Crash and Burn
CHAPTER 1 MY LIFE AS A PRIZEFIGHTER
By the end of my eleven-year career on the Howard Stern Show, by my count I had gotten into a fight with literally every single person that worked for the show. These weren’t one-round back-and-forth sparring matches: these were heavyweight insult slugfests with low blows, no rules, and blood on the canvas by the end of them. They went way beyond the acceptable level of shit giving and taking that defines the Stern universe because I drove them there directly. I could get under the skin of the most good-natured member of the crew on their happiest day because that’s just what I do. If I decided that they were out to get me somehow or just decided that I didn’t like them (probably because they seemed happy and I was a miserable drug addict who got a perverse thrill from destroying everything good in his life) I would lock on to my victim like a pit bull, keep at it until I found their soft spot, and force them to lose their temper in a very uncharacteristic way. I could make people become someone they didn’t like, which suited me fine because I didn’t like myself either.
During my descent, I may not have been the best cohost, but I was one hell of a fighter: a slouching tiger, sleeping dragon, if you will. I might spend half a show sleeping, in other words nodding off on heroin, but I’d wake up with more energy than an angry terrorist,
ready to rail away at my target until I reduced them to the level of anger, loathing, insecurity, and frustration that I felt every single nonhigh hour of my day. Like I said, anger was a sick thrill for me: it got me going, it blew off steam, and it made me feel alive. And obviously I didn’t care about the consequences it had on the relationships in my life, so it became a bit of a hobby—the kind of hobby your friends have that you wish they didn’t. Usually those friends aren’t too receptive when you try to tell them that collecting paintings by serial killers isn’t going to get them laid.
I got into a fight with Robin, I got into a fight with Gary, I got into a fight with Fred, I got into a fight with Sal, I got into a fight with Richard, I even got into a fight with Howard! How the fuck did I think that was okay? I got into so many fights on the air that they made a “Best of Artie’s Fights” special after I was gone that they still replay all the time. I know this because every time it airs, if I go outside at all that day—even for just five minutes—someone in a passing car will roll their window down and shout at me about it. This sounds bad, but it isn’t; usually they are informing me of this in a good way. The most famous of these fights was quite the spectacle, even in audio form, and if you’re lucky or cursed enough to have seen the video of this event then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Aside from all that, this incident is significant because it marks a major downturn in my efficiency as a functioning drug addict. I am referring to a fight that stands alone: my battle royale with my old assistant Teddy.
In April of 2008, I completely lost it on Teddy one day on the air. I insulted him, I threatened him, I made fun of him in every way possible, and I topped it all off by throwing a cup of water at him. I’d been munching painkillers like they were Tic Tacs all night, so I was flying high that morning. I was also pretty exhausted. I’d been keeping up the schedule that drove me into the ground and had played a big LA gig that month after which I planned to relax and wean myself
off of the drugs, which would have been the sensible thing to do. Instead I went to Amsterdam.
One of the Stern Show producers, Jason Kaplan, was having a four-day bachelor party there, and great people were going, including Howard TV cameraman Brian Phelan, who is one of my favorite people from the show to hang out with. The flight out was that night, just a few hours after our blowup. On the show that morning, Howard asked about the trip and if we were all packed and ready to go. I remembered that I’d asked Teddy to make a copy of my passport so he’d have all of my information handy for filling out customs forms and in case I lost it, which was a distinct possibility. Teddy was, after all, my assistant, and these are the kind of tasks assistants are told to do if they aren’t on top of it enough to think of these things themselves, which was definitely the case with my flunky manservant. The number of times Teddy didn’t do things he should have done is almost as legendary as the number of times I fell asleep on the air during my last year on the show, but no matter what he did, I believed in Teddy because I liked the kid a lot and wanted him to be all that he could be. So that day, I expected that he’d done what I’d asked him to, regardless of his track record.
