September 17, 2023 | Brendan Da Costa

Addictive Facts About Artie Lange, The Never-Sober Comedian

With more stints in rehab and encounters with the Grim Reaper than anyone can count (though we’ll try) it’s a wonder that Artie Lange is still fighting. Try to pull yourself away from these addictive facts about Artie Lange, the never-sober comedian.

1. He Idolized His Father

When Artie Lange was born in 1967 in Livingston, New Jersey, there was no indication that he would develop an addictive personality. His mother was a housewife and his father, Arthur Lange Sr. was a successful contractor. Lange even idolized his father, whom he compared to Superman for climbing on roofs to install television antennas.

But there was something sinister lurking beneath the surface of their quiet suburban life.

Artie Lange during Artie Lange Sighting at The Borgata - November 17, 2006 at The Borgata Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States. (Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage)Bobby Bank/WireImage

2. His Father Was A Fraud

Despite his outward appearance, Lange Sr. was no saint. On the day of Artie’s birth, Lange Sr. stood accused of storing $200,000 worth of fake bills for the mob. Thankfully, the judge took mercy on the new father and released him, despite all the evidence proving that he was guilty. Fate, as it turns out, would not be so forgiving.

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3. He Got His First Standing Ovation

Despite his history of poor grades, Lange managed to get into university. But, far from inspiring a desire for higher learning, Lange’s university career only fostered his nascent love for comedy. While giving a presentation, Lange had his class rolling with laughter and he discovered that “it felt amazing to get that reaction from people”.

Then his whole world came crashing down.

NEW YORK - MAY 28: Artie Lange at his Live DVD Taping show at Gotham Comedy Club on May 28, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage)Bobby Bank/WireImage

4. His Father Was A Quadriplegic

Lange quickly lost interest in his studies at university and developed a deep desire for a career in stand-up. But just as he was figuring things out, life threw him a curveball. While installing an antenna, Lange’s father fell from his ladder and broke his back, becoming a quadriplegic. With the sole breadwinner for the family effectively immobilized, Lange had to make a tough decision.

Comedy? Or family?

HOA HorrorsShutterstock


5. He Sought Help

Lange put his comedy aspirations on hold to help his mother with their mounting medical bills. But, even with both of them working, it wasn’t enough to make a dent and they had to appeal for help. Lange and his mother started a campaign, calling celebrities and asking them to donate items that they could sell to help cover their bills.

Sadly, none of the celebrities responded. That is, except for one.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 01: Comedian Artie Lange performs during the Christmas Without Tears New York Concert at BAM Peter Jay Sharp Building on December 1, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Pont/Getty Images)Mike Pont/Getty Images

6. He Got Help From The Unlikeliest Place

Lange and his father were big fans of comedian and radio show personality Howard Stern. As it turns out, Stern wasn’t just funny—he was also a great guy. As the only celebrity to answer Lange’s plea for help, Stern sent an autographed jacket. Along with a rib-busting joke; “Does this guy think that if he puts the jacket on he's going to walk again?”

Both Lange and his father found the joke hilarious, but unfortunately, laughter wasn’t the best medicine in this case—Lange Sr. passed away a few years later from an infection.

Dana Plato FactsGetty Images

7. He Was “Mad” For TV

Lange began his meteoric rise in comedy when, in 1995, he became a founding cast member of one of the most iconic sketch comedy shows ever. Out of the approximately 8,000 applicants, the show creators selected Lange and seven other comedians to star in Mad TV. But the higher Lange rose in his career, the higher he got. Literally.

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 03: Artie Lange and former Mayor of New York City Rudolph Giuliani participate in the True Blue Celebrity Softball Game at the True Blue Celebrity Softball Game at Yankee Stadium on June 3, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)John Lamparski/Getty Images

8. He Was Making Mad Money

Overnight, Lange went from making chump change as a stand-up comedian to making real money as a sketchy comedy show star. In addition to his massive signing bonus, Lange started making $7,500 per episode. But, instead of fueling his career, the money only fueled his bad habits. Habits that he had acquired while working the seedy underbelly of New York comedy.

