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Another Hollywood Remake Derails In 'Pelham'

Film critic David Edelstein reviews The Taking of Pelham 123, a remake of the 1974 subway-hostage thriller starring Denzel Washington, John Travolta, and Luis Guzman.

05:32

Other segments from the episode on June 12, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 12, 2009: Interview with Artie Lange; Review of the film “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3;” Commentary on digital TV.

Transcript

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Comic Artie Lange On Being 'Too Fat To Fish'

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m David Bianculli of tvworthwatching.com, sitting in for
Terry Gross.

Today’s guest, Artie Lange, cracks people up, often by telling stories about
the awful, embarrassing, depressing, self-sabotaging, even tragic things that
have happened to him. He’s one of the regulars on the “Howard Stern Show” and a
standup comic who is in such demand he can get more than $80,000 for a gig.

Last year, Lange wrote a memoir called “Too Fat to Fish.” Since then, fans of
the Sterns show know that Artie Lange is looking healthier. He’s dropped about
45 pounds and has a new girlfriend, though he hasn’t yet brought her into the
studio.

“Too Fat to Fish” is now out in paperback, and Howard Stern wrote the
introduction. He says, quote, Artie is a complicated subject. Most people who
listen to my show will ask me to explain why a guy who has everything going for
him has so many issues. You know what I’m talking about: the heroin problem,
the gambling, the eating, the hookers. All of it forces people to ask, how can
a man with so much talent have so many problems? But here’s the bottom line.
Artie is the funniest, sweetest guy around, and Artie has the biggest heart on
the plant, unquote.

Terry Gross spoke to Artie Lange last November.

TERRY GROSS, host:

…back to FRESH AIR.

Mr. ARTIE LANGE (Comedian): Hey, how you doing, Terry?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Okay. The last time you were on our show, we talked a little bit about
your father, who you really looked up to, and he installed rooftop TV antennas
for a living. And when you were 18, he fell off a roof and became a
quadriplegic after that, and he died of complications and infections about four
years later.

That had a huge impact on you and your family. Your father had no health
insurance. The homeowner had no insurance. The family went broke. Your mother
went on welfare. In your new memoir, you write a little bit about your father’s
life before the accident. And he used to work for a bookie, and in this book,
you talk about how he was addicted to the scam.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And like, tell us like one of his scams that you knew about, maybe even
one of the scams that he involved you in when you were a baby or a child.

Mr. LANGE: A typical scam that my father really was proud of, because he felt
justified in it, was you know, he installed TV antennas. So in the late ‘70s,
when I turned about 12 years old, cable television came in, and you know, who
needs an antenna, and it’s cable TV. Everybody saw the writing on the wall. But
early on, it was so easy to steal cable. Like you just had to climb a telephone
pole and pull one wire out, and you could get the whole block cable. And he
actually taught me how to climb up a pole, and there was this special silver
blocker that they would put up.

If you had basic cable, and they wanted to block Showtime or HBO or one of the
premium channels, they put this blocker up so you couldn’t get them. If you
paid for them, they’d take it down. So my father figured out through one of the
cable guys that if you took that blocker off and boiled it in water for 20
minutes, it would render it useless, but if an inspector came by from the cable
company, he would look up at the pole, and he would see it was there, so it
would be no problem.

So my father actually asked me to climb some poles and get as many of them as I
could. We then boiled like 50 of them at a time in our garage and went back to
everybody on the street and said yeah, basic cable? Well, we can get you every
premium channel for a price. If they agreed to that, my father and I and a
couple of my buddies, who we recruited, we’d run up the pole. We’d put the

blocker back so the cable company could see it, and because it was boiled, it
was useless, and the signal for the premium channels ran right through it, and
everybody got it for free.

GROSS: So you know, you write about how your father loved scams, and when you
were young, you did something that was really crazy. You went into a bank,
inspired by the Woody Allen film, “Take the Money and Run,” and you wrote a
note and gave it to the bank teller, and the note said…

Mr. LANGE: It said: I have a gun. Put $50,000 into a bag, turn around and count
to 1,000. Act natural – no, act casual. Thank you for your cooperation, Artie
Lange, Jr. I signed it, and of course it was a joke, and I thought once the
woman saw my signature, she’d figure it was a joke.

The broad behind the counter, you know, teller, was cute. And I don’t know. I
guess I was hitting on her or flirting with her in some way, but of course I
didn’t realize that she never got to the end of the note. All she saw first was
I have a gun. It was like one of the stupidest things a human being could do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So I’ve got to ask you. What did you think the response was going to be,
like, wow, what a really funny note. Let’s go out, have a drink and then maybe
make love. I mean, what did you think she was going to say?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: Terry, did you get a transcript and find out exactly what the judge
said to me…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: And my mother said to me? Yeah. Yeah, I figured I would hand her the
note, and she would look up and me and go God, this is just the wittiest guy
I’ve ever seen, and look at him. He has acne and a cheesy moustache and an
uneven tan from the seaside boardwalk. Let’s get married.

