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Comic Artie Lange On Being 'Too Fat To Fish'
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Comic Artie Lange On Being 'Too Fat To Fish'

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DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of tvworthwatching.com, sitting in for Terry Gross.

Today's guest, Artie Lange, cracks people up, often by telling stories about the awful, embarrassing, depressing, self-sabotaging, even tragic things that have happened to him. He's one of the regulars on the "Howard Stern Show" and a standup comic who is in such demand he can get more than $80,000 for a gig.

Last year, Lange wrote a memoir called "Too Fat to Fish." Since then, fans of the Sterns show know that Artie Lange is looking healthier. He's dropped about 45 pounds and has a new girlfriend, though he hasn't yet brought her into the studio.

"Too Fat to Fish" is now out in paperback, and Howard Stern wrote the introduction. He says, quote, Artie is a complicated subject. Most people who listen to my show will ask me to explain why a guy who has everything going for him has so many issues. You know what I'm talking about: the heroin problem, the gambling, the eating, the hookers. All of it forces people to ask, how can a man with so much talent have so many problems? But here's the bottom line. Artie is the funniest, sweetest guy around, and Artie has the biggest heart on the plant, unquote.

Terry Gross spoke to Artie Lange last November.

TERRY GROSS, host:

…back to FRESH AIR.

Mr. ARTIE LANGE (Comedian): Hey, how you doing, Terry?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Okay. The last time you were on our show, we talked a little bit about your father, who you really looked up to, and he installed rooftop TV antennas for a living. And when you were 18, he fell off a roof and became a quadriplegic after that, and he died of complications and infections about four years later.

That had a huge impact on you and your family. Your father had no health insurance. The homeowner had no insurance. The family went broke. Your mother went on welfare. In your new memoir, you write a little bit about your father's life before the accident. And he used to work for a bookie, and in this book, you talk about how he was addicted to the scam.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And like, tell us like one of his scams that you knew about, maybe even one of the scams that he involved you in when you were a baby or a child.

Mr. LANGE: A typical scam that my father really was proud of, because he felt justified in it, was you know, he installed TV antennas. So in the late '70s, when I turned about 12 years old, cable television came in, and you know, who needs an antenna, and it's cable TV. Everybody saw the writing on the wall. But early on, it was so easy to steal cable. Like you just had to climb a telephone pole and pull one wire out, and you could get the whole block cable. And he actually taught me how to climb up a pole, and there was this special silver blocker that they would put up.

If you had basic cable, and they wanted to block Showtime or HBO or one of the premium channels, they put this blocker up so you couldn't get them. If you paid for them, they'd take it down. So my father figured out through one of the cable guys that if you took that blocker off and boiled it in water for 20 minutes, it would render it useless, but if an inspector came by from the cable company, he would look up at the pole, and he would see it was there, so it would be no problem.

So my father actually asked me to climb some poles and get as many of them as I could. We then boiled like 50 of them at a time in our garage and went back to everybody on the street and said yeah, basic cable? Well, we can get you every premium channel for a price. If they agreed to that, my father and I and a couple of my buddies, who we recruited, we'd run up the pole. We'd put the blocker back so the cable company could see it, and because it was boiled, it was useless, and the signal for the premium channels ran right through it, and everybody got it for free.

GROSS: So you know, you write about how your father loved scams, and when you were young, you did something that was really crazy. You went into a bank, inspired by the Woody Allen film, "Take the Money and Run," and you wrote a note and gave it to the bank teller, and the note said…

Mr. LANGE: It said: I have a gun. Put $50,000 into a bag, turn around and count to 1,000. Act natural - no, act casual. Thank you for your cooperation, Artie Lange, Jr. I signed it, and of course it was a joke, and I thought once the woman saw my signature, she'd figure it was a joke.

The broad behind the counter, you know, teller, was cute. And I don't know. I guess I was hitting on her or flirting with her in some way, but of course I didn't realize that she never got to the end of the note. All she saw first was I have a gun. It was like one of the stupidest things a human being could do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So I've got to ask you. What did you think the response was going to be, like, wow, what a really funny note. Let's go out, have a drink and then maybe make love. I mean, what did you think she was going to say?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: Terry, did you get a transcript and find out exactly what the judge said to me…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: And my mother said to me? Yeah. Yeah, I figured I would hand her the note, and she would look up and me and go God, this is just the wittiest guy I've ever seen, and look at him. He has acne and a cheesy moustache and an uneven tan from the seaside boardwalk. Let's get married.

