Caroline Rhea and Artie Lange have more in common than might be obvious at first glance. Besides the fact that they are both headlining shows at the 20th edition of the Boston Comedy Festival — which runs Nov. 12-16 at various locations from Somerville to Beverly, with big-name acts like Robert Klein, Emo Philips, and Dana Gould — they are also both 30-year veterans of stand-up.
Both started their careers in New York City and have had success on television. Both are still going strong after 30 years and are set to release new podcasts in 2020. And both are autobiographical onstage, which is where their stories diverge.
Rhea has found a comfortable groove starring in family-friendly fare like “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and her current show on the Disney Channel, “Sydney to the Max.” It’s not necessarily the career path the Montreal native sought, but she enjoys it. “It’s weird,” she says. “They say never work with children and animals. And of course, being the defiant Aries that I am, it’s like, no, I will only work with children and animals.”
“I have new material,” she says. “I guess it’s just the next phase of life. We moved back to Los Angeles, I’m on a show. My daughter’s a tween. It’s fun to process it onstage. As always, I think I’m so unique, and in fact, I’m exactly like everybody else, which always makes me laugh at that realization.”
Her interview podcast will debut in January and channel her natural curiosity. “We’ve been recording them, and I’ve been trying to figure out what the theme is,” she says. “I like to chat.”
Lange has a new hour of material he’s working on that will eventually be a documentary-style stand-up special next year, but his story is about surviving his own worst behavior. “A lot of people who live a life like I’ve lived don’t live to 52,” he says. “If you had told me about the year 2020, if you had mentioned it in 1995 when I first moved to LA to do ‘MADtv,’ I would have said, ‘I’m not going to be alive in 2020.’ That would have been like a ‘Jetsons’ episode.”
For much of his life, Lange has battled addictions to everything from gambling to heroin. He is on strict probation after a spate of drug-related arrests in 2018 and earlier this year. When we speak on the phone, he says he is nine months and five days clean. “The joke I’ve been making is, I haven’t been nine months clean since I was 9 months old,” he says. “That’s what it feels like, practically.”
Getting clean has changed Lange as a comedian. He’s writing his fourth book, the first one he’s done sober, and his new podcast, called “Artie Lange’s Halfway House,” will feature people who have had similar experiences with addiction. Everything now is coming from the perspective of a comedian who is finally seeing himself more honestly.
“From a performance standpoint, you get clearer, you’re more articulate,” says Lange, who was a regular on Howard Stern’s radio show from 2001-09 until Stern let him go because of his drug abuse. “But also when you’re thinking clearer and clean, your perspective changes, so the material changes. I have a lot of brand-new stories and new jokes and material I wrote. I also retell certain stories people might have heard with a total different perspective on it. And it’s fresh and clear. So it is different, in a good way.”
Another thing Lange and Rhea have in common is they both cut their teeth visiting Boston on the road early in their careers. Lange is grateful that blue-collar New England crowds want to hear from a New Jersey kid who grew up wanting to play for the Yankees. “More books I’ve sold there,” he says, “more stand-up tickets, more people listen to me, more Stern fans. The people there are so good to me. I love ‘em. I’ve had more success there than anywhere in the country.”
Rhea has been coming to Boston since the early ’90s and says the city reminds her of her hometown of Montreal, except maybe with tougher crowds. “You would get shipped off to Boston for six weeks at a time to toughen your soul, as they heckled you on the way to the stage,” she says.” And the Boston crowds are always amazing.”
Festival founder and organizer Jim McCue wanted to make a big splash with headlining acts this year, and feels lucky to have gotten Rhea and Lange, as well as Klein, Philips, and comedians with local roots like Gould, Shane Mauss, Patty Ross, and Tony V. “I think we’re really diverse this year,” he says. “I just try to book funny, and there’s a lot of funny people who happen to be diverse.”
BOSTON COMEDY FESTIVAL
Nov. 12-16, various venues. Tickets and schedule at www.bostoncomedyfestival.com
Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.