The messed-up part was I was with my girlfriend at the time, who I write about.
You know, they called us Bonnie and Clyde after that. She knew nothing about
it. But yeah, she turned white as a ghost, and she pressed the silent alarm.
And when I saw this, I grabbed the note, and I threw it out behind me in a
garbage can, and…

GROSS: Where it could be used as evidence.

Mr. LANGE: Right, which was dumb because the cops came seconds after we left.
My girlfriend was like what’s going on? I said ah, nothing, nothing. We left in
her mother’s car, a ’77 Ford Grenada that did not move. And about two minutes
later, there were a bunch of – like a SWAT team, armed robbery call went out,
and we just missed that, and they found the note and gave it to the judge, and
he read it back to me a million times. Yeah, that was dumb.

GROSS: The name of your book and the name of your company is “Too Fat to Fish,”
which is how your mother once described you after you told her, when you were
much younger, before you were a full-time comic, when you told her that your
foreman had invited you to go fishing.

Mr. LANGE: Right.

GROSS: So when she told you that you were too fat to fish, what did she mean,
and why did that stick with you all these years?

Mr. LANGE: Well yeah, at the time, I was a longshoreman. I was working at the
port in Newark, unloading ships, and I had never been fishing before. And the
weird thing is I wasn’t really fat at all, certainly not compared to what I am
now. I mean, at some point in the last few years, I became Dom DeLuise…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: But back then, I was about 22 years old. I had only done standup a
few times, and I was working at the port, and I just never had showed an
interest in anything. Like, that’s the best way to describe it. I never, you
know, had hobbies, except you know, I played baseball, and I was sarcastic.
Like that’s the only interests…

GROSS: That’s a great hobby.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: Yeah, you know, and so fishing or anything like that was just – you
know, my mother would never expect me to come close to even doing something
like that. But at the time, I said hey, I might be a longshoreman forever. I
didn’t have a lot of real, you know, good future plans at that point, and my
foreman said hey…

It was a Friday afternoon. He said hey, I’m going fishing tomorrow at 5 a.m. Do
you want come fishing? And I said yeah, you know, and we went out to happy
hour, as we did every Friday, and got blind drunk, and he left at about nine,
and he said okay, I’ll be there to pick you up tomorrow. I’ll be there at like
six, and you know, I gave him that drunk promise: Yeah, I’ll be there, you
know.

I drank until about three, and I went to White Castle and had about 15 double
cheeseburgers and a chocolate shake, and then I went home. And sure enough,
it’s six, the phone rings, and it’s him. I got up, threw some water on my face,
and I went downstairs. And my mother, who is a lunatic, was up vacuuming, and
she you know, would vacuum early in the morning because no one was up to bother
her - very sort of Italian, ultra-clean woman. And she noticed me up on a
Saturday at six, which was crazy.

So she stopped vacuuming, and she calmly said where are you going? And I said
I’m going fishing. And she had a look on her face like I told her I was going
to the moon to, you know, get some samples for NASA. And she said what are you
doing? I said I’m going fishing. And she said with who? I said the foreman. You
know, we’re going out for tuna, deep sea fishing.

So I guess all of her mother instincts told her that she figured I would die on
the boat. And because she didn’t want that to happen, she thought of anything
to tell me to keep me from going, and she just screamed you are too fat to fish
at the top of lungs. She must have said it about 30 straight times. She woke up
the neighbors. She woke up my sister, who was sleeping upstairs. And at the
time, she didn’t realize how funny that phrase sounded - too fat to fish. But
you know, she wouldn’t let me go.

So I had to call the foreman. Now I’m 22 years old. I said listen, I can’t go
fishing. He’s like why? I said my mother won’t let me. And he was Italian. He
sort of got it. He accepted that, and I went back to sleep, and I slept until 4
PM. I woke up, my mother made me a mozzarella omelet with roasted peppers and
some Bannelle(ph) bread, toasted, and I had the greatest breakfast/late lunch.
And while we were eating, my sister was there, and I said to my mother. I said
ma, do you realize how funny and ridiculous you sounded this morning? She goes
what are you talking about? I said you said I was too fat to fish like 40
straight times, and Stacey(ph), my sister, was laughing, and finally we got her
to think it was funny. She saw the humor in it.

BIANCULLI: Artie Lange, speaking with Terry Gross. More after a break. This is
FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let’s get back to Terry’s interview with Artie Lange of the “Howard
Stern Show.” His new memoir, “Too Fat to Fish,” has just come out in paperback.

GROSS: Someone described you, and I can’t remember if it was somebody from the
“Howard Stern” show or someone else who knows you, described you as, you know,
although you’re so lively on the air, so funny on the air and on the stage,
that put you, say, in a party, you’re likely to be in a corner and quiet. Is
that true?

Mr. LANGE: Yeah, Howard brings that up. You know, I don’t know. You know what?
Here’s the thing with me. Like liquor will amplify whatever mood I’m in. If I’m
in a really good mood, booze will make me even funner and crazier and happy. If
I’m in a bad or depressed mood, I will get dark, you know, and I’ll look like,
you know, Edgar Allen Poe after, you know, he lost his fourth wife to
tuberculosis.

