From the Vault : Artie Lange: Part One (2006)

From the Vault : Artie Lange: Part One (2006)
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Artie Lange remembers the days when film comedy wasn’t afraid to offend. Films such as Slap Shot and National Lampoon’s Animal House broke down barriers and box-office records, in addition to cracking up audiences. Over the years, due to increasing political correctness, R-rated scripts have been watered down to PG-13 level so that they can reach as massive an audience as possible. Recent R-rated box-office hits such as The 40-Year Old Virgin and Wedding Crashers have helped change the public’s perception to comparable material, bringing Lange his own shot at box-office success with the uncomfortably titled Artie Lange’s Beer League. The film, co-written by Lange and director Frank Sebastiano opened on the east coast September 15th to rave reviews from audiences and is set to open in select cities across the US on September 29th and October 06th.

It is Lange’s prominent role on Sirius Satellite Radio’s “The Howard Stern Show” that helps the film’s awareness factor the most. Many Stern fans couldn’t imagine the King of all Media’s show without longtime Head Writer/Sidekick Jackie “the Jokeman” Martling. But when the yuckster’s contract talks with CBS/Infinity management stalled and Jackie was gone, the search for a replacement was on with Lange winning out over several other prominent comedians and personalities.

Over his five years with the Stern show, the thirty-eight year-old Lange’s involvement has evolved dramatically, with the star of TV and Film settling comfortably into the cast’s groove of speaking humorously and honestly about all aspects of their lives. Going above and beyond the call of duty in his five years, Lange in particular has been intensely revealing, recalling run-ins with the law, recurring substance abuse and a rather strong proclivity to gambling. All of this has been unapologetically relayed to a national audience, oftentimes inadvertently.

It is this streak of honesty, laced with an acerbic wit, along with a penchant for self-deprecation that has endeared Artie to millions. A native of New Jersey and a former longshoreman, Lange is the everyman who made it, someone listeners can identify with as well as root for. Though he may be a big star, he still speaks the language of regular, working-class Americans.

Almost to a fault, Lange is an agreeable sort who will bend over backwards to make sure others around him are comfortable. If you are near Artie and you happen to need something, he’ll be the first to extend an offer. Whether it’s a signed copy of his hit stand-up comedy DVD, It’s the Whiskey Talkin’, a tour of the Sirius studios, or, in the case of one temporarily homeless intern for the Stern show, a place to stay for a night or two. Lange is as good of a soul as one can find in a person, let alone a celebrity. Someone who empathizes with you while he’s poking fun at you for the good of the show. “Bustin’ balls” is never meant to be cruel. You’re just in his good graces.

Artie Lange spoke to me on several occasions from July to September to discuss his labor of love, Artie Lange’s Beer League, his relationship with Howard Stern, as well as why David Cross, Janeane Garofalo and Dane Cook piss him off. This is part one of a two-part interview.

How are your gigs going?

Artie Lange: Awesome, man. The crowds are amazing. It’s like…they sold out quick and they’re big Stern fans. They all seem to have Sirius. And they all know about Beer League, which is so cool. The movie’s a two-and-a-half million dollar movie, but it’s got the awareness of a small studio film. They all yell out the movie title and the date and shit.

I heard your little buddy, Dustin Diamond didn’t show up for the Pittsburgh gigs. What happened with that? Did he even call you?

No. That motherfucker. I just heard through people at Stern 100 news that his agent called and said that ‘Dustin was shooting an independent film in LA and couldn’t make it,’ but I didn’t know that until after the gig. It actually helped because I saved a couple grand and got ten minutes of material bashing him up front.

There ya go.

I’m glad he didn’t show up because his end was gonna come out of my pay.

It sucks that he came on to the show and did that whole spiel about needing money to save his house. I think you were being more than fair offering him what you did.

I know! ‘I couldn’t get in touch with you.’ In today’s age you couldn’t get in touch with me? Like, faxes, phone…you carry a phone. It was kind of a bullshit LA move. Like what movie is he doing that is paying him more than two grand? That’s why I’m a horrible business man, I think I could have gotten away with two hundred.