The messed-up part was I was with my girlfriend at the time, who I write about. You know, they called us Bonnie and Clyde after that. She knew nothing about it. But yeah, she turned white as a ghost, and she pressed the silent alarm. And when I saw this, I grabbed the note, and I threw it out behind me in a garbage can, and…

GROSS: Where it could be used as evidence.

Mr. LANGE: Right, which was dumb because the cops came seconds after we left. My girlfriend was like what's going on? I said ah, nothing, nothing. We left in her mother's car, a '77 Ford Grenada that did not move. And about two minutes later, there were a bunch of - like a SWAT team, armed robbery call went out, and we just missed that, and they found the note and gave it to the judge, and he read it back to me a million times. Yeah, that was dumb.

GROSS: The name of your book and the name of your company is "Too Fat to Fish," which is how your mother once described you after you told her, when you were much younger, before you were a full-time comic, when you told her that your foreman had invited you to go fishing.

Mr. LANGE: Right.

GROSS: So when she told you that you were too fat to fish, what did she mean, and why did that stick with you all these years?

Mr. LANGE: Well yeah, at the time, I was a longshoreman. I was working at the port in Newark, unloading ships, and I had never been fishing before. And the weird thing is I wasn't really fat at all, certainly not compared to what I am now. I mean, at some point in the last few years, I became Dom DeLuise…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: But back then, I was about 22 years old. I had only done standup a few times, and I was working at the port, and I just never had showed an interest in anything. Like, that's the best way to describe it. I never, you know, had hobbies, except you know, I played baseball, and I was sarcastic. Like that's the only interests…

GROSS: That's a great hobby.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: Yeah, you know, and so fishing or anything like that was just - you know, my mother would never expect me to come close to even doing something like that. But at the time, I said hey, I might be a longshoreman forever. I didn't have a lot of real, you know, good future plans at that point, and my foreman said hey…

It was a Friday afternoon. He said hey, I'm going fishing tomorrow at 5 a.m. Do you want come fishing? And I said yeah, you know, and we went out to happy hour, as we did every Friday, and got blind drunk, and he left at about nine, and he said okay, I'll be there to pick you up tomorrow. I'll be there at like six, and you know, I gave him that drunk promise: Yeah, I'll be there, you know.

I drank until about three, and I went to White Castle and had about 15 double cheeseburgers and a chocolate shake, and then I went home. And sure enough, it's six, the phone rings, and it's him. I got up, threw some water on my face, and I went downstairs. And my mother, who is a lunatic, was up vacuuming, and she you know, would vacuum early in the morning because no one was up to bother her - very sort of Italian, ultra-clean woman. And she noticed me up on a Saturday at six, which was crazy.

So she stopped vacuuming, and she calmly said where are you going? And I said I'm going fishing. And she had a look on her face like I told her I was going to the moon to, you know, get some samples for NASA. And she said what are you doing? I said I'm going fishing. And she said with who? I said the foreman. You know, we're going out for tuna, deep sea fishing.

So I guess all of her mother instincts told her that she figured I would die on the boat. And because she didn't want that to happen, she thought of anything to tell me to keep me from going, and she just screamed you are too fat to fish at the top of lungs. She must have said it about 30 straight times. She woke up the neighbors. She woke up my sister, who was sleeping upstairs. And at the time, she didn't realize how funny that phrase sounded - too fat to fish. But you know, she wouldn't let me go.

So I had to call the foreman. Now I'm 22 years old. I said listen, I can't go fishing. He's like why? I said my mother won't let me. And he was Italian. He sort of got it. He accepted that, and I went back to sleep, and I slept until 4 PM. I woke up, my mother made me a mozzarella omelet with roasted peppers and some Bannelle(ph) bread, toasted, and I had the greatest breakfast/late lunch. And while we were eating, my sister was there, and I said to my mother. I said ma, do you realize how funny and ridiculous you sounded this morning? She goes what are you talking about? I said you said I was too fat to fish like 40 straight times, and Stacey(ph), my sister, was laughing, and finally we got her to think it was funny. She saw the humor in it.

