Summer reading – uncomplicated, light fare, books you can doze off in the middle of and pick up again on the wrong page and nobody cares. Perfect time for most books about musicians and actors and comics, because with few exceptions you can blow through them in a sitting. Depends on how interesting the subject is. Also depends on how talented the ghostwriter or co-writer is. Artie Lange seemed to fit the bill, especially since the #1 bestseller from last Fall was now available in paperback. Too Fat To Fish is a decent read, breezy enough to enjoy and written conversationally so even his most challenged zealot can grasp the gist of it.
I’m not a regular Howard Stern listener, but I’m familiar with a lot of Artie’s other work and he can be a funny guy. He’s got the John Belushi schlub thing down pat when he wants to, and anyone who can make a film like Beer League is okay by me. The proof is out there - MAD TV, Dirty Work, It’s The Whisky Talkin’, even bit parts on shows like Rescue Me. Artie Lange has charisma, although often it’s train wreck charisma – but either way he’s not slipping off your radar once he’s on.
Artie’s book skips through events in his life, starting in his childhood and his determination to make it as a ballplayer or a comic. A tragic accident paralyzed his Dad, whom Artie worshipped, and he ties a lot of his recklessness and problems to the aftermath of his father’s death, although ultimately the same event made him rededicate himself to making a mark in the entertainment world. He succeeded quickly as one of the charter cast members of MAD TV but was in over his head from the start, although castmates Orlando Jones and David Herman (later the hilarious Michael Bolton in Office Space) bailed him out repeatedly, first saving his job and later his life.
Those looking for stories of excess and debauchery will fins plenty here, from the “pig story” and rampant dug and alcohol binges to the networks throwing development money around like Johnny Appleseed with little or no hope of valuable return. Lange is pretty honest about how many times his screw ups affected dozens of people, and the frequency of public apologies to those he is no longer in touch with are both heartfelt and sad. As each chapter unfolds you’re certain that this, finally, is the redemption coming along, but all it does is blow up yet another bridge. Few have gone through Lange’s orbit unscathed, and Artie doesn’t deflect the blame.
Mostly Artie comes off like a guy who got too much too soon, blew it, miraculously got it back. He was emotional recalling the honor of performing for the troops. His family is still on a pedastel, including his late father whom he still reveres. He sounds truly grateful to those still willing to give him yet another chance, and I imagine there are days when he gets up in the morning and wants to pull a Dave Chappelle for his own sanity. Maybe catch a ballgame and share a private thought with his Dad. Maybe hang out with some of the legends he truly reveres – Don Rickles, Shelley Berman – and just soak it up a little. Maybe grow up a little.
But then he hits the studio where magic happens, where the most dynamic voice in the last quarter century of radio (no, idiot, it’s not you) welcomes him like family. Where the phones light up with armies of zealots. Zealots who will fill theatres and arenas and generate more money than ninety percent of his comedian peers will generate. Where he is surrounded by legions of fans who worship the very behavior that ran him into the tree the last time around. (Just be outrageous, Artie – drink, eat, curse, belch…be that derelict we love so much! Dance, monkey…dance!)
Fishing? Fuck fishing. Who needs fishing?
Hang in there, Artie. I hope those you ask for forgiveness do so. I hope those who you ask to come back to your life do so. And I hope the second time around you pay attention to the Norm MacDonalds and Howard Sterns and Dave Attells and learn how to walk that line between caricature and character. You’re still a pup, Artie – I hope we haven’t seen your best yet. I hope you don’t take the easy road down and out.
P.S. - Artie…park that car, ok? You can afford a driver by now.
Artie’s MySpace site
MAD TV, R.I.P.