A couple of hours into the show, during a break, a kid who worked at Sirius—not even on our show—came up to me, handed me my passport, and told me he’d found it in the copier machine, where Teddy had apparently left it. This was a major fuckup, even for him, because if someone hadn’t found that and returned it, we would have gone to the airport and I would have been completely fucked. We would have missed the plane, because there is no way in hell I’d let Teddy go and have fun if I couldn’t, and by the time we got ourselves over there we would have probably lost two days.
At first I just thought it was funny. Shit happens; we all do dumb shit, and I’ve done shit that’s dumber than most. Luckily my dumb shit has turned out okay . . . most of the time. So with all that
in mind I did what any self-respecting wiseass would do if their friend—let alone their paid assistant—fucked up that big: I started busting Teddy’s balls. During the next commerical break I went and found him and started laying into him in a pretty lighthearted way that was nowhere close to how rude I’d been to him in the past for lesser crimes. I considered it gentle teasing, which he deserved to say the least, but it didn’t take long for this exchange to turn into something violent. It literally took one cross word from Teddy.
After the break, back on the air, I told Howard what he’d done and when Teddy heard me, he barged into the studio to defend himself. He was offended and defensive and took no blame, and this flipped my crazy switch, shifting my tone in the argument from civil to insane. I was outraged that Teddy wasn’t at all apologetic; I really couldn’t believe it. To me, there is no excuse for leaving your boss’s passport in a copy machine that everyone in our office—which is huge—has access to. I wasn’t going to let him make any kind of excuse, because there was none.
I went right at the punk, because that’s what he was to me at that point, and brought up the fact that he owed me two thousand dollars. The exchange that ensued was crazy. I started calling him gay because one time he’d shortened the word “Bloomingdale’s” to “Bloomie’s.”
“Who says that?” I asked. “He might be gay.”
My reasoning was twofold: I’d dropped my mother and sister off at Bloomingdale’s but I’d never been inside, I’m proud to say. The fact that Teddy had been in there multiple times and had adopted a nickname for the place was suspect. Referring to it as “Bloomie’s”? I had a huge problem with that. Who says that? He’s such a pussy. I took that train of thought to the wall and still wasn’t done because by then pure anger and hatred were streaming out of me. Things escalated until I reached my breaking point, which was the moment Teddy said that I forced the money on him. Forced. It’s still an insane notion, and in my state that was it, I was out-of-control pissed off. I’d
loaned him the money, but the way he talked about it that morning sounded as if he felt entitled to it and didn’t feel he had to pay it back. I fucking lost it and all hell broke loose. Before I go on I’d like to emphasize that I overreacted here and I do apologize once again to Teddy.
Anyway, I threw my water at him and dove across the desk hoping to get my hands around his neck. I missed pretty badly on both counts so I got up, sending my chair crashing into the wall and ran after him because by then he was out of there. It was the fastest I’d ever seen him do anything. Benjy, who is a comedy writer I love and adore who wrote jokes for Howard and sat right next to me for years, tried to stop me but he couldn’t. As fat as I am, I’m strong as hell, especially when I’m angry. So as Teddy ran for his life, Ronnie, Gary, and a few interns worked together to hold me back. Hands down, this was my worst moment on the air, which is saying a lot considering my track record. Still, I know some of you Stern freaks out there probably think it’s the best thing you’ve ever heard. As much as I think you’re sick fucks, I hope you weirdos never change.
As I saw Teddy get away, I became more of a maniac by that point, enraged and inconsolable, and underneath it all embarrassed and ashamed. I saw Howard in the middle of it and stopped in my tracks, finally realizing what I’d done and what I was still doing. I wasn’t close to cooling down, but I had a moment of clarity. Howard and the show meant so much to me, and in that flash I forgot whatever whirlwind of hate I was caught up in and got some perspective.
I stopped struggling, I stopped yelling, and I went and hugged him. “I don’t deserve to be here after this, Howard,” I said. I was struggling to hold back my tears. “I’m sorry I disrespected you and I’m sorry I disrespected the show. Good-bye. I don’t deserve to be here.”
