Speaking as a Fan
It's very possible that I really enjoyed comedian Artie Lange's book, Too Fat to Fish, so much because I'm a big fan Lange on The Howard Stern Show. I'd be lying if I said that didn't help. I come to the book already familiar with Lange's style; I know when he's kidding and when he's being serious. I'm familiar with his past from years of hearing about it on the show, so when the book ends up being a laundry list of mistakes and degenerate behavior, I'm not judging the guy. I knew it was coming.
The book is essentially a memoir of Lange's rise through comedy and struggles with addiction, and though it's told in a linear fashion it doesn't really feel like a traditional memoir. It's more a collection of stories -- a series of remembrances of significant events in Lange's life. And though it doesn't exactly feel like it while you're reading, the parts actually do add up to a whole. We never learn what drives Lange's comedy (like in, say, Steve Martin's memoir Born Standing Up), but we do get a sense of what drives Lange -- and what causes his demons.
Better Heard Than Read
If there is a fault to the book, it's that fans of Lange -- and the book is written for fans, as evidenced by several references the comedian makes and the occasional shorthand he writes in -- may have already heard a lot of these stories. Having listened to the Stern show for years, I've heard about the time Lange was arrested for attempted bank robbery (it was actually a joke that went horribly wrong) or when he was fired from MAD TV after taking a swing at an L.A. cop (he had been on a cocaine bender for days). Some stories -- like the one where Lange had to play "Babe" the pig on MAD TV and went off to score cocaine in a pig costume -- actually work better verbally than in print. Lange tries to recreate the same sense of desperation and bizarre lunacy that surrounded the incident on the page, but the story just doesn't have the same comic impact.
Actually, the book as a whole isn't really going for comedy; there are jokes, sure, but Lange seems more interested in getting personal than in being funny. And he absolutely does get very, very personal -- namely in a couple of stories he's never shared on the radio or in his act, such as the actual story of how he lost his virginity or the time he tried to commit suicide. It's impossible to read these passages and not be moved by Lange's honesty; he never sensationalizes or glamorizes his addictions or the difficulties (such as the loss of his father) that led him to his lowest points. It helps the reader get to know and understand Lange in a way that no jokes ever could.
More Than Bad Behavior
Non-fans, on the other hand, may be in for a rude awakening. Because this is not the traditional "comedian" book (a series of humorous essays, for example), someone unfamiliar with Lange may not know what to expect (why they would pick up the book in the first place is beyond me, but that's not the point). And there's a lot to be shocked by in Too Fat to Fish. It's not just the vulgarity (though there's a lot) or the frank talk about sex (there's a lot of that, too). It's the honesty and detail with which Lange discusses his vices -- namely, drugs, alcohol, gambling and sex. There are those who may consider the book to read like a degenerate's manifesto; truthfully, they may not be too far off. But to write the book off as just a laundry list of bad behavior would be to miss the humanity Lange achieves. It's fitting that the book be just as sad as it is funny, because few comedians could claim to be as funny -- and as sad -- as Artie Lange.
- Release Date: November 11, 2008
- Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
- 320 pages