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 03: Comedian Artie Lange participates in the True Blue Celebrity Softball Game at Yankee Stadium on June 3, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)John Lamparski/Getty Images

9. He Washed It Down With Jack

With his pockets filled with MadTV cash, Lange started doing basuco “like it was going out of style”. His addiction was so bad that his nose would become too sore to snort the stuff. So, he would have to resort to a less conventional strategy: washing down his stash with a glass of Jack Daniel’s.

But he was really just trying to drown out his pain.

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10. He Said His Final Farewells

After just nine episodes of MadTV, Lange’s addiction got the better of him. In an addiction-induced state of depression, Lange attempted the unthinkable. He wrote a farewell letter to his mother and sister and attempted to end his life. Fortunately, his MadTV co-stars found him and managed to save him.

The only question was whether or not Lange could save himself.

Comedian Artie Lange performs at the Borgata Event Center January 31, 2009 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. (Photo by Nick Valinote/FilmMagic)Nick Valinote/FilmMagic, Getty Images


11. He Was “100% Serious”

Lange’s attempt at taking his own life shocked his loved ones. No one could believe that, just as he had gotten his big break, he would attempt to end it all. But, in his own words, this was no mere cry for help: He was “100% serious” about the attempt.

To help deal with his issues, Lange checked himself into rehab back in New Jersey for the first time—but not the last.

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 09: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been converted to black and white.) Artie Lange performs during HBO's Noam Galai/Getty Images

12. He Returned With A Comedic Vengeance

After completing his treatment in New Jersey, Lange returned to MadTV (on the producer’s private jet, no less) to complete filming the first season. To everyone’s surprise, he appeared to have returned in rare form, funnier than ever before. Years later, he would recall that period as “the best I've ever done in sketch comedy”. He certainly left his mark.

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13. He Put The “Mad” In MadTV

If you’ve ever heard the line, “Don’t make me break my foot off in your a**!” then you can thank Lange for those laughs. That was the catchphrase of Lange’s hit character, “My White Mama,” on MadTV. But he was just getting warmed up. Once the second season came around, there was definitely no question that he put the “mad” in MadTV.

HqdefaultMadTV, Fox

14. He Bet Big And Lost

Two months into filming the second season of MadTV, Lange fell off the wagon—in a big way. He had lost a $15,000 bet on the Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield boxing match and soothed his bruised ego with copious amounts of nose candy. When his MadTV co-stars attempted another intervention, Lange fled the set. Literally.

Scandals of the 1990s factsGetty Images

15. He Went On A “High” Speed Chase

As Lange fled, his co-stars chased him through the streets of Los Angeles, resulting in a “high” speed chase. Eventually, they managed to corner him in a parking lot and the authorities had to take him into the county lockup. But it gets worse: To add insult to injury, while he was behind bars, the director of Jerry Maguire called to tell him that he had cut his part from the film.

Craziest News Moments factsGetty Images

16. He Liked The Bottle And The Basuco

Lange’s lifelong struggles with addiction had all started just as his comedy career began to take root. As he mingled with the seedy underbelly of the New York comedy world, he quickly developed a liking for the bottle and the basuco. In a cruel way, it almost seemed like the more substances he used, the funnier he became.

Funny or not, however, his addiction would cost him far more than his spot on MadTV in the end.

MIAMI BEACH, FL - JANUARY 20: Comedian Artie Lange performs during the South Beach Comedy Festival at the Lincoln Theatre January 20, 2007 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images for The South Beach Comedy Festival)Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images


17. He Went Back To Basics

Lange’s sudden rise (and epic fall) in the comedic world had taken many by surprise. Not least of all because his introduction to comedy had been…disastrous. He had performed his first stand-up routine at 19 at The Improv in Manhattan. “I [tanked] for five minutes,” he later explained.