Maybe just a coach seat on an airplane.

[laughs] For him and his big cock. I was able to do ten minutes about how he’s the only loser in history to be depressed over the fact that he has a huge cock. You know how many people need a house that have a small cock?

On the topic of the film (Artie Lange’s Beer League), how did you and Frank Sebastiano begin the process? What were the initial thoughts behind it?

I put out a DVD of my stand-up called It’s the Whiskey Talkin’ a couple of years ago and as an extra to the stand-up part I put a short film that I wrote, produced and starred in called Game Day, about a Jersey softball team. And Frank, who wrote Dirty Work with Norm Macdonald…that’s how I met him, he’s a great writer, he’s got a couple of Emmys and he’s written movies. I asked him if he would collaborate with me on this because he’s from Jersey and knows a lot about softball. He would come over to my house on the weekends and we’d just put together index cards of our favorite softball stories. After awhile, about a year later, we had a script that we connected and were happy with and had a first draft in ’02. We put it out there and we said ‘Look, this is going to be our rated R comedy. Our Slap Shot.’ We got offers to make it PG-13 on Comedy Central, but we refused to give it up. Finally these Stern fans at Crush Entertainment came along and said “Look, we love the script, you can make it how you want and here’s two-and-a-half million bucks.”

What was your participation in the script?

I’ve written some stuff, but all short form. I wrote sketches for Mad TV that I would star in. I wrote stand-up my whole life obviously and some sitcom stuff. But never long form. Frank can do anything as a writer. He would give me assignments. He would go, ‘Listen, take an incident from softball that you think is funny, something you want to put in the movie, with the jokes you want in the movie and write a five-page scene. Send it to me and I’ll plug it into the structure.’ I wrote a bunch of five-page scenes. He plugged it into his story and meshed it with his scenes. By the time we were done, I had written enough to where I was certainly deserving of a credit.

Who’s decision was it to change the title from Beer League to Artie Lange’s Beer League?

That wasn’t my idea. The Super Troopers guys came out with a movie…

Right, Beer Fest.

Right. So they got a little worried about that. So they said, ‘What if you put your name in front?’ because I didn’t want to lose Beer League, we loved the title. Howard did the same thing with Howard Stern’s Private Parts. It’s just a way to let the fans know it’s my movie. I was reluctant, but look, the distributor gave us a great deal and signed a lot of checks, so I was like ‘That’s fine.’ On the marquees and in the papers it’ll say Artie Lange’s Beer League. When you actually see the movie it just says Beer League.

What has the audience reaction been like?

Both times it got a standing ovation. We were in Vegas the first time I saw it all done with music in front of a crowd. I knew they’d laugh at the jokes, but Frank got them to care about the love story, the game at the end.

How does this rank with your other work?

The three studio films that I had a really big part in…Lost & Found and The Bachelor are really romantic comedies and I play the best friend character and they’re different kinds of movies. Dirty Work is more in the vein of this, but it’s PG-13. I love Dirty Work. It’s become a big cult hit, wherever I go I sign DVDs of that. I said to myself, ‘That’s great, but the original script was rated R and I wish they would have kept it at that.’ Beer League to me is my best film, because it’s rated R and we stayed true to it. For films where I have a co-lead, this is by far the funniest.

With regards to Lost & Found the critics were rather unfair to you when they implied you were just filling the ‘Chris Farley’ role next to David Spade.

They just put every fat guy in the same mode. I’m so different than Chris Farley. Farley, to me, is among the top 5 funniest guys who has ever lived. And he’s amazing in Dirty Work. We actually worked together. It’s really his last movie and I got to meet him and he was just a troubled soul. The Lost & Found thing…what happened was, I played a character who was obsessed with Spade, I’m almost a stalker. We put a blond wig on me because my character wants to do his hair like Spade. But every critic saw the blond wig and said, ‘Oh my God they’re trying to even make him look like Farley.’ And it was totally because I’m wearing a wig to imitate Spade’s hair. We laughed so hard at those comparisons. I would never in a million years try to imitate Farley because I don’t think it’s doable. He’s a force of nature. He was hilarious.

