Artie Lange is one of my favorite phoenixes. When I heard he was performing at the stylish new comedy venue The Stand last week, I made a point to see him and find out how the tormented-but-brilliant comedian is actually doing. So right after the 44-year-old destroyed on stage at the club, as he made his exit, I jumped in his black SUV for an on-the-fly-interview about his emerging from the ashes once again. (Is he really truly sober? Does he talk to Howard Stern? What the hell drugs was he on when he hijacked the Joe Buck show?) If you've followed his career, or just celebrity near-tragedies in general, you'll recall it was not too long ago in the early days of January 2010 when Artie took a 13-inch kitchen knife and stabbed himself in the gut -- six times with hesitation and then three deep plunges with force.
When I moved back to New York a few weeks ago, I reached out to Artie professionally. He called me back and then texted, "Mandy!! It's Artie Lange. Welcome back. Left u a voicemail." As is my uncomfortably earnest way, I have dorkily texted Artie prayers and other uncool sobriety-related things throughout the years, and this time I just replied with, "I love you. Hope to see you soon." Artie texted back, "Love you too. Thanks for always treating me fairly. Talk soon."
"I have so much to live for," Artie told me in late 2009 when I did an in-depth interview with him for The New York Post. Artie is known for his gargantuan struggles with drinking and drugs and self-obliteration, and he confessed. "My darkness helped my comedy... To me, and to a lot of comedians, depression and comedy go hand in hand." He also talked about the "game" many comics do on stage where they dig the deepest possible hole at the start of a set, and then ride the thrill of being able to come back and win everyone over again. At that point in the interview, I asked him if he ever thought about the fact he might be doing that same "game" subconsciously in his personal life as well -- except instead of offensive jokes, using heroin, prostitutes, gambling and other forms of self-sabotage. Artie paused and said, "You should be a shrink."
Three months later, the darkness overtook him. He attempted suicide. Then eight months after his butchery landed him in the hospital, Artie emerged fresh out of the psych ward and made a seemingly remarkable return to stand up on stage at the Comedy Cellar with the opening line, "Well, folks, I gotta say, I am so glad that Fashion Week is over because I am fucking exhausted."
I reported the news of his return to comedy, which was the lead item in Page Six, and I watched as the story received thousands upon thousands of "likes," and Artie texted me it was "the shit," with tons of offers coming his way because of it. At that point in my life, I also finally embraced sobriety after flirting with suicidal actions -- but never with anything as bold as a knife. Artie told me how happy he was to hear I was also getting clean, and I told him I was praying for us both.
The sticky wicket with sobriety is that, for adrenaline junkies, taking the route where you are fully aware and fully in control and fully accountable for your actions (like, say, actually looking at your life and things you may not be proud of) can be truly terrifying. Many Hollywood addicts are what is called "dirty sober." They proclaim sobriety in public and especially for media outlets, maybe even go to meetings, but in truth cannot undertake the transformative challenge of having to actually live with themselves and so keep using and drinking -- and remain fragmented, lost, a lie.
Artie is very much not dirty sober. He is the real deal. That's apparent in everything from the way he talks to the stand up he's performing to the writing he's producing to the sharpness in his eyes to his ability to look fearlessly at the uglier parts within himself to his straight-up accountability -- rather than the dirty-sober technique of doing anything you can to explain away failings (because it's everybody else's fault, don't you see).
Because Artie has come to trust me, for the first time he reveals it was 4 crushed-up 10-mg Vicodin he snorted, combined with a couple whiskeys, that he took prior to his most infamous TV appearance in 2009, where he made headlines for getting "banned" from HBO when Joe Buck, an all-American sportscaster started off by saying TMZ was his favorite Web site, and Artie shot back, "Joe, TMZ is your favorite Web site? What's your second, suckingcock.com?"
He got giant laughs. Followed by more laughs. Followed by, when he just kept going, uncomfortable tension and awkward silence. Artie loved it.
"Joe and I were never enemies, and I didn’t try to sabotage the show," Artie tells me. "I thought I was making the show funny, but like I do a lot, I had a poor lapse in judgment. And I was a little too rated R. More like rated X. It’s hard when your first joke involves the word 'cocksucker,' for what I think they thought was going to be a family show."
When Artie made his horrific suicide attempt, he says Joe was genuinely supportive as he went through his hell -- then decided to write a follow-up to his best-selling "Too Fat to Fish," called "Crash and Burn," due out in December. Artie says: "I started writing the book when I came out of rehab, I said to my publisher, I said, 'I’m going to ask Joe Buck if he would write the foreword, it would just be amazing.' And of course from a business standpoint, they were like, 'Crash and Burn' by Artie Lange, foreword by Joe Buck, they were like, coming. I called Joe, and he agreed immediately, and he wrote the funniest foreword. Bashing me. And explaining the whole situation. And, like I don’t want to give it away, but the last thing he says is, 'Fuck you.' Which a lot of people don’t hear Joe Buck speaking like that because he’s Mr. America. And the last thing he says is, “By the way, ‘Fuck you.' And it was a justified 'fuck you.'"
That's Artie. In our dark-lit chat in his car, Artie also reveals what Howard Stern told him the last time the two spoke candidly, lays out sports predictions for the coming year (the Yankees will take the World series but the Giants are a no-go), details the last time he slipped with his sobriety (he has six months clean now -- and three years from heroin), his top five comedians of this generation, his honest opinion of radio co-host Nick DiPaolo, what he really thinks of AA and why nowadays he resists placing even one gambling bet.
"I can't even do that. Everything leads to bad stuff with me," Artie tells me. "My buddy's like, 'You can put one bet down.' If I put a bet down tonight at 8 o'clock, by tomorrow morning I'd be, like, running guns to Cuba."