When it comes the life and career of Artie Lange, there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground. There’s either impressive highs or terrifying lows that are often uniquely tied together.
He’s written two-bestselling memoirs that documented his struggles with drug and alcohol abuse, as well as his terrifying suicide attempt in 2010. He increased the fan base for his stand-up tenfold thanks to his years on Howard Stern’s SiriusXM show, but was removed from his chair soon after trying to end his own life. And his most high profile appearances on TV and online, including a contentious interview with Joe Buck on the sportscaster’s ill-fated HBO show and his sexually-charged Twitter spiel about ESPN’s Cari Champion, have left him wading through tidal waves of backlash and anger.
These days, the highs are far outnumbering the lows in the comic’s world. His subscription-based podcast The Artie Quitter Podcast has been a huge success with, according to his numbers, nearly 9,000 people ponying up $7 a month to hear Lange and his friends talk shit and do interviews with a surprisingly diverse batch of figures from the cultural universe. Plus he’s about to get another big platform on cable with tonight’s premiere of The Nasty Show on Showtime. The hour-plus special is a filmed version of the gloriously filthy stand-up showcase that is a centerpiece of the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal. Lange is both host and headliner for this TV edition, welcoming with him some choice names in challenging comedy like Jimmy Carr, Luenell and Gilbert Gottfried.
We caught up with Lange during the holiday break he took from taping his podcast to talk about his current state of affairs.
Paste: The Nasty Show has been going on at the Just For Laughs Festival for a long time now. Is that a show that you’ve done a few times before?
Artie Lange: Not a bunch. As a matter of fact, I did it on a total lark about 17 years ago. I had just finished shooting the movie Dirty Work with Norm Macdonald in 1997. I went to the festival with a couple of comics that I had met in Toronto just to hang out and see some friends, and I ended up doing a spot on The Nasty Show. And that was the last time I was there at the festival. This is the first time I was ever officially involved.
Paste: How then did you get involved with what became the Showtime special?
Lange: First they came to me and said, “We’d like to offer Artie a chance to headline every Nasty Show and do his podcast from there.” And I said, “That sounds like fun. I could probably do that.” Then they came back and said, “We’re gonna film it and we’d like Artie to be the host and to headline and to be the face of it.” And everybody was very nice and I thought it sounded like fun so I said, “Yeah, I’m in.”
Paste: Obviously Gilbert Gottfried is someone you’ve known for years, but were you familiar with the other comics you were booked with?
Lange: I’ve known Gilbert forever and Gina Yashere I’ve known from the Comedy Cellar and like her a lot. The other guys I really wasn’t familiar with. Jimmy Carr…great guy to hang out with. Really interesting guy and I really enjoyed working with him. Gilbert was the only I guy that I knew well, but it was a blast. It was a great group of people. There were multiple shows a night. We did about 40 shows together over two weeks. It was like going to camp.
Paste: This show comes along at the perfect time as people are arguing over the role of political correctness in comedy, and folks like Jerry Seinfeld are refusing to do colleges because he can’t do his normal act there for fear of some trumped up outrage…
Lange: To me it’s not even a discussion. The direct enemy of comedy is described as “political correctness.” The whole idea of having a sense of humor about something is to not be offended by something. I can’t imagine anyone trying to inject political correctness, or whatever that represents, into stand-up or any time of comedy is completely going against the idea of trying to be funny about something. The people who are uptight about stuff, it’s not even the same category as comedy. It’s something else. I’ve had some lame experiences at colleges, too, and it’s a shame that young people whose minds should be open to anything, offensive or not, to have to form opinions on that stuff and goof on it and comment on it, support it, whatever. It’s ludicrous. I’m glad someone like Seinfeld or Chris Rock comes out because it gets noticed. To me, it’s a ridiculous discussion that I can’t believe we’re having but I guess we have to have it!
Paste: It’s strange to me because comedy clubs and show are the places where you should be able to just let it all hang out.
Lange: Exactly! Comedy should be a place where we’re gonna goof around. You’re with adults, going to a bar, having drinks, and telling jokes. If you’re uptight about it, you shouldn’t be there. That’s what a comedy club represents to me: people who are going to be dangerous.
Paste: It’s especially difficult now in the era of social networking where it seems like a lot of people are ready to pounce on any tweet or Facebook post that’s even borderline offensive, which is something I know you’ve run into.
Lange: I’ll tell you, man, that Twitter’s a dangerous thing! [laughs] I still have a blast doing it. What they don’t realize is that at this point in my career, I might have more satisfaction offending people than I do getting laughs. When these uptight people come to a club or you see them on Twitter getting so mad about stuff, it’s the guy in the playground that…you don’t tease the guy who doesn’t care; you tease the guy that cares. It’ll probably be the end of my career someday because I can’t stop doing it.