It’s just one of those unfortunate coincidences.

That movie actually gets a lot of time on TV. I get residual checks up the ass for that movie and The Bachelor. I guess ’cause they’re romantic comedies they can play ’em during the day.

Especially The Bachelor. They probably play that on Lifetime a lot.

Exactly. TNT or Lifetime all the time. The residual checks are great for that.

One of the reasons I like you on Stern is because of your ability to be forthright and completely honest about everything, even when things are dragged out of you. What I enjoy particularly is when you discuss things like residual checks and other business stuff.

I love doing that. It’s interesting to people. When I get a big one I come in and I say ‘Hey, I just got eleven grand for Lost & Found.’ The biggest one I ever got was $26 grand from The Bachelor. But as a matter of fact, it’s funny, I’m looking right now at my mail. I’m looking at a $382.14 check from Mad TV from an episode from 1995 that they aired on Comedy Central. I’ve got a whole new group of fans now. I get free checks all the time. Usually a couple hundred bucks, but it’s free money. I started eleven years ago and I’m still getting checks. You can’t beat that.

You started out in stand-up and then went on to do some improv work…

I started out in stand-up comedy and then I got involved with a group in New York city that did sketches and improv who let me open for them. And then I just started doing sketches with them and started writing sketches. They were called “Live on Tape.” Casting people from Mad TV had seen me perform with them at the Comic Strip in New York. The first time I was ever in LA was the screen test for Mad TV and I got it. And after I got on Mad TV I got more stand-up work, so I was sketches and stand-up at that point. Then movies came along and then a sitcom…I actually have been lucky enough to have success in literally every…if Howard’s the ‘King of all Media,’ I’m sort of the Prince. Because I’ve had success now in sitcoms, late-night sketch stuff, movies, radio and stand-up.

I think an awful lot of people would be upset if you weren’t on the radio every day.

The radio gave me a chance to sort of be free-form, just go nuts, and be uncensored, especially now at Sirius. Everything I’ve ever done there’s nothing better than just showing up and talking and being funny on the radio. It’s comedy at its purest. You’re just sitting there bullshittin’, telling stories, doing impressions and voices and telling jokes. Without the Stern show, man, I do not release It’s the Whiskey Talkin’ uncensored the way I wanted to, I do not get Beer League made. It just doesn’t happen. It’s all because of Howard. I’m not only getting these movies made and doing the stand-up special, I’m getting them done the way I want to do them, uncensored, that’s insanity. Me and Frank essentially…it wasn’t written, but essentially we had final cut on this movie. That’s insane! And I had final cut on my stand-up special. I got into a distribution sort of bidding war with five companies and Image Entertainment gave me a bunch of money up front, a chance to sell it over my website and at gigs by myself. It was a deal I couldn’t refuse. I owned it and I went around with it and that was the best way to do it. Put it this way, Comedy Central offered me literally one-tenth to do a special of what I made up front for the DVD. So they would have played it like crazy and for that money I would have blown the act. With the DVD I’ve made over a half-a-million dollars on it, Comedy Central offers you 30 grand and they own it.

One thing about the DVD I love is the backstage stuff with you and Reverend Bob Levy. Those sections show how you’re a real, natural, easy going, warm type of person. It gives an insight into how you go about things and what your real life is like. I just love the mundane aspects it reveals and then you have to get into a mode where you’re onstage…

When I put that out I had seen the DVDs of other comics who were on my level and I’m like, they’re ripoffs. Besides the concert in Arizona I said I wanted to take a camera crew to a couple of gigs in Jersey and just do all of that little documentary-type stuff. Then I knew I had the softball movie to tag on there, so there’s a lot of entertainment on there for a price that in some venues is lower than a lot of other DVDs from comics that are C-level celebrities like myself. I’m very proud of that DVD.

