Thursday, July 30, 2009
Book Review: Too Fat to Fish
I have loved Artie Lange since before most Americans had ever heard of him. Back in 1995, MadTV was launched on FOX as a funny alternative to Saturday Night Live - which in the post-Phil Hartman years had actually become a drama. There was one member of the ensemble MadTV cast that caught my attention immediately: Lange. His impressions were funny, not because they were accurate but because - much like Chevy Chase's famous impersonations of Gerald Ford during the early SNL days - they bore absolutely zero resemblance to the character he was impersonating [he did Newt Gingrich with a Jersey accent]. And - for my money - nothing has ever been funnier on American television than Lange's portrayal of a black woman who was hit by a bus, had her soul jump into a big fat white guy from New Jersey, and became That's My White Mamma. Lange's catch phrase in the sketch - 'Don't make me break my foot off in your ass!" - still makes me laugh 15 years later.
Lange disappeared from television only to reappear seemingly attached to SNL alum Norm MacDonald. It was that relationship that led to Lange's eventual role-of-a-lifetime on The Howard Stern Show. A self-described rabid Stern fan, Lange's 'I could've been a longshoreman' persona made him connect with Stern's listeners in a way that Jackie Martling never could. Lange on Stern's show on "terrestrial radio" [or, 'testicle radio' as Lange coined it] was great. Lange on Stern's Sirius satellite radio show has been utter brilliance. Lange is a foul-mouthed comic and one now can hardly believe he was able to survive on commercial television and radio so many years without saying the word "fuck".
So, I say all of this as a prelude to demonstrate my Lange-loving credentials. I loved Artie. I still do. But after you read Too Fat To Fish, you're not going to like him that much. Lange's self-destructive behavior - told in uproariously painful detail on the air over the last eight years - are funny when he tells them on the radio because Lange is always the butt of the stories. In TFTF, however, you get to see the collateral damage: what Lange's behavior did to his family and friends as they tried to steer him off the course of destruction.
In short, if you're thinking about reading TFTF for laughs, keep walking. You're not going to get them here. Sure, there are funny tid bits and tales. But mostly it's a sad, disgusting, ugly tale. Maybe Lange did himself a disservice by telling all of those funny stories over the years on Stern's show. Anything funny in the book, you've already heard on the Stern show. It's the other stuff that you find out in the book: the friends he nearly beat up in fits of drug rage; the countless number of chances he was given only to always fuck it up with an overdose or violent behavior; the pain he inflicted on his mother and sister through his too-numerous-to-mention binges is truly disturbing.
While Lange's stories on the air about his binges are filled with self-deprecating humor, in the written word they come off as self-destructive and - worst - destructive to the lives of anyone around him. Lange comes off as a toxic nightmare - not just the chemical toxins he put in his body but the toxic effect he had on anyone involved in his life: friends, co-workers, producers, directors, even the poor maids who had to clean up after him. In fact, a not-so-insignificant part of the book is Lange apologizing - literally, apologizing - in the text to those he's hurt over the years. More than a dozen times you'll read something to the effect of, "I haven't seen [insert name here] since that happened. I love [insert name here]. If [he/she] is reading this, I want to apologize and say I love you."
Really, Artie, it would've been simpler to just write them a goddamned note. You didn't need to co-write a book to get it off your chest. Perhaps the fact that I read the book after it became known that Lange had relapsed and was back on heroin when he wrote it colored my thoughts about the book. Reading about his antics knowing that he was still addicted makes it less funny.
About halfway through the book I realized I was getting angrier and angrier at Lange. About three-quarters through I realized I didn't like him all that much, either. By the end of the book, I thought he was the biggest asshole I'd ever read about.
Fortunately, once Monday came around, I was able to go back to just listening to Lange on the radio and by Tuesday I loved him again. Like I said, if you're looking for laughs you'll be looking a long time. Anything funny in the book you've already heard on the Stern show. It's the aftermath of what he wrought that you'll read about. And you'll most definitely want to break your foot off in his enormous ass.
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