I just have a very dark side in me, and I’m basically depressed. I don’t really
enjoy my company, and I can’t get away from myself. I’m bored to death with my
life right now, bored to tears, and I don’t know what to do. I need some sort
of – that’s why I like getting high and gambling because, you know, it’s
something to look forward to. I have the greatest job in the world, but I’m
just so bored.

GROSS: Why are you bored? I mean, being on the “Howard Stern Show” sounds like
it would be just, like, constantly interesting, constantly on your toes with,
like, incredibly good feedback. So why do you think you’re bored?

Mr. LANGE: I don’t know. I mean, it’s for a shrink to say. I’m just bored to
death. I hate working. I’ve always hated working. I hate having to be
somewhere. I hate long-term commitments on any level. I can remember being…

GROSS: I guess your girlfriends learned that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: Well yeah, but I mean, not even that so much. It’s even work. Like I
can remember being in the second grade, and literally I can remember saying to
myself God, in five years, I’ll only be in the seventh grade. School is going
to take forever. When is this going to end? I don’t want to be here. I want to
quit. I hate having to be here.

And for years, I struggled to get onto a television show, and then when I got
on “MADtv,” I signed a five-year contract. I was 27, and I can remember going
you know, I’ll be here until I’m 32. My life is over. I want this to end
tomorrow, and subconsciously, I think I destroyed it, those things. You know, I
got thrown off of “MADtv” after the second year because of coke, and maybe
that’s because I really wanted to. I don’t know.

I was on a sitcom for two years. I had a job that people in this business would
absolutely kill for, on the sitcom I was on. I was working with one of my best
friends. Laurie Metcalf was in the cast, like really talented people, on the
Warner Brothers lot in L.A. I was a supporting character, making 35 grand a
week. Some weeks I’d have two lines.

I had a job making 35 grand a week, and I didn’t have to take anything to work.
I didn’t have a briefcase or a piece of paper. I had ridiculously lame, easy
jokes to memorize. Like the jokes on that show would be – I’d go to Norm
MacDonald, are you thinking what I’m thinking? And he’d say no, I’m not
thinking of cheeseburgers. And then I’d make a face like oh, you got me, you
know, and then I’d walk out, and then I get 35 grand on a Friday.

So I had a convertible Mercedes. I was living in a $4,000-a-month condo on
Wilshire in Beverly Hills. And I mean, I was healthy, I was thin. I had a tan.
Even with that life, creatively I was empty inside, but even with that life, I
couldn’t stand it. After two years, I had to get out of there. I was pulling
the hair out of my head, and then…

GROSS: So let me ask you. If you’re bored now, and if you’ve been bored at some
of the most successful and well-paid periods of your life, what is it that you
like to do when you’re not working, if you hate working? Like do you want to
stay at home and watch TV all day? Is that what you’d want to do?

Mr. LANGE: Well, it’s a dark answer, but I’ll be totally honest with you. I
want to do, you know, heroin.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: When I was in my 20s, my life became chaos because of cocaine, and
you know, I was younger. Cocaine’s a social drug. You want to get…

GROSS: And this was after your father died…

Mr. LANGE: Oh yeah, much after. My father was not a drug guy. As a matter of
fact, my father used to tell me another word for gambler is loser. You know, he
had none of the vices I have, and he would be really upset if he knew what I’ve
thrown my money away on.

But as I’ve gotten older, I withdraw more and more from life, and I got into
opiates on the road, and opiates are the direct opposite of cocaine. Opiates
are – you know, you want to be mellow and just hang out, be alone and not off,
you know.

My entire adult life, I have done drugs, and I’ve drank. So that’s all I know
how to do. Charlie Parker, the legendary saxophonist, who you know, was a
legendary junkie, too. I think he died when he was 34. He got out of rehab
once, and when he relapsed, he said, you know, they can get it out of your
blood, but they can’t get it out of your head, you know.

So right now, it’s out of my blood. I went through the withdrawals, but it’s
still in my head. I can remember how great it was to just come home and get
high and not deal with anything, but you know, with a schedule as regimented as
I have, I you know, get up at 4:30, and I get to work at six, and I work 6 to
11 on a big radio show where you’ve got to be sort of on, and then on the
weekends, I become nocturnal. I’m up all night doing standup.

With that kind of schedule, heroin is going to really, really ruin your life,
you know, and it started to.

GROSS: You were in rehab in August, I think you went into rehab.

Mr. LANGE: Yeah, I went into like this outpatient rehab. I was there overnight
and then was released under the care of a therapist. So I’m clean for the last
few months, but a lot of people in my life think the outpatient rehab wasn’t
even scratching the surface of what I need, and you know, they’re probably
right.

GROSS: When you were in therapy, I mean, you are such a good talker. You can
tell any story, and you can probably talk your way around anything. But when a
therapist is trying to get you to kind of, you know, penetrate to your core and
be really honest, sometimes it’s probably tempting to, like, just tell
captivating and funny stories and act like you’re really penetrating but just
tell a great story. Do you know what I’m saying?

Mr. LANGE: Right.

GROSS: So does your ability to really talk help in therapy, or does it
sometimes stand in the way of, you know, actually doing the work?