Speaking of comedy, is there anyone out there right now that you really don’t like?

Oh yeah. God yeah. Well, my stock answer for this was always Janeane Garofalo. She finally took her boat load of unnecessary money and went away.

You were in Mystery Men with her.

Yes! Yes! When I saw that movie I knew it would tank because it was directed by a commercial director, who was a nice guy, but you ruin comedy when you have too many edits. Just let a joke play out. There were too many cuts, close-ups. I said on Conan, ‘Yeah, there’s two things that don’t work for a movie if it’s a comedy. One are too many cuts and the other one is Janeane Garofalo.’ I don’t like her. I met her a couple of times. Personally, I thought she was a cunt. And I find her to be an awful, awful comedian. A better actress than she is a comedian. I don’t want to be a pussy and just dis a girl, so uh…I’ll say…this is a hard one because there’s one aspect of his career that I really like, but the rest I just want to punch him in the face. David Cross. Look, Mr. Show…Bob Odenkirk is hilarious. The stuff they did on Mr. Show is different and funny, but everything else that David Cross has ever done…like Arrested Development I just don’t get. I think that’s a show that people like to pretend is smart, but it’s not.

Oh man, I love that show, actually.

Look man, a lot of people whose opinions I respect like the show. Believe me, I’m not arguing that point. I just don’t get it. I think it’s boring. It’s not nearly as smart as any episode of The Simpsons. David Cross plays a gay guy and it just doesn’t work. And his stand-up is self-indulgent, awful, boring and he treats an audience like shit. He wrote for the pilot for Mad TV and he was an asshole then. There’s moments of brilliance. Don’t get me wrong. He did the Stern show once and he came on like he was better than our show and he needed to promote something and he bombed and he was awful for the news. He comes off like an uptight prick. And then Comedy Central had this thing last year where stand-ups talk about the year in news and I’m not talking like I’m some special comedian, but I’m a comedian and this is my opinion. He comes out and the first thing he says is ‘Git ‘r done’ like that Larry the Cable Guy, and that was hilarious. I thought that was so funny. I was like, well just rip him a new asshole. But then he goes into his condescending, boring shit. Clearly I don’t like him personally either, but he’s a guy I just don’t get.

I was expecting you to say Dane Cook.

A lot of people bash Dane Cook. A lot of comics do. I’m not a big fan of his stand-up. To me he does a lot of hackey stuff, like physical stuff, like jazz hands! or something like that. A lot of chicks love him. I’ve seen him destroy.

He’s a giant deal. I was watching some of that Tourgasm. My wife didn’t change the channel after Lucky Louie and I wanted to vomit. I had to leave the room.

Tourgasm is awful. Robert Kelly I’ve toured with and he’s a great, funny guy. They need more of his sensibility on there. We may not be as good as comedians, but I guarantee that if you go on the road with me, Bob Levy and Dave Attell, it’ll be two million times more entertaining. Where’s the times where after a gig they throw up on a chick trying to make out with her? Where’s the guy scoring coke? Where’s the guy with the drinking problem? They get on scooters! They think we want to watch comedians on scooters! That Jay Davis guy crying…I wanna go to wherever they are and hit them in the head with a fungo bat. My last couple of sets I said ‘Jackass is so big that HBO is actually airing a gay version of that. It’s Tourgasm.’ I agree with you, that show is just awful. I feel embarrassed to be a comedian watching it. I’m not a big fan of his stand-up, but what he did business-wise I’m in awe of.

Yeah, he came out of nowhere.