Paste: Let’s talk about The Artie Quitter Podcast. How has it been to make this podcast and have it be as successful as it is?
Lange: It’s a blast. It’s so much fun. It’s the first time in my life I’ve every truly been uncensored. I talked to some people before I started and they said, “You know, you’re not going to get many people to pay for a podcast, but you might be able to because of the eight years on Howard. There might be people hardcore enough to pay.” By advertising standards, the amount of people that subscribe would be considered a failure. But I charge $7 a month and I have about 9,000 people, so that’s $630,000 a year. I’m doing it from my kitchen! My overhead is about $150K a year, so I’m making about $480,000 a year right now. And it’s growing. Believe me, I’m no good businessman, but I’ve never advertised. My new agent said you should get those numbers up and I said, “If I did, I might get in a robe and never leave the house!” From my kitchen I’ve been late 11 times. I tell them sometimes, I catch traffic by the bathroom. I probably double that with stand-up. For a slob who had to go to summer school to get out of high school, what a casual, wonderful existence. Of course, I’ll probably ruin it, but for now, it’s great.
Paste: One of the things I admire about it is the wide range of guests that you have brought on the show, everyone from Glenn Greenwald to Robert Iler from The Sopranos to your stand-up buddies. How do you decide who to book on the show?
Lange: Again, it’s how great this era of technology is. Obviously the comics are guys I know and they come on, and I love all types of comedy. The Glenn Greenwald thing…I’m sitting at home and I see Citizenfour on demand. I watch it and am fascinated by it and impressed by Greenwald. The intelligence and balls. Interesting character. Almost like a character in a Bond movie. So I’ve got my phone…I never leave the couch! I find him on Twitter on my phone and I tweet at him. 10 minutes later he tweets back. I said “I’ve got a podcast and I promise it will be a positive thing.” And he knew who I was! He was a fan because of Stern, and he said, “I’d love to talk with you.” A week later he’s on the show! What an exciting, crazy time we’re in. I never left the couch and I booked him. With guests, it’s just whoever I feel like talking to. And I have a lot of different interests. That’s something I’m proud of, too, the diversity of the guests.
Paste: I thought one of your best recent guests was the transsexual adult film star Venus Lux, which was a pretty timely get considering all the conversations that have arisen about transsexuality thanks to Caitlyn Jenner.
Lange: She was very intelligent and had very refreshing views on stuff. I found it to be an interesting interview. You’re right, something like that is insanely relevant with what’s going on right now. In my stand-up, I like to joke about the Bruce Jenner thing, and Venus has heard my act and loved it. I like people who can separate and have a sense of humor about stuff. I was proud to have someone like her on. Definitely someone who is articulate enough to bring that cause to the forefront in a way that people like her will find satisfactory. I’m proud to provide that voice in some way.
Paste: So what does the rest of 2016 look like for you?
Lange: I filmed a pilot for HBO that Judd Apatow directed. I’m the second lead on this show. Judd just texted me and said it came out great. I’m looking forward to seeing that. For the success of the podcast, I’ve had some interesting offers in the TV and radio world. I’ll probably make an announcement around February. Some exciting stuff is going on for me in ‘16, so we’ll see.
Paste: Are you able to talk about this HBO pilot a bit more?
Lange: It’s called Crashing, and it’s basically based on Pete Holmes’ life when he moved to New York to start doing stand-up. He moves to the city and started working places like the Comedy Cellar and he met all of us, guys like me and Patrice O’Neal. I don’t remember it but he said some of us were nice and some weren’t. I think I fell in the nice category. He’s broke and gets into a fight with his wife at the time…I won’t go into details, I think that’s going to be a surprise…but he used to crash on other comics’ couches. He crashes on older, more famous comics’ couches. I’m the first guy that he introduces himself to and begs to sleep on my couch. We have an odyssey, the whole first episode that we’re in. Judd allowed us to do a lot of improv. He’d read both of our books and told me, “Just tell stories I liked from the books.” That was very flattering. It’ll probably be a recurring role since I’m the first guy that takes him in and there’s kind of a bond there. It was fun to play against him. We couldn’t be more opposite.
Paste: I hope you don’t mind me asking but how’s your health these days?
Lange: Knock on wood. 48 years old and the last checkup I had was right before we filmed the pilot. My checkups tend to be a little more thorough than other people! [laughs] And I got a clean bill of health. Strong Native American/Italian bones, I guess!
The Nasty Show premieres on Showtime tonight at 10:05 PM ET/PT.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste, and the author of Empire: The Unauthorized Untold Story, available in bookstores now. You can find more of his writing here.