BIANCULLI: Artie Lange, speaking with Terry Gross. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's interview with Artie Lange of the "Howard Stern Show." His new memoir, "Too Fat to Fish," has just come out in paperback.

GROSS: Someone described you, and I can't remember if it was somebody from the "Howard Stern" show or someone else who knows you, described you as, you know, although you're so lively on the air, so funny on the air and on the stage, that put you, say, in a party, you're likely to be in a corner and quiet. Is that true?

Mr. LANGE: Yeah, Howard brings that up. You know, I don't know. You know what? Here's the thing with me. Like liquor will amplify whatever mood I'm in. If I'm in a really good mood, booze will make me even funner and crazier and happy. If I'm in a bad or depressed mood, I will get dark, you know, and I'll look like, you know, Edgar Allen Poe after, you know, he lost his fourth wife to tuberculosis.

I just have a very dark side in me, and I'm basically depressed. I don't really enjoy my company, and I can't get away from myself. I'm bored to death with my life right now, bored to tears, and I don't know what to do. I need some sort of - that's why I like getting high and gambling because, you know, it's something to look forward to. I have the greatest job in the world, but I'm just so bored.

GROSS: Why are you bored? I mean, being on the "Howard Stern Show" sounds like it would be just, like, constantly interesting, constantly on your toes with, like, incredibly good feedback. So why do you think you're bored?

Mr. LANGE: I don't know. I mean, it's for a shrink to say. I'm just bored to death. I hate working. I've always hated working. I hate having to be somewhere. I hate long-term commitments on any level. I can remember being…

GROSS: I guess your girlfriends learned that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: Well yeah, but I mean, not even that so much. It's even work. Like I can remember being in the second grade, and literally I can remember saying to myself God, in five years, I'll only be in the seventh grade. School is going to take forever. When is this going to end? I don't want to be here. I want to quit. I hate having to be here.

And for years, I struggled to get onto a television show, and then when I got on "MADtv," I signed a five-year contract. I was 27, and I can remember going you know, I'll be here until I'm 32. My life is over. I want this to end tomorrow, and subconsciously, I think I destroyed it, those things. You know, I got thrown off of "MADtv" after the second year because of coke, and maybe that's because I really wanted to. I don't know.

I was on a sitcom for two years. I had a job that people in this business would absolutely kill for, on the sitcom I was on. I was working with one of my best friends. Laurie Metcalf was in the cast, like really talented people, on the Warner Brothers lot in L.A. I was a supporting character, making 35 grand a week. Some weeks I'd have two lines.

I had a job making 35 grand a week, and I didn't have to take anything to work. I didn't have a briefcase or a piece of paper. I had ridiculously lame, easy jokes to memorize. Like the jokes on that show would be - I'd go to Norm MacDonald, are you thinking what I'm thinking? And he'd say no, I'm not thinking of cheeseburgers. And then I'd make a face like oh, you got me, you know, and then I'd walk out, and then I get 35 grand on a Friday.

So I had a convertible Mercedes. I was living in a $4,000-a-month condo on Wilshire in Beverly Hills. And I mean, I was healthy, I was thin. I had a tan. Even with that life, creatively I was empty inside, but even with that life, I couldn't stand it. After two years, I had to get out of there. I was pulling the hair out of my head, and then…

GROSS: So let me ask you. If you're bored now, and if you've been bored at some of the most successful and well-paid periods of your life, what is it that you like to do when you're not working, if you hate working? Like do you want to stay at home and watch TV all day? Is that what you'd want to do?

Mr. LANGE: Well, it's a dark answer, but I'll be totally honest with you. I want to do, you know, heroin.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: When I was in my 20s, my life became chaos because of cocaine, and you know, I was younger. Cocaine's a social drug. You want to get…

GROSS: And this was after your father died…

Mr. LANGE: Oh yeah, much after. My father was not a drug guy. As a matter of fact, my father used to tell me another word for gambler is loser. You know, he had none of the vices I have, and he would be really upset if he knew what I've thrown my money away on.

But as I've gotten older, I withdraw more and more from life, and I got into opiates on the road, and opiates are the direct opposite of cocaine. Opiates are - you know, you want to be mellow and just hang out, be alone and not off, you know.

