag full of vicodin. He quickly lets the audience know that he has tried to get his life back on track, and what better, quicker way to better health than hiring a personal trainer, right? Only problem is, a trainer might ask Lange to run, and in doing so, compare the “high” from running to that of heroin.
Lange’s not buying it. “You see I’ve led a full life,” he tells his trainer. “I’ve tried heroin, and on occasion, I’ve run. And I got to tell you, Jack LaLanne. It ain’t even close.”
He also goes to great length to remind us in this hour that his musical tastes are classic rock, and Justin Bieber is neither classic nor rocking, no matter how often Rolling Stone magazine makes him its cover boy. In fact, Lange hates Bieber so much he’d help Jerry Sandusky escape just so he could rape the now-20-year-old Canadian pop star.
But after a commercial break, Lange turns the focus back on himself.
Though he doesn’t directly address the circumstances that led him first to a mental institution, and then to rehab, he is more than willing to joke about his experiences in those situations, whether it’s a Scrabble game with addicts and clinically ill people, or group therapy sessions in South Florida that encouraged him to provide feedback to others in rehab. How’d that go? Roll the clip.
Just in the past year, Lange has had to roll with the punches of a job won and later lost at DirecTV. He doesn’t dwell at all on the lows of it, instead preferring to let us in on the depravity of a company that would allow him and his former co-host (comedian Nick DiPaolo) to decorate their studio. No idea was too offensive for their bosses, they observed. Not for a lack of trying, as Lange recalled.
Sometimes the stench of failure coming from others gives Lange a whiff of hope, as a comedian, because the jokes “write themselves.” Consider, he said, the plight of a Long Island man who had sex with three dogs and a parrot. The dogs, he laughs off. The parrot, though? “Why the one animal who could tell someone about it?” Lange asks. “A parrot can testify!”
Just when you think his tales of drugs, gambling and depression will weigh you or the special down, he lightens the mood — first by blaming his depression on Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine and his TV commercials for acne medication.
And then, after a couple of unfortunate and unnecessary jokes about the political correctness of having a female voice for GPS directions — “Why not make it an Asian woman?” Lange says to heighten the offensiveness — it’s all revealed as just a set-up so he can go back to his favorite Mike Tyson impersonation. Tyson may seem like too easy a mark.
For Lange, however, slipping into the voice of Mike Tyson serves a much more important function.
“It’s impossible to be depressed if, as Mike Tyson, you say ‘Sunoco station.’ The people at drug companies who make anti-depressants, they don’t want you to know this! I’m telling ya!”
The simple things can bring a smile back to Lange’s face, and with it, a light he can shine back onto adoring fans, most of whom have heard his jokes and stories for years going back to his mornings as the sidekick on “The Howard Stern Show.” It could be a thought of his friend’s elderly Italian uncle, describing Buffy The Vampire Slayer as “a Jew broad fights Draculas,” a memory of a night when he hired a driver to speed him back home to New Jersey from a gig, or just saying “Sunoco station” in the voice of a famous lispy prizefighter.
These jokes and stories may not be accessible enough to win over a casual TV viewer who just so happens to stop by Comedy Central when it’s on, but for the countless fans who have heard and watched Lange over the years, it’s enough to bring a smile back to their faces, and a hope to see more from Lange going forward.
Artie Lange: “The Stench of Failure,” premieres Saturday night on Comedy Central (already online available for purchase at the CC: Stand-Up Direct page for $5), with an extended uncensored edition of Lange’s performance available in album form on Oct. 21, 2014.