He had avoided the stage for four years following that epic fail, but with his career in shambles, he knew he had to get back to basics.

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 09: Artie Lange performs during HBO's Noam Galai/Getty Images

18. He Only Had One Year

Before his MadTV days, Lange had only given himself one year to make it as a stand-up comedian. During that year, he worked as a taxi driver in order to make easy cash. Whenever he managed to book a gig, he would simply double park his taxi near the club, run in, perform his set, then jump back in his cab. To get his career back, he would have to do it all over again.

Yellow taxi on the street at nightAleksandar Pasaric, Pexels

19. He Entered A Depressing Period

Once Lange secured his release from the county lockup, he returned to New Jersey and checked himself into a psychiatric hospital. Despite knowing that he needed the help, Lange described it as “the most depressing period” of his life. With the help of his MadTV producers, Lange then entered rehab (for a second time), but they declined to renew his contract.

Pete Davidson FactsShutterstock

20. He Checked Out Early

Lange didn’t stay in rehab for long. He checked himself out and returned to the stand-up circuit in New York. But Los Angeles (and all of its problems) would soon reel him back in. Norm Macdonald saw Lange in an episode of MadTV and thought that he “had a melancholy about him” that was perfect for the upcoming film Dirty Work.

Norm MacDonald during Comedian Norm MacDonald Performs at The Ice House at The Ice House in Pasadena, California, United States. (Photo by Michael Schwartz/WireImage)Michael Schwartz/WireImage, Getty Images

21. He Paid His Way

Macdonald invited Lange to audition for the role. With his spirits boosted, Lange gave the “perfect” audition. But the studio, MGM, wouldn’t agree to hire Lange unless he “obtained an approval report” from his rehab facility. Seeing as though he hadn’t actually completed his treatment, Lange only managed to secure the “approval report” with a $1,500 “donation”.

Norm MacDonald performs at the Stress Factory on April 24, 2009 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. (Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage)Bobby Bank/WireImage, Getty Images

22. He Paid His Momma’s Bills

Before Dirty Work even premiered in theaters, Lange started to receive offers from other studios and networks. In fact, major networks started fighting over who would get to sign him. Ultimately, he landed with Fox for enough money “to bail my mother out of every single financial debt she had”. But he couldn’t bail himself out of trouble.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 01: Comedian Artie Lange performs during the Christmas Without Tears New York Concert at BAM Peter Jay Sharp Building on December 1, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Pont/Getty Images)Mike Pont/Getty Images


23. He Was “Empty Inside”

Lange teamed up with Macdonald again for The Norm Show and started making more money than he knew what to do with. But the show’s “ridiculously lame, easy jokes” left him feeling creatively “empty inside,” so he doubled down on stand-up.

It turns out, even after his MadTV success, his true breakout (and breakdown) was still to come.

Artie Lange and Norm Macdonald (Photo by Eugene Gologursky/WireImage)Eugene Gologursky/WireImage, Getty Images

24. He Wanted To “Win Jackie’s Money”

Fate (and a fall from a ladder) had once brought Lange and Howard Stern together—and it was about to do it again. When comedian Jackie Martling left the writing team for The Howard Stern Show, Lange knew that he had the opportunity of a lifetime. In an attempt to replace Martling, Stern started a “Win Jackie’s Money” contest.

But Lange doubted he would win the coveted job.

Howard Stern FactsWikipedia

25. He Was Stern’s Biggest Fan

Comedians from everywhere auditioned for the opportunity to write for The Howard Stern Show, and Lange knew that he had stiff competition. He confessed to his manager, “There were a lot of great funny guys—guys that were funnier than me”. But he had one big advantage: “I guarantee that I'm the biggest fan”. 

The question was whether or not Stern was a fan of his.