Mr. LANGE: That’s actually an excellent question. And you know what? To be
honest with you, I think it hurts completely because there’s times where I
could just completely BS - you know, whatever - go off on a tangent that sounds
interesting, but it’s completely false and has nothing to do with what he’s
probably trying to get at. It might sound like it is, but it’s not, and it’s a
way for me to avoid talking about it.

And then I guess everyone who knows anything about therapy, they tell you that
if you’re not being honest with them, you’re not going to get any help. You’re
wasting your time.

It has never been effective for me, therapy. This is the longest I’ve tried it.
I go the first couple times, I spill my heart out. I talk about my father,
whatever. And then by the third time, it’s just me and some dude in the room,
and I’m talking about my feelings. It’s kind of fruity, to tell you the truth.
I get uncomfortable, and then I start to go off on tangents, and you know, I’m
not being honest with the guy. There’s – because I don’t know what’s wrong with
me. I don’t know, either. I wish I could tell him. I don’t know, I get the
blues. I get the blues a lot, and it was before my father fell, I was like
that. You know, I don’t know.

GROSS: So what’s the difference between how you talk on, you know, Howard Stern
and how you talk in the therapy office? I mean, do you – are the stories any
different, are they…?

Mr. LANGE: There is no difference.

GROSS: Because it’s not like you’re not revealing on Howard’s show. I mean,
you’re pretty out there in what you’ll talk about in terms of your private
life.

Mr. LANGE: Right, that’s my problem. Exactly, that’s my problem…

GROSS: That your business is already out there.

Mr. LANGE: Right. I mean, I consider the Stern show therapy. I always have, and
there’s been times in the last – you know, I’ve been on there close to eight
years now, and I – you know, there’s been times I leave the show, and I’m
walking down Sixth Avenue in a daze, going what did I just talk about? You
realize how many people are actually listening? You’re just in that room having
a conversation with Howard, and you know, he can lull you to sleep, and you
forget you’re talking to millions of people. And you know, that’s another very
perceptive thing on your part, Terry. I’m telling you, the only difference
sometimes between the Stern show and me in therapy is when I’m talking in
therapy, there’s no one playing, like a fart sound effect behind me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: You know, that’s about it, and if Fred Norris could come to some of
the therapy sessions and do that, I think it’d be great. I’d be more
comfortable.

BIANCULLI: Artie Lange, speaking to Terry Gross last November. We’ll hear more
of their conversation in the second half of the show. I’m David Bianculli, and
this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I’m David Bianculli in for Terry Gross, and back
with more of Terry's 2008 interview with Artie Lange. Lange is a cast member of
the “The Howard Stern Show” and is most famous for telling incredibly funny
stories describing how miserable and depressing his life is, and he's not
making up the problems. He's usually very overweight, and at times has been
addicted to cocaine, heroin, and alcohol. He has a gambling problem too. And
his love life usually is in shambles. However, since this interview was
recorded he's lost some weight and gained a girlfriend. His new memoir, now out
in paperback, is called "Too Fat to Fish."

GROSS: I've got to ask you about what was probably one of the most upsetting
but also memorable moments in the history of “The Howard Stern Show." And this
was last April when you walked out, basically quit after - just like a really
upsetting incident. You and your assistant, Teddy were on the air with
everybody else on the show and then he started talking with you about, you know
money and said that you know, you said you were always loaning him money, and
you're so generous to him, and then he said that he's always having to ask you
for the money that you promised to loan him. And you were getting increasingly
angrier with him. And this erupted into this huge fight about competence and
money. It got really ugly. And when I say fight I mean fight. And so we have a
very brief excerpt of that that we’re going to play. And in this excerpt Teddy
speaks first.

TEDDY (Cast member, “The Howard Stern Show”): Yes you could promise me money...

Mr. ARTIE LANGE (Comic, cast member, “The Howard Stern Show”): You ask me for
money every week.

TEDDY: You promised me money.

Mr. LANGE: No I don't promise you money.

TEDDY: Yes you do. You're always like I’ll give you money on Monday. Uh, and
then you don't give me money on Monday.

Mr. LANGE: I give you money all the time.

TEDDY: When you (censored) five hundred dollars in front of me. I need that
five hundred dollars. I dream for it.

Mr. LANGE: Oh I said you always get it. You always get that money.

TEDDY: Listen, I have to prod and poke you for it. I hate doing that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOWARD STERN (Host, “The Howard Stern Show”): But Artie if you...

Mr. LANGE: You just got your paycheck.

Ms. ROBIN QUIVERS (Co-host, “The Howard Stern Show”): What is going on?

Mr. STERN: But Artie...

TEDDY: We’re not doing these little...

Mr. LANGE: You just got your paycheck. You prod and poked me money that he
doesn't aw you (censored).

Mr. STERN: But, Artie. Artie wait...

TEDDY: Half the paycheck isn't in the...

Mr. STERN: I've got Artie, Artie. I’ve got to take umbrage with you for you one
thing.

Mr. LANGE: Howard, you're being wrong.

Mr. STERN: Can I tell you why I'm right?

Mr. LANGE: You're being wrong. You're coddling him because he's...

