Artie Lange may never have been the King of All Media, but he was certainly the reigning clown prince of morning radio for nearly a decade. The former Mad TV cast member became a sidekick on The Howard Stern Show in 2001 and shot to fame courtesy of an outrageous blue-collar persona that helped fuel Stern's wildly popular chatfest for eight-and-a-half years.
But Lange — who was battling addictions to heroin, gambling and hookers by the end of his time on Stern — hit the rockiest of bottoms in 2010 with a spectacularly dark suicide attempt in which he swigged a bottle of bleach, slit his wrists and repeatedly stabbed himself in the stomach with a kitchen knife. He left the show, and his relationship with his former boss has never recovered.
After stints in a hospital, a psych ward and rehab, Lange sobered up and wrote his second best-selling memoir, Crash and Burn, in 2013. The New Jersey-based comedian plunged back into his stand-up career, started a podcast, and hosts The Nasty Show, a decidedly blue special on Showtime that premieres Friday.
Maxim spoke to Lange about the state of his relationship with Stern, staying clean, and what he really thinks about Donald Trump.
So who's the nastiest comic on The Nasty Show?
We’re all pretty up there. It’s a pretty nasty show. It’s being going on at the Montreal Comedy Festival for years. It lets the comedians be dangerous and edgy, anything goes. We all let loose this year and had a lot of fun—that’s what Showtime asked for.
There's a rumor that you and Norm Macdonald were considering starting a Kickstarter to make Dirty Work 2. Is there any chance in hell of that happening?
That's the only way it would happen. A movie studio is not gonna fund that unless the guy in charge has a bad angel dust habit. But with Kickstarter, the key is to have fans who have money, and our fans don't. I wouldn’t put them through that. And Norm’s the same way. Yeah, they liked the first movie, so we’re gonna make them pay for it? I don’t think so. Same thing with my other film, Beer League, I would never do that to people.
Well, David Spade managed to get Crackle to put Joe Dirt 2 out there.
Really? It’s funny that it’s on Crackle because whoever agreed to it is probably on crack.
Indeed! Besides doing stand-up, you also host a podcast. Who's your dream guest?
We get horrible guests. Nobody comes on. I dunno, that’s a hard question. Keith Richards, I guess? Mick Jagger. Bill Murray. Chevy Chase. Anybody from the original SNL days. I should try calling people. We never call anyone.
What's the status of your relationship with Howard?
After I left the show, I went into intensive care for four days. Then I went to a psych ward for three days, and then I got transferred to a rehab. About two weeks after it happened, I got a call at rehab from Howard, and it was very nice. I called him when I got out of rehab, and he called me back. That was in February of 2010. He told me to call back and let him know how I was doing. I took it to mean that maybe they wanted me back as a guest or just to give an update, and I thought I owed them that. I called them about a month later in March 2010. Then I called again and left a message and apologized and said, "This is the last time I’m calling, I won’t bug you any more." Never heard back.
A year and a half later, my book was coming out. I didn’t wanna call them, but I was being respectful of a company, Random House, paying me big cash to write a book. I said, “I’ll at least try." Just to be a guest on the show and talk about the book, which every fan on Twitter was begging to happen. [Stern show producer]Gary [Dell'Abate] calls back a day later and he says, very coldly, "It’s just not going to happen." And I regret that I gave him the chance to say that, because I didn’t even want to make the call. I said, "OK" and hung up.
...And then, unbeknownst to me, the book company tries to buy ad time on the show, and this is when I really knew I was persona non grata. Ad sales never turns down anything. It could be dick cream. Random House was gonna pay top dollar, and they turned them down. That’s the first time I ever heard them doing that. Spincterine, where you put a mint in your ass to make it smell better? They took an ad for it. My book, which was No. 1 on the best seller list, they wouldn't do it because Howard put the kibosh on it personally. I said, "The guy hates my guts." I wrote him off the way he did me. I really wanted to have that long conversation in person where I said, "I’m sorry for becoming a heroin addict. We were doing great for 7 years. I apologize for that last year when I was a junkie."
"The fact that [Stern] won’t see me in person for ten minutes, it’s astonishingly immature and crazy. It’s surreal to me."
Do you ever see that happening on Howard's show?
No, it’s over. But coincidentally, about six months after that, Robin [Quivers] got sick. I went to Robin’s hospital in New York after her operation, very spontaneously, because I wanted to surprise her. And I walked into the room and Howard was there. He looked up and said, "Just what we need: Artie to make Robin laugh." And me and Howard and Robin were in the room alone for 45 minutes and we made her laugh, just like we were doing the news again. Howard had to leave, and I stayed for a few more hours. I hugged him outside and said, "Can we talk at some point?" He said, "Yeah."
I called him and he never called me back. That was the last time we spoke. I think he was just—like many people have done—"I'm writing Artie out of my life." That’s how Howard is and people respect him for that. He doesn’t take shit. But after a few years it started pissing me off. He brought something up on the air. I brought something up on my podcast. He eventually took the high road and said nice things and so did I. But the fact that someone I had that relationship with won’t see me in person for ten minutes, it’s astonishingly immature and crazy. It’s surreal to me.