My entire adult life, I have done drugs, and I've drank. So that's all I know how to do. Charlie Parker, the legendary saxophonist, who you know, was a legendary junkie, too. I think he died when he was 34. He got out of rehab once, and when he relapsed, he said, you know, they can get it out of your blood, but they can't get it out of your head, you know.

So right now, it's out of my blood. I went through the withdrawals, but it's still in my head. I can remember how great it was to just come home and get high and not deal with anything, but you know, with a schedule as regimented as I have, I you know, get up at 4:30, and I get to work at six, and I work 6 to 11 on a big radio show where you've got to be sort of on, and then on the weekends, I become nocturnal. I'm up all night doing standup.

With that kind of schedule, heroin is going to really, really ruin your life, you know, and it started to.

GROSS: You were in rehab in August, I think you went into rehab.

Mr. LANGE: Yeah, I went into like this outpatient rehab. I was there overnight and then was released under the care of a therapist. So I'm clean for the last few months, but a lot of people in my life think the outpatient rehab wasn't even scratching the surface of what I need, and you know, they're probably right.

GROSS: When you were in therapy, I mean, you are such a good talker. You can tell any story, and you can probably talk your way around anything. But when a therapist is trying to get you to kind of, you know, penetrate to your core and be really honest, sometimes it's probably tempting to, like, just tell captivating and funny stories and act like you're really penetrating but just tell a great story. Do you know what I'm saying?

Mr. LANGE: Right.

GROSS: So does your ability to really talk help in therapy, or does it sometimes stand in the way of, you know, actually doing the work?

Mr. LANGE: That's actually an excellent question. And you know what? To be honest with you, I think it hurts completely because there's times where I could just completely BS - you know, whatever - go off on a tangent that sounds interesting, but it's completely false and has nothing to do with what he's probably trying to get at. It might sound like it is, but it's not, and it's a way for me to avoid talking about it.

And then I guess everyone who knows anything about therapy, they tell you that if you're not being honest with them, you're not going to get any help. You're wasting your time.

It has never been effective for me, therapy. This is the longest I've tried it. I go the first couple times, I spill my heart out. I talk about my father, whatever. And then by the third time, it's just me and some dude in the room, and I'm talking about my feelings. It's kind of fruity, to tell you the truth. I get uncomfortable, and then I start to go off on tangents, and you know, I'm not being honest with the guy. There's - because I don't know what's wrong with me. I don't know, either. I wish I could tell him. I don't know, I get the blues. I get the blues a lot, and it was before my father fell, I was like that. You know, I don't know.

GROSS: So what's the difference between how you talk on, you know, Howard Stern and how you talk in the therapy office? I mean, do you - are the stories any different, are they…?

Mr. LANGE: There is no difference.

GROSS: Because it's not like you're not revealing on Howard's show. I mean, you're pretty out there in what you'll talk about in terms of your private life.

Mr. LANGE: Right, that's my problem. Exactly, that's my problem…

GROSS: That your business is already out there.

Mr. LANGE: Right. I mean, I consider the Stern show therapy. I always have, and there's been times in the last - you know, I've been on there close to eight years now, and I - you know, there's been times I leave the show, and I'm walking down Sixth Avenue in a daze, going what did I just talk about? You realize how many people are actually listening? You're just in that room having a conversation with Howard, and you know, he can lull you to sleep, and you forget you're talking to millions of people. And you know, that's another very perceptive thing on your part, Terry. I'm telling you, the only difference sometimes between the Stern show and me in therapy is when I'm talking in therapy, there's no one playing, like a fart sound effect behind me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: You know, that's about it, and if Fred Norris could come to some of the therapy sessions and do that, I think it'd be great. I'd be more comfortable.

BIANCULLI: Artie Lange, speaking to Terry Gross last November. We'll hear more of their conversation in the second half of the show. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross, and back with more of Terry's 2008 interview with Artie Lange. Lange is a cast member of the "The Howard Stern Show" and is most famous for telling incredibly funny stories describing how miserable and depressing his life is, and he's not making up the problems. He's usually very overweight, and at times has been addicted to cocaine, heroin, and alcohol. He has a gambling problem too. And his love life usually is in shambles. However, since this interview was recorded he's lost some weight and gained a girlfriend. His new memoir, now out in paperback, is called "Too Fat to Fish."