Mr. STERN: No. I'm not. I'm going to tell you why.

TEDDY: Whatever.

Mr. STERN: Hear my point of view.

TEDDY: He's a really (censored).

Mr. LANGE: No I hate you, Ted.

(Soundbite of fighting)

Mr. STERN: Hey, no. No. No. No. No. Artie, no. No.

(Soundbite of yelling)

Mr. STERN: Artie, dude, dude.

Ms. QUIVER: Artie, stop it.

Mr. STERN: Artie, stop it. Stop it. All right.

Mr. QUIVER: Hang it up Teddy.

Mr. STERN: Artie, no. Artie, Artie stop. Oh Artie. Oh Artie.

Ms. QUIVER: Go. Go. Go. Go. Go. Go. Now, close the door. Jesus Christ. You
people are crazy.

Mr. LANGE: Feel my...

GROSS: Wow. I mean that just like stops you dead in your tracks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Artie, what went through you mind? Like tell us what was happening at
that moment from your point of view?

Mr. LANGE: My publicist said you would not bring this up, so this interview's
over. Just kidding.

GROSS: Oh okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You had me there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: I don't - I haven't talked to my publicist in months.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: Listen, that's embarrassing. I mean that tape is not defensible.
Teddy screwed up, you know? What can I tell you? He forced me to throw
something at him, and he's apologized, and you know we can move on now.

GROSS: Is that how you see it? That he forced you to throw something at him?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: Oh no, no.

GROSS: Oh okay. All right.

Mr. LANGE: Listen, I am not well. I'm a disturbed person. I'm a maniac. I'm on
drugs. I'm not stable, and Teddy works for me you know? I, I don't know. I mean
what can I say? I got mad and I don't think you know I do love the kid. I love
the kid like a younger brother. We've worked together for a while now. We've
been through a lot of, you know, trenches together and he's been with me all
over the country. So I don't think I would've hit him if I got to him. But I
was just really mad. The money thing was nobody's business. I wouldn't have
done anything.

GROSS: You know most of us have our darkest moments in private. You know and
when we get into a real fight there aren’t microphones around. We’re not live
on the air. And you know, I think for most people who are performers or who are
in front of a microphone, you kind of, you know, you behave in a certain way.
You - even if you're depressed you maybe put on a good face or something. And
to have that exposed live on the air, as so much gets exposed live on Howard's
show, I mean, well, what's that like for you to listen back to yourself that
way? Most of us don't get a chance to - not that we necessarily want to - most
of us aren’t in the position where we’re going to be listening back to how we
sounded when we blew up at people who we really love.

Mr. LANGE: Yes. Well, when I hear it back I say God, I wish I would've hit him
because I probably would've got a bigger advance for the book.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: Listen, Terry, I don't know what to tell you. It's depressing. I
have been in a very bad way mentally since 1985. I'm trying to figure something
out here about, you know it’s funny, everyone all...

GROSS: See I always feel guilty laughing because, you know, it was...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: No...

GROSS: No. No. No. Let me just say like, you're so depressed, you're in such
bad shape, and you manage to make it funny, and I laugh, and everybody around
America laughs. So does that make it better or worse for you?

Mr. LANGE: Well it's - laughing is better than them booing. You know, I mean,
I'm depressed. Boo.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: That would really suck.

GROSS: Or I'm depressed. Who cares? Yes. That would be bad too.

Mr. LANGE: Yes. Well, ultimately. But that's the thing. That's the depressing
thing. Ultimately they laugh, but then really, who cares? You know it's like
everybody's got to deal with their own stuff.

GROSS: Let me get back to the Howard Stern clip that we played.

Mr. LANGE: I love how most people come on shows and they play a clip of their
Academy Award winning movie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: Let's hear a - we’re here with Celine Dion. Let's hear a little bit
of her new single off the sisterhood of the "Ya-Ya Sisterhood" soundtrack.
Celine, this is a wonderful song. Listen to this. And with me you're playing a
clip where I almost killed my assistant in a rage.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: So go ahead Terry, let's finish up on that.

GROSS: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Here's the last question about it. I know on our show when something
goes terribly wrong, I'm thinking well, this is terribly wrong. It might be
really embarrassing. But it’s kind of good radio because there's some drama
here. People aren’t going to be tuning out as this thing goes terribly wrong.
Was there any part of your mind, or do you think was there any part of Howard
or Robin's mind that was thinking, this is really horrible, this is really
frightening, this is incredible radio?

Mr. LANGE: Of course. Well, I wasn't thinking it because I was so out of my
mind.

GROSS: Yes.

Mr. LANGE: Afterwards I thought it. But, make no mistake: Howard thinks it 100
percent of the time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: And they were nice though, at the Sirius and at On-Demand TV. They
refused to play that clip for three entire hours. And then after the three
hours were over they like made it promos. Like, special, Artie loses it bad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: We didn't play this for three hours because we have some dignity,
but we’re here. You know three hours have gone by and Artie says he's fine, so
tune in. Hey, hey Artie loses it and almost dies.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: What a predicament to be in.

