Hoboken resident Artie Lange is perhaps best known for his eight years as a regular on the Howard Stern radio show, but his popularity also stems from his Jersey roots and the character roles that showcase his skill at playing blue-collar heroes.
At a recent show at Carolines on Broadway, the packed house chanted "Artie, Artie, Artie" as the popular comic made his way to the stage.
His Stern show fans love him and feel like they know him, perhaps due to the revealing life stories that he tells on SIRIUS Radio, and to his approachable manner.
Even his comedy routine speaks of his working-class roots that Artie isn't ashamed to mention. His most recent movie, Beer League, which he co-produced, co-wrote, and starred in, showcased that everyman character, which isn't too far removed from Lange's modest upbringing in Union, N.J.
Lange's story speaks of the ordinary hero who rose to fame when it was still possible to find and follow the American dream. While fans over the years have heard stories from his wild youth and his time spent in L.A., they don't know all the circumstances that helped shape his career.
His latest project, a book that will be released by Random House on Nov. 11, promises a more revealing glimpse into his life.
Draws from life
"It's not an autobiography in the sense that it is not anything linear," said Lange recently. "It's going to have about 17 to 20 short stories that are real stories. It's just about different things that happened to me at different times in my life, starting from the time that I was born, to the last chapter, which is going to be about the [recent] trip that I took to Afghanistan."
He added, "Some of the stories are the famous ones I've told - I just tell them in a much more detailed way. There are a couple I've never told anywhere. They range from funny to dark, to tragic, to sad. I left my entire soul on these pages."
Lange said that there are a couple of stories that he thinks even Howard will be surprised by. In the book, there is one story that almost became a revelation on the Stern show.
"The last day that we were on regular radio, and we had to tell our producer Will a revelation on the show that no one knew," he said. "That was hard because I had told so many stories. But there was one I hadn't, and it was a pretty serious thing. I spoke to Dana, my mother, and my sister about what the revelation was, and they all thought that it would be a horrible thing to say on the radio and it wouldn't come out properly on the Stern show. And I said, 'You know, if I ever were to write a book, maybe I could tell it the right way.' "
He continued, "So I actually called up Will, because he was the only one who knew it, and I said I have to change my revelation. I changed it to this story that happened in L.A. But [the original] revelation is in the book, and it's a long one, and it's one of the sadder pieces in the book."
Lange says that another person who knows the story is his co-writer Anthony Bozza, who is editing and shaping the stories for Lange's book. Bozza recently co-wrote a book with Tommy Lee, among others. The book was initially supposed to come out in April of 2009, but Lange says that he and Bozza work so well together that they moved the release date up.
The book, which is titled Too Fat to Fish, can be pre-ordered on Amazon. It was initially listed at number 6,000, but after a mention on the Stern show, it jumped to number 22.
"[Random House] couldn't believe it," said Lange. "It's unprecedented. Thousands of books have sold already." Lange says that one of the amazing things about the Stern show is the amount of exposure a project can get.
"The president of Random House steps up to me and he gives me a long handshake and he says 'We're so happy to have you,' " he says. "It's just so funny, a slob like me and a former longshoreman with the president of Random House, and he's happy to have my book. It's surreal. Show business is surreal. But it's another plus from being on the Stern show."
Mom knows best
Lange says that the title of the book stemmed from an incident with his mother when he was in his 20s and worked as a longshoreman.
"One Friday after work, we went to happy hour and we got really drunk," he said "My boss, the foreman, asked if I wanted to go fishing. I hadn't ever really gone before, but it was one of those drunken promises. So he calls me up the next day at 5:30 a.m. and I'm toast, so I say, yeah, I'll be ready in two seconds. So I go downstairs. And like most normal Italian women, my mother was up at 5 a.m. vacuuming, and she says to me, 'What are you doing up?' I say, 'I'm going fishing.' She had never seen me show an interest in any outdoor sports. She thought I was out of shape and thought I would fall off the boat and drown. So she was like a mad person trying to figure out a way to stop me from going fishing. And then she lost it and screamed at me: 'You are too fat to fish. You are too fat to fish. You are too fat to fish!' It sounded so funny. My sister heard it up in her room. The neighbors heard it and my sister and I started laughing. And then I had to call him up and say my mother won't let me go fishing, which was embarrassing enough. So I went upstairs and I slept until 2 o'clock and then my mother made me a mozzarella omelet."