Howard Stern FactsWikimedia Commons

26. His Jokes Weren’t Funny

Against all odds, Lange landed the job of writing for Stern—but his jokes were landing flat with Stern’s listening audience. Just as he feared that the show’s producers were about to fire him, however, he received an even bigger opportunity. They put him directly on air, alongside Stern. “We're just gonna keep your mic on all the time,” they told him, “if you say something funny, just say it as you”.

The gimmick worked.

Howard Stern FactsShutterstock

27. He Developed A Radio Audience

Once he was able to tell his own jokes, Lange became an immediate hit with Stern’s listeners. One reporter called him “a kind of comic Everyman” who said what everyone was thinking but no one was brave enough to say—at least, not live on air. For Lange, it was a dream come true to work alongside his childhood hero—the same man who had donated an autographed jacket for his quadriplegic father.

Bill O'Reilly factsGetty Images

28. He Was A Loyal Friend

Lange’s time co-hosting The Howard Stern Show catapulted him to stardom like he’d never seen before. But he never lost sight of what mattered most to him. When Stern decided to leave radio for Sirius, CBS tried to pay Lange $20 million to take over the show and undercut Stern. Not wanting to upset his friend and hero, Lange declined the offer.

Howard Stern FactsHoward Stern Show, CBS

29. He Was Burning The Candle At Both Ends

Lange moved with Stern to Sirius, appearing on his show each weekday morning. But he was burning the candle at both ends. On weekends, he would tour the country, performing stand-up and raking in the big bucks (as much as $3 million a year). It wasn’t long, however, before the pressure got to him.

Howard Stern FactsShutterstock

30. He Just Wanted To Numb The Pain

Lange’s hectic schedule caused an epic relapse. In order to cope with the stresses of his daily radio show, his stand-up schedule, and his filming schedule, Lange turned to painkillers. Lots and lots of them. According to him, he began taking as many as “twenty painkillers a day”.

Ironically, the painkillers only caused more pain.

Hand Holding PillsAnna Shvets, Pexels

31. He Was “Dope”

When he ran out of painkillers, Lange turned to something even worse: dope. Between 2005 and 2008, however, he managed to clean himself up enough to complete production on a handful of films and even put together a comedy show for the troops in Afghanistan.

Until one night changed everything. Suddenly, he was right back on the track to disaster.

Artie Lange promotes the paperback edition of Bobby Bank/WireImage, Getty Images

32. He Kept The Wrong Company

Lange’s comedy career kept him in the presence of shady characters. One night, for example, he hooked up with a dope-dealing ex-dancer from New Rochelle that he had his eyes on—but apparently not close enough. He awoke one night to her injecting dope into arm.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - NOVEMBER 21: Artie Lange performs at The Stress Factory Comedy Club on November 21, 2018 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. (Photo by Bobby Bank/Getty Images)Bobby Bank/Getty Images

33. He Missed The Big Roast

Even though Lange described experiences like that as euphoric, he knew that he was in a bad way—as did the people around him. When he missed an appearance on the Comedy Central Roast of Bob Saget, his friends and family knew something was wrong and they acted fast to intervene.

But Lange saw through their motivations.

Full House FactsGetty Images

34. He Knew Nothing Was Free

Lange’s agent called him and told him that Comedy Central really wanted him at the Roast of Bob Saget. “They'll get you an ambulance to take you to a private plane at Teterboro,” his agent explained, “and a private doctor on the jet”. If Lange managed to stumble on stage, they even agreed to pick the $65,000 tab. But Lange knew nothing was ever free.

Full House FactsGetty Images

35. He Didn’t Want A Heart Attack Over Missouri

Lange turned down Comedy Central’s offer of help—because he knew it wasn’t the kind of help he needed. “I was like, 'I know these kinds of doctors,” Lange said in a Rolling Stone interview, “if I beg him to shoot me up with morphine, he's going to do it to keep Comedy Central happy. And I'll have a heart attack over Missouri”.