Mr. LANGE: What am I going to do? You know what? It's a business.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI : Artie Lange speaking to Terry Gross last year. His Memoir, "Too Fat
To Fish" is now out in paperback. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI : This is FRESH AIR. Let's conclude Terry's interview with “Howard
Stern Show” cast member, Artie Lange. His memoir, “Too Fat To Fish" has just
come out in paperback. She spoke to him last year.

GROSS: One of the things you write about in your book is that you went to
Afghanistan just a few months ago really to do a USO tour. And why did you want
to do that? I mean you're not the most political person in the world.

Mr. LANGE: I am nothing if not compassionate however, for our men and women
over there in Afghanistan and Iraq, of course. Just, I knew a couple of
comedians who had done it and that inspired me. I put it out there on the air.
I said I want to do this. I had my agent, who had helped other comics get over
there. I had him call for me, and there was a lot of resistance. At first they
said no. And I mentioned it on the air and the power of the "Stern Show," they
came back and they said you know what? We ran it by some of the troops and they
would love to see Artie. So, not only are we going to let him come over, we’re
going to give him his own tour. He can pick a few other comics, he'll be the
headliner, and bring a friend or whatever, and you'll have a week.

The shows went amazing, and it's probably the most important thing I've ever
done in my career. Like we did some shows, since weren't unbelievably famous
people, they put us in more dangerous situations I think. We did one show for a
total of 40 guys. We had to take a Black Hawk helicopter to this remote base
outside of Bagram and these guys had just been out doing all these special ops.
God knows what they were doing fighting the Taliban. They couldn't give us
specifics, but they just got back in like four in the afternoon, a scorching
sun, they took their helmets off and they put their gear down, and 40 of them
sat in front of this little makeshift stage. And they were just so happy to see
anybody who wasn't military. They were hugging us and taking pictures. And we
did a good hour and a half standup show. And you know, as a headliner I went
last, and I always did about a half an hour.

And when they guys laughed it was so refreshing. It was so rewarding to see
these guys with cuts on them and like you know, dirt from whatever they were
doing, risking their lives for - I don't know - I hope something that turns out
to be a very important cause. To see them truly get a belly laugh and maybe for
that second forget about the hell they're in was just the most important thing
I've ever done, you know, and the most rewarding thing I've ever done. The
negative part of it is I got to know personally about 20 soldiers. I exchanged
information with them - phone numbers and stuff, email - and a couple of them,
since I've got back, have been to New York and I gave them a tour of the Sirius
studios. I took them to a Yankee game, bought them lunch, and a lot of them are
still over there.

And the problem is I don't have friends or relatives over there - thank God.
But now I got to know these guys and it really puts a face on it for me. And I
know their stories - a couple of them I sat next to on a military flight for
you know 11 hours. And if one of those guys gets hurt or killed, God forbid...

GROSS: Well you were under mortar fire in one of the places on this tour.

Mr. LANGE: Yes.

GROSS: And it’s the first time you were ever under attack like that. What
surprised you about yourself and how you handled it - anything?

Mr. LANGE: Right. Well what happened was we did an outdoor show in Kandahar and
we were supposed to go to the meet and greet. And we had to get in all these
big military SUV's to drive to the meet and greet. And during the drive after
the show to the meet and greet - it was like out of a movie. Incoming, you
know, take cover. So the guy driving our car, the Marine, pulled into this
driveway next to these bunkers. They told us to stand still until they came
around. He opened up the door and a bunch of Marines formed a shield, like a
human shield around us, with their M16's out and walked us to the bunker. And
the Marines were very calm, like it was an every day thing, and that made us
calm. And we had these you know, heroic men and women in front of us protecting
us. So we were a little more casual about it. But it’s funny, a lot of the guys
over there did like these subtle fat jokes.

I think that was their way of bonding with me. And I said to the one kid, I
said, should we be more scared right now because it seems kind of casual? And
the kid said to me, he goes, all right listen. This is the way I look at it. If
one of these things hit you you're just going to be a pile of dust. And I said
really? And then he said you're going to be a big pile of dust. But you'll just
be dust.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: And I'm like, you know, of course, everyone else is laughing and I
got a fake laugh. What am I to do, say the guy's not funny? He's protecting me.
And I said oh okay. He goes, so you'll never feel a thing you know. And then he
said, but if something comes near you - and he was dead serious - me and my
buddy, we'll take the bullet. And he was dead serious. He goes, we'll get in
front of you. And the more I thought about it I felt like saying look, don't do
that man because believe me, you're way more important to the planet right now
than I am.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: I said, don't take the bullet. Let me take the bullet. The world
needs you way more than it needs me. You're a soldier, you're young. You know
and I think he had a kid. So I'm like I’ll take the bullet. I would hate for
his family to get a letter from the USO like, yes your son died in combat
guarding someone. He took a bullet - and you know the family calling and saying
was it a medic? Was it a high officer? Was it someone you know there for peace,
a priest, and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: ...the guy goes no, no. Actually it was the fat guy from “Howard
Stern.”

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: That's who he died saving. You know, that would've been a rough
phone call.

GROSS: Well Artie, I really want to wish you the best in all ways and thank you
so much for coming back to FRESH AIR and talking with us. And I wish you good
health and good moods and some happiness. Thank you very much.