There was about an hour remaining in the broadcast when I stormed out, and I had never done that before, even on my worst
days. I got out of the elevator and onto the street thinking that I’d resigned because I’d meant what I said: I didn’t deserve to be there. I spent the rest of the day walking up and down Sixth Avenue, completely out of it. After a few hours, with nowhere to go, I went to the movies and tried to doze off and forget about my life. I have no idea what I saw, I just remember people in the theater yelling at me because my cell phone kept ringing as calls and texts from concerned people came in. I know what you’re thinking, but c’mon, you really think I know how to put that shit on mute? I just found out about this thing they call e-mail.
Everyone in my life called me that afternoon, all of them trying to stop me from going on the trip, but that wasn’t gonna happen. I was so determined to carry on that I would have told the president of the United States or Greg Nettles himself that we’d have to have dinner another time because there was a bachelor party in Amsterdam that I had to get to. So that evening, with all this bullshit unresolved, without having talked to anyone since walking off the show, I boarded the plane with Teddy, Brian, Jason, and the rest of the guys and flew to Amsterdam, Holland, for four days of male bonding and good times.
I was at the very height of my heroin addiction, by the way, which, factoring travel, lies, and other people, made for a perfectly tossed salad of shit, dressed in piss vinaigrette. Our fight on the air was a giant danger sign to everyone around me, most of whom didn’t think I’d come back alive from a city infamous for liberal drug laws and an ample supply of heroin, pills, and hookers. They saw a sugar-mad kid heading unattended into Candy Land.
Things started out all right because I slept through most of the flight, but what really helped was that I was booked into a different hotel than the other guys. I had the cash to burn, so I’d booked a suite in a five-star establishment a couple of miles away from them. The first night I crashed hard because I still had a lot to sleep off, but by four p.m. the next day I was rested and ready to begin my
version of a well-earned vacation: isolation and getting high. I had no problem celebrating Jason’s upcoming nuptials my way because in my mind that was still honoring him, so I got into a cab and told the driver to find me some fun. He took one look at me and made a beeline for the Red Light District, where I bought a bunch of pills from some guy on the street who was wearing a beret. I remember wondering if that was Amsterdam code for “dealer holding.” As a rule, berets piss me off on sight and I refuse to talk to anybody wearing them, but this guy got a pass for life. He had every opiate I’d ever heard of, so I bought a sack of his pills, then went looking for a hooker, which is my chaser of choice for a double shot of opiates. I found myself a solid seven and negotiated a rate that would get her back to my hotel. This chick was a hooker through and through, which is really what you want when hiring a prostitute. Any guy who kids himself that a woman for hire is his girlfriend, even while it’s happening, is a complete idiot. The fucking business is a fucking business, so act accordingly and everyone will go home happy.
This broad was amazing, just completely a prostitute. There was no way anyone at the hotel from the bellboy to the bartender to the desk clerk manning the graveyard shift was going to address her as “Mrs. Lange.” And she was so accommodating: as high as I was at the time, I will never forget how understanding she was that I hadn’t changed my American dollars into Euros. She and I spent the rest of the night talking, while crushing and snorting every flavor we could find in the bag of pills I’d scored. She spoke decent English, and we only had sex once, because like drugs addicts will do, the time we spent together was all about the drugs. I was enjoying myself, so the next day, I refused to get in touch with the other guys, even though they’d left me a few messages. I remembered back to shooting Dirty Work in Toronto in 1998, with Chris Farley, because Farley would pay whores to just sit around, smoke weed with him, and keep him company because he was lonely. That’s where my head was at—after
banging her once, I was fascinated by the idea of paying a pretty woman to be my friend for the day. I was as far gone as Farley had been: I just wanted to spend an afternoon with a friend who wouldn’t judge any awful thing I did. When it comes to hookers the sex is secondary in my opinion. The love you rent from them isn’t real, but it’s unconditional, and when you’re a using, struggling drug addict, love and a lack of judgment are exactly what you need.
