Stand-up comedian Artie Lange has had his ups and downs, but his mood and mind-set of late have been rather remarkable, especially in the context of recent history.
"I feel great, man," said the 44-year-old, who headlined three shows in July at Levity Live comedy club in Rockland County. "I feel like I'm 17 again. I've never thought clearer. You know, when I was on heroin, everybody told me that if I got off it, every day I got away from it makes you better. And eventually, I felt like a kid again, and more creative and more productive than ever. I've never, in my life, felt better."
That youthful exuberance had been missing in late 2009, when he ended his eight-year run as a sidekick on Howard Stern's radio show. He admits he was struggling with drug addiction at the time, and things got much worse, two days into 2010, when he plunged a knife into himself repeatedly. The physical recovery from those injuries was just the start, as he endured eight subsequent months in a psychiatric ward.
Since those difficult times, his life appears to have improved dramatically. Earlier in July, Lange told Newsday Westchester he has been heroin-free for more than two years. He's also slowly been making his way back onto the TV talk-show circuit, guesting on the late-night shows of North Salem resident David Letterman and Saugerties native Jimmy Fallon. And Lange made a return to regular appearances on satellite radio July 19, when SiriusXM started broadcasting "The Nick & Artie Show" -- the sports talk show he'd been hosting with northern Westchester County resident Nick Di Paolo online and on a few terrestrial radio stations.
Just days before SiriusXM formally announced it had picked up the show, Lange raved about what the program means to him.
"If I could have [made] blueprints of my life, post-'The Howard Stern Show,' it would be the situation I have with Nick and the fan base we've sort of developed," he said.
A few nice words from the self-proclaimed King of All Media also managed to make an impact on Lange.
"Howard [Stern] has been supportive of it, which is so important," said Lange, whose conversations with Stern have remained off-air since Lange's departure. "So many important things that happened in my life have happened because I was on 'The Howard Stern Show,' and, now, 'The Nick & Artie Show' is another [important] one, so I'm thrilled.' "
Lange credits his co-host for delivering a fun experience on "Nick & Artie," which normally airs weeknights from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.
"Nick is one of the funniest guys, but something Nick Di Paolo is -- and something I respect -- Nick never wavers from what his opinion is," Lange said. "Nick is never phony. As a matter of fact, it's not in his blood. It's impossible for him to be phony in a business where so many people have to be phony to get by."
And for Di Paolo, a fellow comedian, he has found working with Lange to be just as fun.
"He was made for radio," Di Paolo said in a separate interview. "He is just a brilliantly funny guy. He can do voices. He's great with topical stuff. He's got a great mind on him. He's just made to do radio -- just funny as all hell. From a year and a half ago, he's done a complete 180, and I couldn't be happier for this guy. I don't care how the radio thing winds up, honestly. It's all great stuff, but [it's good] to see him functioning at this level, you know?"
That lucidity is crucial to Lange's stand-up act, which he'll demonstrate this weekend at Levity Live, not far from another Hudson Valley location where he once performed. But he's hoping for fewer distractions this time, compared to when he performed at the defunct Center Stage Comedy Club, which was part of the New Roc City entertainment complex in New Rochelle.
"I played [at] New Roc City with 'Stuttering' John [Melendez] and Nick Di Paolo, about 12 years ago," he recalled. "It was attached to the New Roc mall, or whatever the hell it was, and literally during your act, you could hear like a Donkey Kong game going -- I'm not kidding -- or Mario Bros. So, you would tell a joke, people would laugh and then you'd hear, 'You've won another game!' "
Lange has felt like a winner of late, especially after hearing some recent words of encouragement from Stern. Lange revealed that the two hung out and bonded in June at an undisclosed location.
"We had the nicest conversation on the planet," Lange said. "I apologized in person, for the first time, for being a lying heroin addict those last couple of years -- a guy he considered a friend and a great co-worker [but was] a heroin addict, and all that goes with it. And he said, 'No problem; I'm just glad you're doing great,' and we hugged ... I just love the guy, man. He's everything to me, you know?"
Although Lange does admit to having a new vice, most would argue it's safer than heroin.
"My new addiction is Twitter," said Lange, whose @ArtieQuitter account has more than 78,500 followers to date.
Lange's long-form writing might be even more popular. His first memoir, "Too Fat to Fish," was an evocative, deeply personal bestseller, and his eagerly anticipated follow-up, "Crash and Burn," is slated for a November release.
"This one's going to be just as emotional, believe me," Lange said. "It's about the last few years. The biggest topic is beating heroin, and how I did it, and [what] I went through after that. I'll talk about those last couple of weeks on 'The Howard Stern Show,' and how awful it was for me, and that last day, when I basically was on the air, blacking out. It'll bring back crazy stories from the past, that I was even too scared to include in 'Too Fat,' that will help people realize how nuts I was. It's going to talk about how someone who was just near death, and wanted to die, came back to live."