Mr. LANGE: Thanks, Terry. And I’ll see you at the NPR and slash Sirius
Christmas party I guess.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGE: We'll do some Alabama Slammer shots with Martha Stewart and the
crew. I don't know if you've met them. They're a fun bunch.

GROSS: Yes. And I have a reputation for always partying hard, so…

Mr. LANGE: All right, Terry. You get a hair cut and stay in school, sweetie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Okay. Be well. Thank you.

BIANCULLI : Artie Lange of “The Howard Stern Show” speaking to Terry Gross last
November. His memoir, "Too Fat to Fish" has just come out in paperback.
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Another Hollywood Remake Derails in 'Pelham'

DAVID BIANCULLI , host:

Denzel Washington and John Travolta have teamed up to make a new film based on
an old one: the 1974 action movie, "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.” FRESH
AIR film critic, David Edelstein has this review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: Hollywood has remade another old movie, “The Taking of Pelham
1 2 3,” and dishonored its memory. That’s not to say the 1974 original was a
masterpiece. Joseph Sargent’s New York subway hijacking thriller was broad and
artless and pushed its ethnic characters in your face, as if to say, what makes
New York New York is we play our stereotypes to the hilt. Still, a lot of
people, including me, remember it with affection. It was of its era. Pelham was
filmed in the streets and tunnels of the city at its dirtiest and most
anarchic, and the mixture of ethnic humor and cold killing was somehow apt.

The script was written by Peter Stone, whose background was in comedy. And this
was a New York Jewish comedy writer’s take on his beloved metropolis going
scary-crazy - meshuggeneh. Taking on Robert Shaw’s icy, blue-eyed English
hijacker was Walter Matthau as a transit cop, at his most rumpled and
unflappable. Our hero walked through the melee trying to tamp down the insanity
and managed to save the day without firing a shot.

The remake, directed by Tony Scott, is not bad. It’s slickly made, and the
actors are the best money can buy. But even with its rat-a-tat syncopated
aerial shots of the New York skyline, there’s little sense of place. It could
as easily have been shot in Toronto. The chief hijacker, called Ryder, is
played by John Travolta with tattoos and a Fu Manchu mustache. He's not a
terrorist — that would at least have been timely. He’s just another movie-ish,
extroverted, sociopath greed-head. Where Robert Shaw was clipped and spooky,
Travolta talks your head off.

The good guy, Garber, is the quiet one. And Denzel Washington wears glasses and
affects a humble manner. Garber had worked his way up in the transit system but
is under investigation for taking bribes. Demoted to dispatcher, he makes first
contact with the hijackers.

(Soundbite of movie, “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3”)

Mr. JOHN TRAVOLTA (Actor): (As Ryder) Pelham one two three to rail control
center, do you read me?

Mr. DENZEL WASHINGTON (Actor): (As Walter Garber) Yes, I read you Pelham 1 2 3.
This is control center. Who is this?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TRAVOLTA: (As Ryder) (Laughing) It’s me man. I didn’t want to call until
everything was ready.

Mr. WASHINGTON: (As Walter Garber) I understand, I understand Pelham 1 2 3 -
who the hell is this?

Mr. TRAVOLTA: (As Ryder) This is the man who is going to rock the city. This is
the man who is going to give the city a run for the money. Look up, look up at
your screen, you need to tell me what you see. Did you see what I’ve done?

Mr. WASHINGTON: (As Walter Garber) I see it.

Mr. TRAVOLTA: (As Ryder) One car is much more manageable than 10 with manpower
I got. Mr. Motorman is going to tell you all about it. Tell him what we got
here.

Unidentified Man (Actor): (As Character) They got hostages, lots of them, and
they got machines.

Mr. TRAVOLTA: (As Ryder) Yeah, yeah, that’s right. You checked it, you
understand that?

Mr. WASHINGTON: (As Walter Garber) I check, I understand.

EDELSTEIN: The subway car is stopped dead. And Washington is at his desk for
most of the film. Yet director Scott keeps “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” in
constant motion. The camera circles counterclockwise around Washington. Then it
circles clockwise. Then it’s back to counterclockwise. This time jumping to
close-up. Then it’s clockwise again, tighter, the beads of sweat on
Washington’s brow reflecting the periwinkle blue of the subway command center’s
monitors — which also tie in nicely with the blue of hostage negotiator John
Turturro’s shirt and the aquamarine lights of the underground tunnel, dispersed
by water droplets on the train car’s windows.

Scott clearly doesn’t care about locations. He cares about color-coordination
and meaningless camera movement. There’s a great set-up for a timely gag when
the gunmen burst into a train car and a young woman doesn’t hear because she’s
listening to her iPod. I can think of five possible pay-offs, but Scott just
drops it and moves on. He has the filmmaker’s equivalent of a neurological
condition. When he cuts to a new shot, he can’t seem to remember the last one.