I never got her real name, but I did make one up for this broad: in my mind I started calling her Whoreguide™ because the moment we got outside she’d start giving me the history of the city. She was incredible! I started enjoying her company so much that I dodged all the guys’ calls and texts and took her on a cruise through the canals of the city. I was staying at The Dylan, which is a very posh hotel, and there were sightseeing boats parked outside in the canal waiting to take rich tourists sightseeing by water. It was downright wholesome: me, the guy driving the boat, and Whoreguide™ taking in Amsterdam’s historical highlights together. We saw centuries-old town houses, government buildings, famous residences, the Anne Frank House—all of this and more lay on either side in all their splendor.
Once again I’ve gotta hand it to Whoreguide™: she was one informed whore. She knew more about the history of Amsterdam than the boat tour guide by a long shot. The only thing he taught me was where to get breakfast. That guy, whom for the sake of argument we’re going to call Goebbels, had a crisp Dutch accent and high-strung voice. Basically he sounded like a friendly Nazi, the way a counselor at a Hitler Youth summer camp might be. His Aryan nature became especially clear to me when he started talking about the Anne Frank House, explaining in great detail how long her family had hidden in the attic with the kind of restrained glee that all Nazis have when discussing the suffering of Jews. Now that I think about it, he was more of a repentant Nazi while highlighting the finer points of the house and Anne Frank’s story, as if he didn’t want to reveal himself. It was all very rehearsed, and I felt like I was watching
Yul Brynner do his five thousandth performance of The King and I. Once he finished talking about the Franks, though, he became his sinister, joyful self again.
“Now,” he said, his voice getting louder and his eyes getting wider, “if you look just past the Anne Frank House, you’ll see a great place . . . for pancakes!” I kid you not, he shouted the word “pancakes” as if he were saying, “Heil Hitler!”
It really was a lovely afternoon and all three of us got to know each other so well, but as the boat returned to the dock I didn’t kid myself: I knew it was time for Whoreguide™ and me to part ways. She wandered off down the street and I went back to my room to get high for a few more hours before crashing out. The next day I finally contacted Jason and the other guys and met up with them at a café near their hotel. This was no coffee joint—it was a Dutch café that sold weed, and we hung out all afternoon smoking a bunch of shit. All of us laughed like crazy, had fun, and somewhere in there Teddy and I made up. Afterward, I walked the two miles back to my hotel alone, enjoying a really nice marijuana high. As I walked through the streets of Amsterdam that afternoon everything was beautiful, and I felt at peace taking it all in, especially when I noticed the great place for pancakes that young Goebbels had pointed out up ahead of me. It couldn’t have been better timing because nuclear-powered munchies had set in, and Nazi-recommended or not, I can honestly say that those were the best goddamn pancakes I’ve ever had in my entire life. I planned to fuel up there then take the Anne Frank tour, but unlike the Nazis, the pancakes won: I didn’t have time for the tour after my feast, but I didn’t care because the rest of my walk back to the hotel may have been the most relaxing stroll of my life.
That was the last I saw of Amsterdam, because for the rest of the trip, I barricaded myself in my room, getting high, sleeping, getting high some more, then sleeping it all off. I’m quite the traveler; I get the most out of my free time in a foreign city. I really should write a series of tour books. The guys tried to hang with me and kept calling,
but they probably knew what was going on. We did all fly home together and all was well. I heard all about what they’d done every day and night and they heard all about how exhausted I was from doing stand-up and how happy I was to have caught up on my sleep (yeah, right). Teddy and I kept working together for another year or so, but after that fight he demanded that he not be my assistant—he wanted to be my “tour manager.” I wish he had brought that up while we were still in Amsterdam; I would have turned right around and hired Whoreguide™ because she would have been a much better choice. As it turned out, I gave Teddy what he asked for, I made him “tour manager to Artie Lange,” but fuck him: I still asked him to do assistant stuff, which he still did half-assed. Whatever, Teddy’s a good guy, but by January 2009, he’d had enough of me regardless of his title and asked to be let go. I didn’t want to, but I said yes. It was the end of an era.