GROSS: I've got to ask you about what was probably one of the most upsetting but also memorable moments in the history of "The Howard Stern Show." And this was last April when you walked out, basically quit after - just like a really upsetting incident. You and your assistant, Teddy were on the air with everybody else on the show and then he started talking with you about, you know money and said that you know, you said you were always loaning him money, and you're so generous to him, and then he said that he's always having to ask you for the money that you promised to loan him. And you were getting increasingly angrier with him. And this erupted into this huge fight about competence and money. It got really ugly. And when I say fight I mean fight. And so we have a very brief excerpt of that that we're going to play. And in this excerpt Teddy speaks first.

TEDDY (Cast member, "The Howard Stern Show"): Yes you could promise me money...

Mr. ARTIE LANGE (Comic, cast member, "The Howard Stern Show"): You ask me for money every week.

TEDDY: You promised me money.

Mr. LANGE: No I don't promise you money.

TEDDY: Yes you do. You're always like I'll give you money on Monday. Uh, and then you don't give me money on Monday.

Mr. LANGE: I give you money all the time.

TEDDY: When you (censored) five hundred dollars in front of me. I need that five hundred dollars. I dream for it.

Mr. LANGE: Oh I said you always get it. You always get that money.

TEDDY: Listen, I have to prod and poke you for it. I hate doing that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOWARD STERN (Host, "The Howard Stern Show"): But Artie if you...

Mr. LANGE: You just got your paycheck.

Ms. ROBIN QUIVERS (Co-host, "The Howard Stern Show"): What is going on?

Mr. STERN: But Artie...

TEDDY: We're not doing these little...

Mr. LANGE: You just got your paycheck. You prod and poked me money that he doesn't aw you (censored).

Mr. STERN: But, Artie. Artie wait...

TEDDY: Half the paycheck isn't in the...

Mr. STERN: I've got Artie, Artie. I've got to take umbrage with you for you one thing.

Mr. LANGE: Howard, you're being wrong.

Mr. STERN: Can I tell you why I'm right?

Mr. LANGE: You're being wrong. You're coddling him because he's...

Mr. STERN: No. I'm not. I'm going to tell you why.

TEDDY: Whatever.

Mr. STERN: Hear my point of view.

TEDDY: He's a really (censored).

Mr. LANGE: No I hate you, Ted.

(Soundbite of fighting)

Mr. STERN: Hey, no. No. No. No. No. Artie, no. No.

(Soundbite of yelling)

Mr. STERN: Artie, dude, dude.

Ms. QUIVER: Artie, stop it.

Mr. STERN: Artie, stop it. Stop it. All right.

Mr. QUIVER: Hang it up Teddy.

Mr. STERN: Artie, no. Artie, Artie stop. Oh Artie. Oh Artie.

Ms. QUIVER: Go. Go. Go. Go. Go. Go. Now, close the door. Jesus Christ. You people are crazy.

Mr. LANGE: Feel my...

GROSS: Wow. I mean that just like stops you dead in your tracks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Artie, what went through you mind? Like tell us what was happening at that moment from your point of view?

Mr. LANGE: My publicist said you would not bring this up, so this interview's over. Just kidding.

GROSS: Oh okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You had me there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: I don't - I haven't talked to my publicist in months.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: Listen, that's embarrassing. I mean that tape is not defensible. Teddy screwed up, you know? What can I tell you? He forced me to throw something at him, and he's apologized, and you know we can move on now.

GROSS: Is that how you see it? That he forced you to throw something at him?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: Oh no, no.

GROSS: Oh okay. All right.

Mr. LANGE: Listen, I am not well. I'm a disturbed person. I'm a maniac. I'm on drugs. I'm not stable, and Teddy works for me you know? I, I don't know. I mean what can I say? I got mad and I don't think you know I do love the kid. I love the kid like a younger brother. We've worked together for a while now. We've been through a lot of, you know, trenches together and he's been with me all over the country. So I don't think I would've hit him if I got to him. But I was just really mad. The money thing was nobody's business. I wouldn't have done anything.

