Artie Lange’s Big Crack-Up

Following a Brutal Knife Attack (Self-Inflicted) and a Stint in a Mental Hospital, the Veteran Funnyman Stages Yet Another Comeback

While the show is on Sirius, it is also syndicated on regular radio stations, leaving the duo at the mercy of the FCC.

“For the four years I was on Howard and Sirius, I was like going 100 miles an hour,” Mr. Lange said. “You can say whatever you want, and that was fun, that kind of freedom. Here, we don’t have that.”

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Mr. Lange In Unhealthier Times (photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Still, the fact that just two years ago Mr. Lange was sitting in an insane asylum, playing Scrabble with a 400-pound methadone addict and an 80-pound meth head, is not lost on him.

“I said, ‘Well this is it. I’m playing Scrabble in a psych ward, so it’s probably over,’” he said. He figured, if he got lucky, “maybe I would play the fat neighbor on a shitty sitcom and stay in show business and do my act at the Mandalay Bay once in a while,” he said in his nicotine-stained Jersey growl. “But this is crazy.”

There is always the possibility of another fuck-up in a career that’s had its share of them, along with those moments of redemption. In the 1990s, Mr. Lange got canned from Mad TV, the show that started his career, for doing enough cocaine to wipe out a small horse farm, at one point mixing the drug into his whiskey when his nose became too sore to snort it. He cleaned up his act in rehab, went on to star in the amusing but unsuccessful Dirty Work with Norm McDonald, then bounced around sitcoms and comedy clubs before landing in the one chair his oversized keister was born to sit in.

When longtime Howard Stern sidekick Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling left The Howard Stern Show over a salary dispute in 2001, Mr. Lange got the nod to join Stern’s morning crew.

“It’s a powerful show to be on,” said Mr. Lange. The gig did wonders for his stand-up career—he sold out a show at Carnegie Hall in three hours—and for his wallet. At his peak, Mr. Lange was making $800,000 a year from The Howard Stern Show and $2 million touring the road.

The schedule was brutal, however, requiring him to wake up at 4:45 a.m. each morning.

“That’s when I was always going home,” he said. Mr. Lange would try to ride out the day without sleeping, sometimes still buzzed on the previous night’s intake of Jack Daniels, pills or heroin.

“Howard’s got the most observant, like, keen eye for anything on the planet,” he said. “Like if I tried that a couple of nights, he would say ‘Robin, Artie seems drunk.’ And he was right.”

Though he lasted eight years, the schedule wore him out, leading to the occasional flare-up. In 2008, he attacked his assistant Teddy on the air after an argument over money, coming at the much smaller man like a walrus in a New York Yankees T-shirt. After being restrained by three colleagues, he offered Mr. Stern his resignation. “Howard, I love you, but I can’t do it anymore. I’m an outta control person,” he said during the show.

Mr. Lange would continue to appear on the program for a year, until 2010, when his mother, Judy, found him inside his apartment unconscious and bleeding. (It was his second unsuccessful suicide attempt. In 1995, he’d tried to overdose on Resterol, a sleeping aide, and Excedrin PM.)

In 2010, Mr. Lange found himself inside the Summit Oaks Hospital in New Jersey, where a large, intimidating fellow patient recognized the portly comedian, who was wearing a “Jimmy Kimmel Live” T-shirt.

“He looked at my shirt, and because he was a lunatic, he thought I was Jimmy Kimmel,” Mr. Lange recalled. “He starts screaming ‘you’re Jimmy Kimmel! You’re Jimmy Kimmel!’

“I said, ‘Yeah, I’m Jimmy Kimmel.’”