Well he essentially e-mailed 600,000 people and said ‘Buy my record,’ and they did! From touring, fans like nothing more than a personal touch, man. You shake a fan’s hand at a signing of your DVD, they’ll buy another five of them. And when they talk about his album, they never mention what’s on it, they only mention the business plan. They never mention the material. And that’s a tell-tale sign. People are in awe of what he did business wise, not for the actual stand-up. Like when Dice and Kinison were rock stars, I used to know their routines by heart. They can’t tell you one of Dane Cook’s routines, they just know he sold a lot of records. I don’t particularly hate or love his stand-up, but that Tourgasm show dude, I agree with you, it’s pretty bad. Lucky Louie got awful reviews, but that’s a show I laughed out loud at. Louie CK’s a friend of mine and I have friends who work on that show. Nick Di Paolo’s got a recurring character, Greg Fitzsimmons writes for it. I love all of those guys. I’m rootin’ for that show. (Editor’s note: Lucky Louie has since been cancelled by HBO) Ya know, Dane Cook, a lot of comics bash him but they’re just jealous of the business he does. I’m one of the few comics on his level that could probably do comparable business because I’m on Stern. But what he’s done is unbelievable business-wise. It’s all about business. Dane Cook doesn’t have a fraction of Attell’s talent, but Cook’s the bigger star because he’s business minded. But you can’t blame a guy for that. It’s how the world goes ’round.

With regards to the radio show, is there ever any time where stuff gets too personal or where somebody starts harping on you too much?

Yeah, that’s probably when the show’s the greatest.

How is it for you when Howard and Robin start giving you shit?

Everybody’s gotta take it. You can’t sit there and bitch and moan, because otherwise you can’t give somebody else shit when it’s their turn. Robin does hand out a lot of shit, but to her credit she takes a lot of shit, too and it’s hard for her. She knows how to act. She loves to pile on when you’re getting fucked with like everybody else, but she takes it too. There are times when I’m hurt and offended and all that shit, but that’s the show, man. You know when you sign on you gotta deal with it. There are comedians that I was up against to get that job who were without question funnier than me, but there’s no way they would’ve been able to take the shit they would have had to take if they were on all the time. You gotta have a thick skin, too. That’s part of why I got the job, I guess. As far as I’m concerned I’m just a guest in their house still, even though I’ve been there for five years. While I’m on that show I’ll do whatever they ask me to do. I’m a sick motherfucker with commitments, though. It’s crazy. When I was in the first grade I remember sitting at my desk going, ‘God, in four years I’m only going to be in the fifth grade. This is going to take forever.’ That’s how I am with work. I needed two days off (for filming of an episode of Entourage) and the deal I signed this first year I had to ask (Howard) for those two days. He had every right to say no. He said ‘No, go do it,’ and that’s the kind of support he shows me.

With regards to asking Howard, is it more that you feel like you’re trapped or because it’s his thing and you hate rocking the boat? Kind of like asking a relative for money?

Of course I hate rocking the boat. Howard’s comfortable with the dynamic we have in there and I hate putting him through any aggravation because he’s been so good to me. But Entourage is one of those gigs that’s worth asking for the time off. This is the greatest job ever, but I still hate being committed to anything. I hate it. I hate having to ask permission to go work. The boss thing is an awful tradition we have. Think about it, it’s another adult that you have to ask permission to do things. Howard’s one of my closest friends and I love him, but he’s still an adult and I’m an adult. Because he pays me and he is responsible for my job I have to ask another adult for permission. That’s the world though, man. Unless you own the company. And one day I hope to be in Howard’s position. If it’s not a radio show, a TV show, or just my own life where I freelance. The greatest time of my life was the two years in-between Mad TV and The Norm Show I was making movies and doing stand-up and I had a couple of development deals. I’d go from movie to movie, which took a couple of months and then stand-up gig to stand-up gig which is just a one-night commitment. I didn’t answer to anybody. It was the greatest. If any of the movies that I made, that was the time I made Dirty Work, The Bachelor, Lost & Found, Mystery Men, if any one of those were hits I could have kept living that life. But that’s not reality, you gotta go with the punches. So none of those were hits, so I had to go back to television. The sitcom lasted two years and bought me a house, but then I had a boss. Now I’m in a position where I have a great job, but I still have a boss.

continue reading below for part two of my interview with Artie Lange from 2006 and be sure to keep checking back for my latest interview with Lange.

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