Artie Lange spent the better part of nine years as Howard Stern’s side kick and today is a regular on Judd Apatow’s HBO show Crashing. His newest best-seller, Wanna Bet? A Degenerate Gambler’s Guide to Living on the Edge, recounts the hilarious highlights of Lange’s life, as well as the lowlights, including drug busts and jail stints. HUSTLER recently spent 90 rollicking minutes with the fabulous funnyman in his Hoboken penthouse to learn how the hell he survived.
HUSTLER: Your new book is packed with stories! For instance, you know Trump?
ARTIE LANGE: He’s a guy I roasted once, and I golfed with him. If you google the roast, it’s from 2004, and he’s laughing at all these gay jokes, these racist jokes. And the fact he’s gonna be President 12 years later—Jesus Christ! After the roast we golfed. I’ve got the funniest picture ever—me, Eli Manning and Trump. I mean, I’m not political, but Trump’s a fun guy to hang out with. Maybe you don’t want him dating your sister or something. Or running the country! But Trump proves this country is so great in that we can vote out politicians and vote in a game show host.
Look, I’m a kid from North Jersey, an Italian kid. I didn’t go to college. I am a rogue comic. Nothing offends me. So yeah, he’s a fun guy to hang out with. There were girls that looked like whores around. We were saying shit to each other on the golf course, busting balls like we’d known each other since the third grade. He was making fun of the fact that I’m a shitty golfer. I’m like, “I wasn’t some asshole rich kid learning how to golf when I was 16. I was Sheetrocking a bathroom!” Trump kept calling Eli a fag. And Trump and my father said the exact same thing to me: “You swing like a cunt.”
Your father was a big Stern fan?
He turned me on to him. He installed TV antennas back when they used them, and in about ’82, eighth grade, the first year Howard was on, my father said, “You’re coming to work with me tomorrow. You gotta hear this guy.” Then later he fell and became a quadriplegic. My old man died when I was 22, when I was just a drunk and a gambler. If he knew I ended up a co-host on The Stern Show, it would be like I was a senator to him. The only thing that made him laugh sometimes, as a quadriplegic, was Stern.
You worked as a longshoreman back then?
Yeah, I’m a rare stand-up—didn’t go to college, very, very blue collar. On MADtv, the first cast was eight of us, but they were all Northwestern, Yale drama, and I was literally unloading an orange juice ship two years before. I just rolled the dice and got something in comedy. Quincy Jones was a producer on MADtv and had the same story, not a lot of education. He was like a second father to me. Quincy saved my life early on, sent me to rehab. He said, “You’re a funny cat, man.” He’d actually say “cat.” The first time I ever rode in a private jet, I was in rehab, and I was coming back from New York, and Quincy says, “How you getting back to L.A.?” I’m like, “I got a plane ticket,” and he says, “Fuck that, man, we got the wings! I got Warner Bros. to fucking give us the jet, man!” I’m like, “The jet? I was just on the bus!”
I’m in a limousine with Quincy Jones in January ’96. He was the editor of Vibe magazine at the time, and Biggie and Tupac were on the cover. He says to his assistant, “These two motherfuckers are both gonna be dead in a year if they don’t stop this bullshit.” I swear to God that came out of his mouth! He goes, “I gotta talk to both them motherfuckers, just me and them. First of all, Tupac, he ain’t no thug! When he was a teenager, he was drinking mai tais at Punky Brewster’s pool party! Punky Brewster! And Biggie Smalls is trying to get out of this shit, like Sinatra and me. Artie, you’re a guinea, yeah? I told Sinatra, ‘You’re away from the guineas. I’m away from the niggas. That’s what we’re supposed to do!’”
Was he right about them being dead?
September ’96 Tupac went, that was eight months later, and a year and two months later they were both dead. Quincy said, “They’re fucking with the wrong people. You can’t bring Crips into it.” So he was right, yeah. And who else should you listen to but him?
I got into L.A. County jail once, for possession, and he called up and said he had juice at the jail. I got my own cell, and the guard says, “I don’t know who the fuck you know, but you’re getting your own shower.” I go to Quincy, “Thanks, man, having your own shower here is the greatest thing ever.” I asked him how come he has so much juice, and he just said, “I produced Thriller.” I said, “That should be your answer to every question.”
Not to be nosy, Artie, but there’s a big hole on your living room wall where it looks like a TV used to be.
Yeah, a drug dealer has it. I was out of money, so I took a picture of the TV and sent it to the guy. I got probably $30 worth of heroin for it, a $2,000 fuckin’ TV! Him and two brothers come in, and I go, “What do I get for it?” He goes, “A couple of bundles.” I go, “A couple of bundles? It’s a flat-screen HD!” But there was no way to haggle.
I got a story for you! I don’t know if I’ve ever told this story…or maybe it’s in the book? Anyways, I was in Cleveland, Ohio, and I was in bad withdrawals, and I didn’t think I was gonna make the plane. So a kid, a heroin addict, recognized me and said, “I got a dealer in Akron.” So then I’m in this kid’s Fiat, all scrunched up, driving from Cleveland to Akron in the snow. At this point I’m like, What am I doing? I’m technically sort of a celebrity, but I’m famous for being a heroin addict! So we get to Akron and pull up at this drug dealer’s house, and they have names or different sayings on the bags of heroin. I didn’t go in, but the kid says his guy has two celebrity names: Bobby Brown and Artie Lange. Okay?! The kid couldn’t believe it. He goes, “That’s fuckin’ unbelievable. See if you can get free heroin!” I go, “What are you talking about? He doesn’t recognize me.” So the kid goes in and starts to explain to the dealer, “The guy whose name is on the heroin is outside!” The dealer looks out at me in the car and then screams at the kid, “Nigga, that ain’t Bobby Brown!” That’s the funniest thing I ever heard in my life. Then the kid, he’s a 21-year-old comedy fan, on the drive back to Cleveland, he says to me, without any irony at all, “You’ve achieved so much.”
“I THOUGHT, I GOTTA TRY WHAT KIND OF BLOW THE RAMONES GET, AND IT WAS ROCK STAR COCAINE. I WAS HUGGING PEOPLE AT THE URINALS AT THE PORT AUTHORITY, TELLING PEOPLE ON THE BUS I WAS GONNA BE PRESIDENT. I THOUGHT I COULD FLY.”