What do you think of Howard going mainstream by becoming a judge on America's Got Talent and toning done some of his own show's rough edges?
He’s 62 years old. He's done a lot, and I think he has the right to evolve. He’s an amazing interviewer. At some point i think he made a conscious decision to say, "I want to leave behind a library of celebrity interviews that is unparalleled." He made Barbara Walters look like amateur hour. The only way he can get those people is to make the other parts of his show celeb-friendly and mainstream. America's Got Talent, changing Gary the Retard's name to Gary the Conquerer, not saying certain words, was a conscious decision to get those guests to come on. And it worked. But he’s sacrificed a lot of fans.
Who were your favorite guests on the show?
Paul McCartney. Roger Daltrey. I'm a big classic rock fan. Schwarzenegger. As a sports fan, Lawrence Taylor is the Babe Ruth of defense, and I’m a Giants fan. He came in and cried. But McCartney, especially the first interview, he was plugging the concert for 9-11. That was pretty incredible.
Who were your least favorite?
Rest in peace, but Joan Rivers was very much a star fucker. There were certain celebrities who came on and had tunnel vision for Robin and Howard. Nobody else existed in the room. She was like, "No, you don't exist. I’m only talking to the guy that can help me." William Shatner was like that, too. I got a chance to roast Shatner on Comedy Central. But Joan Rivers, I love her, but she was very aloof in a shitty way.
Did you ever get to meet a major celebrity crush on the show?
Carmen Electra. She was dating the guy from the Chili Peppers...Dave Navarro. Cool guy, rock star. We played this game called Anal Ring Toss. A stripper would come in, put a pole in her ass and we would throw rings at it. The deal was: If I beat Navarro, I could squeeze Carmen’s tits. And he made the bet, I won, and—I have a picture of this at my shore house—through the shirt, I squeezed Carmen’s tits. I might have pulled a ham string, I might need Tommy John surgery from jerking off to Carmen Electra as much as I have. Everyone knows I loved her more than anybody else. I didn’t go to college, my buddies all work construction. It was a February day, freezing cold, I’m getting paid a million dollars a year to squeeze Carmen Electra’s tits. I get 30 voice mails from my friends working construction. “Motherfucker, you were dumber than me in high school, I’m freezing my ass off going to build a deck in Newark and you're squeezing Carmen Electra’s tits?”
They keep in touch with me. They just keep showing up at gigs. They need money. I said, "Dude, if you wanna come on at the end, fine, but have something prepared." I pay him 200 bucks. It’s always awkward and dumb. They just show up at the gigs.
Are you still sober?
I had a couple relapses in the last five years, with pills and booze. Right now I have just over seven months. But within five years, there’s been four or five times. And you know that's average for a guy that’s recovering. Put it this way: I knew [death] was coming. The only gray area was, who will I be with when I die? I didn’t want to die at a Radisson in Cincinnati with an ugly hooker stealing my money. I was home alone, and it was a tragic thing, but I ended up recovered and here I am.
Do you indulge in any bad habits?
I still smoke. Problem is, I relate nicotine to that other stuff, and it reminds me of shit. And I’ve gambled. I did on the last Super Bowl. I have to try to get gambling out of my life, because to me, why gamble if you’re not going to party afterwards? That’s my biggest problem.
Well, without placing any bets, who do you think will win the Super Bowl?
There's no reason to say Brady and the Pats might not do it again. I don't want it, but it’s hard not to see it. Green Bay I’d like to see win, to see Aaron Rogers get another ring. But the Pats would not surprise anybody, unfortunately.
Who's the best comedian working today?
Dave Attell is a buddy of mine. But even before that, I would way if you wanted to see any comedian, living or dead, do a 20 minute set at a comedy club, anybody from Richard Pryor to George Carlin, I wouldn’t even hesitate to say Dave Attell.
Do you think the "P.C." sensibility that has caused some comedians to stop performing at college campuses is hurting comedy?
You know, life gets way better if you don’t use words like fag or the n-word, because those people shouldn’t have to hear those words. But comedy might get hurt. Comedy should be dangerous and edgy. I think there is a way to be funny and still do offensive stuff. Which is what we’re doing with The Nasty Show. Comics who don't at least try to do it are doing themselves and their business a disservice.
Who do you want to see elected president?
I’m a convicted felon and I can’t vote. But as a comedian, I want Trump to be elected president for life. I roasted him a couple times, I golfed with him, I met him through Howard. He’s a great guy. But he’s like a vindictive little kid. If you say “your shoes look stupid,” he’ll say, “I hope you get cancer.” In business it can work if you’re a bully, but in politics, you gotta be a little more diplomatic. He's just using rhetoric to get elected. Hillary Clinton is using the hatred for Trump to fire up her base. But it’s all the same party to me ... the party of liars.