GROSS: You know most of us have our darkest moments in private. You know and when we get into a real fight there aren't microphones around. We're not live on the air. And you know, I think for most people who are performers or who are in front of a microphone, you kind of, you know, you behave in a certain way. You - even if you're depressed you maybe put on a good face or something. And to have that exposed live on the air, as so much gets exposed live on Howard's show, I mean, well, what's that like for you to listen back to yourself that way? Most of us don't get a chance to - not that we necessarily want to - most of us aren't in the position where we're going to be listening back to how we sounded when we blew up at people who we really love.

Mr. LANGE: Yes. Well, when I hear it back I say God, I wish I would've hit him because I probably would've got a bigger advance for the book.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: Listen, Terry, I don't know what to tell you. It's depressing. I have been in a very bad way mentally since 1985. I'm trying to figure something out here about, you know it's funny, everyone all...

GROSS: See I always feel guilty laughing because, you know, it was...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: No...

GROSS: No. No. No. Let me just say like, you're so depressed, you're in such bad shape, and you manage to make it funny, and I laugh, and everybody around America laughs. So does that make it better or worse for you?

Mr. LANGE: Well it's - laughing is better than them booing. You know, I mean, I'm depressed. Boo.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: That would really suck.

GROSS: Or I'm depressed. Who cares? Yes. That would be bad too.

Mr. LANGE: Yes. Well, ultimately. But that's the thing. That's the depressing thing. Ultimately they laugh, but then really, who cares? You know it's like everybody's got to deal with their own stuff.

GROSS: Let me get back to the Howard Stern clip that we played.

Mr. LANGE: I love how most people come on shows and they play a clip of their Academy Award winning movie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: Let's hear a - we're here with Celine Dion. Let's hear a little bit of her new single off the sisterhood of the "Ya-Ya Sisterhood" soundtrack. Celine, this is a wonderful song. Listen to this. And with me you're playing a clip where I almost killed my assistant in a rage.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: So go ahead Terry, let's finish up on that.

GROSS: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Here's the last question about it. I know on our show when something goes terribly wrong, I'm thinking well, this is terribly wrong. It might be really embarrassing. But it's kind of good radio because there's some drama here. People aren't going to be tuning out as this thing goes terribly wrong. Was there any part of your mind, or do you think was there any part of Howard or Robin's mind that was thinking, this is really horrible, this is really frightening, this is incredible radio?

Mr. LANGE: Of course. Well, I wasn't thinking it because I was so out of my mind.

GROSS: Yes.

Mr. LANGE: Afterwards I thought it. But, make no mistake: Howard thinks it 100 percent of the time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: And they were nice though, at the Sirius and at On-Demand TV. They refused to play that clip for three entire hours. And then after the three hours were over they like made it promos. Like, special, Artie loses it bad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: We didn't play this for three hours because we have some dignity, but we're here. You know three hours have gone by and Artie says he's fine, so tune in. Hey, hey Artie loses it and almost dies.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: What a predicament to be in.

Mr. LANGE: What am I going to do? You know what? It's a business.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI : Artie Lange speaking to Terry Gross last year. His Memoir, "Too Fat To Fish" is now out in paperback. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI : This is FRESH AIR. Let's conclude Terry's interview with "Howard Stern Show" cast member, Artie Lange. His memoir, "Too Fat To Fish" has just come out in paperback. She spoke to him last year.

GROSS: One of the things you write about in your book is that you went to Afghanistan just a few months ago really to do a USO tour. And why did you want to do that? I mean you're not the most political person in the world.

Mr. LANGE: I am nothing if not compassionate however, for our men and women over there in Afghanistan and Iraq, of course. Just, I knew a couple of comedians who had done it and that inspired me. I put it out there on the air. I said I want to do this. I had my agent, who had helped other comics get over there. I had him call for me, and there was a lot of resistance. At first they said no. And I mentioned it on the air and the power of the "Stern Show," they came back and they said you know what? We ran it by some of the troops and they would love to see Artie. So, not only are we going to let him come over, we're going to give him his own tour. He can pick a few other comics, he'll be the headliner, and bring a friend or whatever, and you'll have a week.