So, Lange missed the show and entered rehab on his own (for the third time).

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 09: (L-R) Artie Lange and Pete Holmes perform during HBO's Noam Galai/Getty Images

36. He Was Too Fat

After his third stint in rehab, Lange managed to stay sober long enough to write the best-seller Too Fat to Fish. It was a collection of autobiographical stories that he said “range from funny to dark, to tragic, to sad”. Despite his best efforts at sobriety, however, his darkest stories still lay ahead. He would barely survive them.

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 11: Artie Lange of SIRIUS XM's Howard Stern Show signs copies of Alli Harvey/Getty Images

37. He Had To Get A Prescription For Apples

Between his work with The Howard Stern Show and his stand-up career, Lange was making more money than he knew what to do with. But happiness still eluded him. He relapsed in early 2009 and checked himself into rehab (for the fourth time).

But he didn’t stay long in the strict environment—one where he would have to “get a doctor's prescription for an apple” because of the high sugar levels.

Howard Stern and Artie Lange during K-Rock Claus-Fest 2003 - Day Two at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by David Pomponio/FilmMagic)David Pomponio/FilmMagic, Getty Images

38. He Spent Money As Fast As He Made It

Lange’s fourth stint in rehab was part of a 21-day program. But he didn’t even make it to week two. He checked himself out of rehab in order to meet up with a “Neil Young-loving chick from Pittsburgh” that he had a crush on. He blew through thousands of dollars on fancy dinners and sunglasses before booking a weekend’s worth of shows to make back all of the money he had lost.

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 15: TV personality Jimmy Kimmel (L) and Artie Lange attend HBO's Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Getty Images

39. He Did Wheatgrass Enemas

Much to everyone’s disappointment, Lange reappeared on The Howard Stern Show having not completed his rehab treatment. But it wasn’t necessarily a surprise either. As one co-host put it, “I've never heard of someone kicking [substances] with wheatgrass enemas”.

Despite his best efforts and intentions, Lange was still very much addicted.

Artie Lange during Artie Lange Celebrates the Release of G. Gershoff/WireImage, Getty Images

40. He Had Taken On More Than He Could Bear

Lange returned to his busy work schedule and even managed to put out some of his best comedy specials ever. But, in his own words, “The combination of the road and morning radio” was more than he could bear. He stated that if his work schedule hadn’t put him in the grave yet, it would if he kept at it. He was very right.

Artie Lang (Photo by Denise Truscello/WireImage)Denise Truscello/WireImage, Getty Images

41. He Thought The Fifth Time Was The Charm

Things came to a head in December of 2009 when Lange appeared on The Howard Stern Show in a hooch and painkiller-induced stupor. During a commercial break, the show’s producers told Lange to take the rest of the day off. Fortunately, he had the good sense enough to check himself into rehab (for a fifth time, in case you’re starting to lose count).

Milton BerleFlickr

42. He “Hated Everything About” Rehab

Once again, Lange failed to stick with the treatment program. He “hated everything about” the rehab facility on Long Island and, after just eight short days, checked himself back out and returned home on December 23. He spent the next several days, including Christmas and Christmas Eve, in a painkiller-fueled haze of depression.

Then he really self-destructed.

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 19: Lisa Lampanelli and Artie Lange attend The Friars Club Roast of Pat Cooper at the New York Hilton on October 19, 2007 in New York City. (Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage)Bobby Bank/WireImage, Getty Images

43. He Drank Bleach

In early January 2010, Lange took his treatment into his own hands. In a state of abject depression, he made another attempt at ending his life. This time, however, he went to the most extreme lengths. He drank bleach, slit his wrists and gored himself in the gut nine times with a 13-inch knife. It would take a miracle for him to survive.

A miracle is exactly what he got.