Artie says that the phrase became a running joke in his family, and years later, when he was making enough money to incorporate, he named the company "Too Fat to Fish."
A family man
The success that Lange has gained has enabled him to care for mother the way she took care of him. When he was making enough money, he bought her a new house away from the working-class neighborhood where he grew up.
"It was a prouder moment of mine, because I was able to pay off the house and she had no mortgage," he said. "I wanted to make sure she had no mortgage and decorate it the way she wants it."
"After my father fell off the roof and broke his back, my mother had to get a job as a secretary," he said. "It was an awful time. Four years later, he died of complications. He was a quadriplegic literally from the neck down. No arm movement, no nothing."
Lange says that the first chapter in the book tells some of the early years in his parents' history, including how his being born helped straighten his father out. "My mom made him change his ways," he said. "It took a couple of years of him working to get a house. We had a great childhood, and then he fell."
"I thought he was Superman. I'd go to work with him when I was 7 years old and he was working on a high-rise," he said. "Just to tease me, he'd stand on one foot on the ledge. He had the craziest sense of humor. And when he was 42, he fell. It was hard because he liked to read the sports page and not much else. We tried to make him as comfortable as we could. We took out a second mortgage. Medicaid paid for a nurse eight hours a day. When my mother got back from being a secretary all day, she had to take care of him. Every night, she set her alarm clock to turn him so he wouldn't get bedsores."
He added, "My sister was very strong. She was in the 11th grade at the time, during years that are supposed to be the best in your life, and my sister came home to this tragedy. That was when I developed a drinking and drug problem. I got into bar fights and got arrested, got a DUI, just this s--- that my mother didn't need."
Lange remembers his father as a physical man who enjoyed holding an apple in his fist while he ate it. "When he was paralyzed, we would give him apples because he enjoyed them. And he would say, 'You know, it's not the same. I don't enjoy it anymore.' That and so many little things were taken away from his life. It was finally just an infection that did him in, and probably just a lack of a will to live. He was 42 when he fell and 46 when he died."
"Thank God what insurance did cover was 10 months at the Kessler Institute," says Lange. "My father was like my best friend. We did everything together. We played baseball and he was tough. He was my hero and my best friend and I loved him."
Lange said that he had to go to Kessler before his father was released to learn how to transfer him from the wheelchair to the car. "So I go to Kessler, I'm 18 years old, and I have to pick up my dad who is everything to me," he said. "I was about to slide him over to the chair and we made eye contact and me and my father started to cry uncontrollably. We sat there and cried for about 20 minutes."
He added, "The thing I remember about Kessler is the orderlies. There were four gay guys who to me were like saints. They worked for about $8 an hour and took care of people like my father. And my father said, 'You know these two guys here, they actually make me laugh.' They made him forget for a little while, which is hard to do. They change diapers. You know for $8 an hour, that's God's work."
"A lot of people in my parent's position, the spouse abandons them," he said. "My mother was 43 and she had worked so hard. That summer was the first summer that my parents were about to start enjoying themselves."
An introduction to Stern
Lange says that it was his father who first introduced him to the Stern show in 1982. "He loved the show," said Lange, who said that they would listen to the show together. He said that his family held a charity auction for his father after he fell. One of the celebrities they called was Howard Stern.
"We called the Stern show," he said. "We called a bunch of celebrities and Howard was the only celebrity that responded. They sent a signed K-Rock jacket. It is so funny now. I've been working with Howard for the past seven years and friends with him, and I can remember listening to the show. What's great about Howard is that he has this very dark sense of humor. After he sent the jacket, Howard said, 'Does this guy think that if he puts the jacket on he's going to walk again?' "
He continued, "My father thought it was funny. You know, I feel robbed. If he was alive right now he would have turned 65 on St. Patrick's Day. Some of the crazy sketches that I did on Mad TV, I think he would have loved. He would have loved if he knew I was on the Howard Stern show. I'm sure he'd be a character on the show. I'm sure he'd be calling in from time to time. When I think about it, it gets me sad. I just wish he was around to be on the show and enjoy this part of my life with me."
Part II of the profile discusses Lange's life on the radio, his comedy tour in Afghanistan, and more. The story in its entirety can be viewed online on Sunday. Comments on this story can be sent to: Diana Schwaeble at: firstname.lastname@example.org.