The shows went amazing, and it's probably the most important thing I've ever done in my career. Like we did some shows, since weren't unbelievably famous people, they put us in more dangerous situations I think. We did one show for a total of 40 guys. We had to take a Black Hawk helicopter to this remote base outside of Bagram and these guys had just been out doing all these special ops. God knows what they were doing fighting the Taliban. They couldn't give us specifics, but they just got back in like four in the afternoon, a scorching sun, they took their helmets off and they put their gear down, and 40 of them sat in front of this little makeshift stage. And they were just so happy to see anybody who wasn't military. They were hugging us and taking pictures. And we did a good hour and a half standup show. And you know, as a headliner I went last, and I always did about a half an hour.

And when they guys laughed it was so refreshing. It was so rewarding to see these guys with cuts on them and like you know, dirt from whatever they were doing, risking their lives for - I don't know - I hope something that turns out to be a very important cause. To see them truly get a belly laugh and maybe for that second forget about the hell they're in was just the most important thing I've ever done, you know, and the most rewarding thing I've ever done. The negative part of it is I got to know personally about 20 soldiers. I exchanged information with them - phone numbers and stuff, email - and a couple of them, since I've got back, have been to New York and I gave them a tour of the Sirius studios. I took them to a Yankee game, bought them lunch, and a lot of them are still over there.

And the problem is I don't have friends or relatives over there - thank God. But now I got to know these guys and it really puts a face on it for me. And I know their stories - a couple of them I sat next to on a military flight for you know 11 hours. And if one of those guys gets hurt or killed, God forbid...

GROSS: Well you were under mortar fire in one of the places on this tour.

Mr. LANGE: Yes.

GROSS: And it's the first time you were ever under attack like that. What surprised you about yourself and how you handled it - anything?

Mr. LANGE: Right. Well what happened was we did an outdoor show in Kandahar and we were supposed to go to the meet and greet. And we had to get in all these big military SUV's to drive to the meet and greet. And during the drive after the show to the meet and greet - it was like out of a movie. Incoming, you know, take cover. So the guy driving our car, the Marine, pulled into this driveway next to these bunkers. They told us to stand still until they came around. He opened up the door and a bunch of Marines formed a shield, like a human shield around us, with their M16's out and walked us to the bunker. And the Marines were very calm, like it was an every day thing, and that made us calm. And we had these you know, heroic men and women in front of us protecting us. So we were a little more casual about it. But it's funny, a lot of the guys over there did like these subtle fat jokes.

I think that was their way of bonding with me. And I said to the one kid, I said, should we be more scared right now because it seems kind of casual? And the kid said to me, he goes, all right listen. This is the way I look at it. If one of these things hit you you're just going to be a pile of dust. And I said really? And then he said you're going to be a big pile of dust. But you'll just be dust.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: And I'm like, you know, of course, everyone else is laughing and I got a fake laugh. What am I to do, say the guy's not funny? He's protecting me. And I said oh okay. He goes, so you'll never feel a thing you know. And then he said, but if something comes near you - and he was dead serious - me and my buddy, we'll take the bullet. And he was dead serious. He goes, we'll get in front of you. And the more I thought about it I felt like saying look, don't do that man because believe me, you're way more important to the planet right now than I am.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: I said, don't take the bullet. Let me take the bullet. The world needs you way more than it needs me. You're a soldier, you're young. You know and I think he had a kid. So I'm like I'll take the bullet. I would hate for his family to get a letter from the USO like, yes your son died in combat guarding someone. He took a bullet - and you know the family calling and saying was it a medic? Was it a high officer? Was it someone you know there for peace, a priest, and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: ...the guy goes no, no. Actually it was the fat guy from "Howard Stern."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: That's who he died saving. You know, that would've been a rough phone call.

GROSS: Well Artie, I really want to wish you the best in all ways and thank you so much for coming back to FRESH AIR and talking with us. And I wish you good health and good moods and some happiness. Thank you very much.

Mr. LANGE: Thanks, Terry. And I'll see you at the NPR and slash Sirius Christmas party I guess.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: We'll do some Alabama Slammer shots with Martha Stewart and the crew. I don't know if you've met them. They're a fun bunch.

GROSS: Yes. And I have a reputation for always partying hard, so…

Mr. LANGE: All right, Terry. You get a hair cut and stay in school, sweetie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Okay. Be well. Thank you.

BIANCULLI : Artie Lange of "The Howard Stern Show" speaking to Terry Gross last November. His memoir, "Too Fat to Fish" has just come out in paperback.

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