Craziest employeesUnsplash

44. His Mother Saved His Life

Unbeknownst to Lange, as he was opening up his wrists and rearranging his entrails, help was waiting just outside. By some miracle, his mother, sister, uncles, and fellow comedian Colin Quinn just so happened to arrive at his apartment, ready to stage an intervention. His mother found him, a bloody mess, just in time to save his life.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - APRIL 17: Comedian Artie Lange attends the Comedy Benefit For Bobby Bank/Getty Images

45. His Friend Abducted Him

Lange recovered from his severe injuries in a psychiatry ward but remained in a depressive state for more than a year. Eventually, Quinn had to hire two big guys to drag Lange back to a detox facility (sixth time, now) against his will. According to Lange, “It was an abduction, which was exactly what I needed[...]they dragged me, literally kicking and screaming”.

Austin Powers factsGetty Images

46. He Crashed And Burned

Lange entered a period of sobriety where he produced podcasts, tv shows, and a second autobiographical book, Crash and Burn. He called it “the most honest thing I've ever done in my life”. But he wasn’t quite out of the woods yet. His many years of substance use were about to catch up with him in a shocking and painful way.

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 04: Actor Artie Lang signs copies of his new book Tommaso Boddi/WireImage, Getty Images

47. He Collapsed On Stage

While performing on stage in Chicago, Lange suddenly collapsed. A stunned audience looked on as medical staff rushed the never-sober comedian to the hospital. When he was finally well enough to speak out, he revealed that his decades of substance use had left his chest and nose severely infected. He had survived—but not without scars.

Cabrini-Green EditorialShutterstock

48. He Inhaled Glass

On an episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, Lange explained a long-standing mystery: What happened to his nose. “A bunch of things…30 years of [substances],” Lange explained. He recounted the time when a boxer punched him out for ten minutes, breaking a bone in his upper nose. 

He also talked about inhaling glass through his nostrils—and that was the straw that broke the camel's back. That, combined with the sheer amount of torment he inflicted on his nose over the years, caused it to cave in.

Phil Hartman FactsFlickr, Do512

49. He Stepped Out Of The Limelight

Lange spent the next few years going in and out of rehab and treatment facilities (more times than we can actually count). His ongoing substance use issues, along with a growing list of legal troubles, encouraged him to step away from the limelight to hopefully, finally, clean up his act. Or get a new, less funny act altogether.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - NOVEMBER 21: Artie Lange and Vinnie Brand backstage at The Stress Factory Comedy Club on November 21, 2018 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. (Photo by Bobby Bank/Getty Images)Bobby Bank/Getty Images

50. He’ll Be Back—He’s Addicted To Comedy

Lange tweeted out to his followers that he had found a new job; at a gas station, pumping gas. Fortunately, his gas station gig was only a temporary position to comply with court orders. Lange hasn’t quite returned to stand-up comedy yet but he left his eager fans with one last joke to tide them over until his (next) big comeback.

“Don't [use substances] to be cool, do 'em because you hate yourself”.

Tales From The Night ShiftPexels

51. He Passed Notes

Lange’s legal troubles started long before he hit rock bottom. Even before he knew he wanted to be a comedian, Lange had a knack for practical jokes. But, not everyone appreciated his sense of humor. He learned that in 1985, at just 18 years of age. In an attempt to impress a pretty girl, Lange entered a bank, approached a teller, and slipped a note across the till. His romantic overture, however, did not go as planned.

Illuminati FactsRawPixel

52. He Was Armed But Not Dangerous

Artie had intended his little stunt with the note as a reference to Woody Allen's Take the Money and Run. However, when the teller read the note saying that Artie was armed and that he demanded $50,000, she did not get the joke or the reference and triggered the silent arm. Much like his father, however, Lange had a lenient judge and got off with only a misdemeanor.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - NOVEMBER 21: Artie Lange performs at The Stress Factory Comedy Club on November 21, 2018 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. (Photo by Bobby Bank/Getty Images)Bobby Bank/Getty Images

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