His condition must have been contagious, since writer Brian Helgeland
introduces and drops enough plot points to make another movie. The mayor,
played with slippery charm by James Gandolfini, susses out the hijackers’
underlying scheme and rushes off to save the day, and that’s the last we hear
of his plan. A passenger’s laptop sends out images of the captors, who don’t
realize they’re on camera, but nothing comes of that. The movie ends with a
conventional chase through the city, by which time nothing seems at stake.

Throughout, Ryder has expressed fatalistic indifference over whether he lives
or dies, which is supposed to give him an existentialist cool, but ends up
reinforcing the so what vibe. Travolta really looks as if he doesn’t care. And
why should he? Like everyone else behind this soulless remake, he got his money
upfront.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine. Coming up,
some thoughts on today’s transition from analog to digital TV. This is FRESH
AIR.
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Analog Is Dead. Long Live Digital?

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

I’m David Bianculli, TV critic for FRESH AIR.

I teach TV history at Rowan University, and today — right now, all over the
country — TV history is being made. It started this morning and is supposed to
conclude by midnight: the switch from analog to digital television
transmission. The new TVs you bought in the past few years, the ones with
digital tuners or analog-to-digital converters, will have access to high-def
images, and maybe even a whole range of new channels. If your TV gets its
programming from a cable or satellite company, things should stay pretty much
the same.

But if you’re one of the estimated 20 million households getting its TV signals
exclusively over the air, and you don’t have a digital set or converter, today
you enter the new Dark Ages. And today, as those analog-to-digital switches are
flipped by local TV stations across the country, we lose one more clear
connection to our past. Until today, anyone tuning on an old-fashioned analog
TV set and scanning the dial could find programming the same way as when
networks started broadcasting after World War II. Signals were broadcast over
the air by local stations. And the stronger the signal where you lived, the
better the sound and picture.

If there were mountains in the way, or tall buildings, it got trickier — which
is why we got cable TV in the first place. But for more than 60 years, no
matter what improvements and alternatives have hit the TV landscape, the same
basic over-the-air distribution system has remained in place. A few years ago,
I restored my father’s old first TV set. It was a Raytheon, a 1947 model with a
round screen and with horizontal and vertical control knobs in front to help
lock in the picture. My dad would have been 24 when he got that set. The next
year, 1948, he watched Milton Berle on “Texaco Star Theater” and Ed Sullivan on
“Toast of the Town”. I know because we talked about it.

A generation later, I watched a different black-and-white TV. I was in my 20s
before I learned that when Dorothy got to Oz, everything switched to color. But
it was the same analog system of delivery, even though the UHF, or ultra high
frequency spectrum, had been added to provide a few more options. My son is now
the age of my father was when he got his first television set. Just as I was
part of the first true TV generation, when television was in the house from the
start, young people today grew up with cable. Today’s kids don’t even think of
TV as broadcast or cable.

CBS and NBC are just other choices on their on-screen menus, no different from
Nickelodeon or Comedy Central. But they are different - or used to be, until
today. Before today, if you tune in an analog television set to your local
public TV station, you heard this.

(Soundbite of song, “Sesame Street Theme Song”)

Unidentified Group: Sunny Day. Sweepin’ the clouds away. On my way to where the
air is sweet. Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?

BIANCULLI: But tune to the same station using the same set tomorrow morning,
and you’ll hear this.

(Soundbite of static)

BIANCULLI: The reason for this change is the same reason for all the changes on
TV these days: economics. The VHF frequency used, until today by broadcast
television, is like the middle of a river. It’s where things flow the most

smoothly, with the fewest barriers. The government has sold that part of the
public airwaves, for some $20 billion, to such eager buyers as Verizon and
AT&T. They, in turn, will use it to provide more reliable and faster service
for the next generation of mobile broadband phones and portable devices. So in
theory, we’ll soon have six times as many digital channels as we once had
analog channels, and more gadget-packed phones as well.

But, using history as our guide, here’s the downside. Just because a new
technology opens up the potential for a wider spectrum of diversity doesn’t
mean it will happen. FM radio was supposed to free up the airwaves in the ‘60s,
and cable TV was supposed to bring us channels dedicated to opera, jazz -
anything anyone wanted. But most broadcasters chased after the same fat pieces
of the pie rather than produce expensive programs for limited audiences. Why,
with digital channels, should any of that change? But the biggest worry to me,
is the elitist underbelly of all this.

One of the most noble and encouraging developments in all of TV history has
been public television, with its electronic head start given to poor children
in poor communities. If they had a TV set at home, no matter how small or how
old it was, they could tune to “Sesame Street” or “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”
and start to learn. But after today, if those families haven’t converted to
digital TV — and lower-income households are the most likely not to — their
television sets no longer will be brought to them by the letter T, or V, much
less TV. If Marie Antoinette were a member of the FCC, she’ll have no problem
with this. I can hear her now - let them eat cable.

(Soundbite of song, “C is for Cookie”)

Mr. FRANK OZ (Actor): (as Cookie Monster) Now what starts with the letter C?
Cookie starts with C. Let’s think of other things that start with C. Oh, who
cares about the other things? C is for cookie, that’s good enough for me. C is
for cookie, that’s good enough for me.

BIANCULLI: You can download Podcasts of our show at freshair.npr.org. For Terry
Gross, I’m David Bianculli.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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