Artie Lange is hard on himself. But you probably figured that out when you heard the news that he had stabbed himself nine times with a kitchen knife in January 2010.
Fortunately, the comedian who broke through on "The Howard Stern Show" in 2001 and carved out a career as an actor, screenwriter and author of the bestselling book "Too Fat to Fish" is still with us. And Saturday night he will be on stage at the Byham Theater, Downtown, taking his audience on a ride that would be scary if he didn't make it so funny.
"I'm doing great," he said in an interview last week. "A lot of my life feels like a miracle these days. It's fantastic to be back.
"It's been a nutty few years, but it's par for the course in my life. I've been lucky enough to always have another chance when it comes to show business. And this last one has led to my own show on radio and TV, and stand-up audiences have come back, and I have a second book coming out later this year. So I'm doing really well."
Mr. Lange's comedy is based on his sense of brutal honesty -- whether it be aimed at the world around him or at himself.
He started out as a young comic in New Jersey aiming it at himself.
"At the core of it is self-deprecation," he said. "A lot of great comedians have issues with themselves, and they use comedy as a defense mechanism, as a way to maybe fit in in life. They have all these doubts about their own self-worth. The truth can be vicious, but it also can be very funny.
"The problem is that there comes a time when the laughs are done and you don't know what to do, you don't know how to turn that off and you want to keep that going. There's acceptance for an hour on stage, and then you go back to being the guy or the girl that doesn't get accepted. You think, 'How do I keep that feeling I had?' How do you keep that high? And a lot of people turn to drugs. I know I did. And then, of course, that leads to insane problems."
Saturday night's show -- which is part of his comeback -- will include material that he is honing for an upcoming DVD. And his next book, titled "Crash and Burn," should be out in the fall.
"'Crash and Burn' covers the last four years of what happened to me and psyche wards and rehab and redemption and getting back, as well as the darker stories that are still funny," he said. "What makes somebody a heroin addict and the struggle with that. It's a heavier book, but it is therapeutic. I do like being honest. And -- as part of my honesty I'll tell you -- it's good money."
He readily admits that his comedy isn't the soft, fuzzy stuff that might fit so well into snug corners of show business. But it's not like he's a pioneer, he says.
"I have a niche, but there's always been those comedians out there," he said. "The kind who isn't going to make a joke about the airline food unless it's tied to a dark story like the airplane crashing. I don't know if you call what I do 'art,' but it is my version of what I do. I'm lucky enough to be able to tell you things in a comedic way and make you laugh.
"It can be safer to keep it light. But when there is something else you want to talk about, it will eat away at you and you have to let those floodgates open. If not, at the very least you will be disappointed with yourself for being lazy."
Uncomfortable with compliments, he shrugs off suggestions that he has earned his success, especially in the face of the challenges he has faced. Sure, he brought most of those challenges upon himself, but doesn't it take guts to overcome them?
"I don't know if I rise above it. That makes me sound like a better person than I am," he said. "I think people like the underdog, and I think I'm the epitome of that. I mean, I'm not someone who's going to steal your girlfriend or something like that. I try to be honest. That's something I learned from Howard and comics like Richard Pryor."
If it's such a man-eating profession, one has to wonder: If he had it to do over, would he do the same things?
"Yes, without question," he said. "I can't name one other thing I would do in life. The odd thing is -- and the scary thing is -- that I would have been driven even crazier."
The show starts at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Byham Theater on Sixth Street. Ticket prices start at $42.50.
If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we'll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1456. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/