Wanna Bet?: A Degenerate Gambler's Guide to Living on the Edge

Wanna Bet?: A Degenerate Gambler's Guide to Living on the Edge

by Artie Lange, Anthony Bozza

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Overview

"Lange’s entertaining book makes it clear that, no matter how wild and risky his lifestyle may be, he takes comedy more seriously than anything else." —Publishers Weekly

When Artie Lange's first book, the #1 New York Times bestseller, Too Fat To Fish, hit the top of the charts, audiences learned what Howard Stern listeners already knew: that Artie is one of the funniest people alive. He is also an artist haunted by his fair share of demons, which overtook him in the years that followed. After a suicide attempt, a two-year struggle with depression, and years of chronic opiate addiction, Artie entered recovery and built himself back up, chronicling his struggle in brave detail in his next book and second New York Times bestseller, Crash and Burn.

In his hilarious third book, the two-time bestselling author, comedian, actor, and radio icon explains the philosophy that has kept his existence boredom-free since the age of 13—the love of risk. An avid sports better and frequent card player, Lange believes that the true gambler gets high not from winning, but from the chaotic unknown of betting itself. He recounts some of his favorite moments, many of which haven't involved money at all. In this candid and entertaining memoir, he looks back at the times he's wagered the intangible and priceless things in life: his health, his career, and his relationships. The stories found in Wanna Bet? paint a portrait of a man who would just as quickly bet tens of thousands of dollars on a coin toss as he would a well thought out NBA or NFL wager. Along for the ride are colorful characters from Artie's life who live by the same creed, from a cast of childhood friends to peers like comedian and known gambler Norm McDonald. The book is a tour of a subculture where bookies and mobsters, athletes and celebrities ride the gambling roller coaster for the love of the rush. Through it all, somehow Artie has come out ahead, though he does take a few moments to imagine his life if things hadn't quite gone his way. Unrepentant and unrestrained, the book is Lange at his finest.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250121172
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/17/2018
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 244,632
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

New Jersey comedian ARTIE LANGE launched his career on the sketch comedy show MadTV before taking his place in radio history as the co-host of the Howard Stern Show for nearly a decade. Today he maintains a non-stop stand-up schedule, is the co-star of Judd Apatow’s new hit HBO show Crashing, and is developing a film, a sitcom and an animated series.

Anthony Bozza is a multiple New York Times bestselling author known for his work with Eminem, Slash of Guns n' Roses, Mick Fleetwood, Tommy Lee, and Derek Jeter. Wanna Bet? is his third book with Artie Lange.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

THE POT-SMOKING LAUGH

My father was a pivotal figure in my life. He was an opinionated wiseass, he was hilarious, he was hardworking, and he possessed the kind of balls and inner-city know-how that cannot be taught. As much as he could, he turned life upside down and shook the spare change from its pockets. He was active and had a lot of energy, which made his last years on earth very hard for him. After suffering a terrible accident on the job as an antenna repairman, he spent his last four years as a quadriplegic. My dad always took risks and lived according to nobody's rules, which is a trait I inherited for better and for worse. I regret nothing, and I hope I've done him proud or at least given him a lot to laugh about up in heaven. At the end of his life, when my father was in his bed, desperate to escape the pain and the fate that life had dealt him, laughs were valuable. The story I'm about to tell you was one that would make him smile when nothing else could, no matter how many times he'd heard it.

Birds of a feather flock together, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that a lot of my childhood friends were thickheaded risk takers like me. Say what you will about us, but I am still in touch with all my closest friends from high school, except the ones who died. When we were kids, all of them believed they'd go for broke and take life by the balls like I did, only they didn't actually do it. They all had big plans. A lot of them wanted to be in bands, because when I was in junior high and high school, every guy I knew wanted to be in a band. I don't think that's changed, because being in a band is still the coolest thing you can do if you're not funny enough to be a comedian.

Anyway, a few thousand kids went to my high school, and it's safe for me to admit now that out of the white kids, I wasn't even close to being the funniest. If we are counting the black kids in my high school, I wouldn't even rank in the top one hundred. Remember this, because there is a reason why I'm here and they're not. All those guys helped me develop as a comedian, and I'm thankful. My high school was probably 33 percent Italian, 33 percent Irish, 33 percent black. There were some Hispanics and exactly one Jewish kid, which I'm sure of because that kid was doomed. He was the odd man out, and to make matters worse, he wasn't Jewish enough. He lacked that instinctual, natural Jewish sense of humor that he desperately needed to fit in. He had none of it. He was, as Howard Stern would say, a goyishe kop, which is a Yiddish term used to refer to someone who is Jewish but isn't like a Jew. If you're a Jew, you would use this term to describe a Jewish colleague who isn't good with money, for example. Penguins and chickens, being birds who don't fly, are goyishe kops.

I've always loved that term, and Howard and I had this quid pro quo thing when it came to old-world Jewish and Italian terms. Howard loved a few Italian slang phrases that he picked up from me, and they weren't even insults; they were just bad Italian American bastardizations. One of his favorites was shviadell, which is a mutilated version of sfogliatelle, the word for an Italian pastry that non-Italians call a "lobster tail." I said it during a drunken toast I gave in Las Vegas the first time we did The Howard Stern Show out there, and he locked on to it. I got up and said something stupid like, "Salud, chindon, broccoli rabe, shviadell." None of those words aside from salud really have any business being in a toast, but he didn't care. I don't think he even knew; he just liked the sound of shviadell. That one stayed with him, and goyishe kop stayed with me.

The entire idea of a person who is bad at being what they were born to be is hilarious to me. It's inspiration, because that's what I am. That's what gambling is, that's what taking a risk means to me: being bad at what you are. If I were a Jew, I'd be a goyishe kop, because any Jew who behaves the way I do with money is a very bad Jew. It's funny when Jewish and Italian American cultures come together in unexpected ways, because at their roots, they're similar: both groups' mothers use guilt to control their children, and both groups' dominant religious institutions are controlling and hypocritical. They deal with misbehavior differently, but if you ask me, they're coming from the same place. And when they've mixed things up, some results have been innovative. The pizza-bagel isn't a bad thing when you can't get a real slice, and if it weren't for Jewish and Italian American culture coming together, we wouldn't have the Ramones, who were one of the greatest rock-and-roll groups of all time. They were a bunch of Jewish guys posing as Italian greasers who went so far as to choose a ridiculous Italian-sounding name for themselves. Joey Ramone's real last name was Hyman, for Christ's sake! The Ramones acted Italian but were very Jewish. Except for Dee Dee. He was the Ramone who always got into trouble. I'm not sure he was Jewish, because he certainly did not act Jewish. I guess he was the Ramones' goyishe kop. He was immortalized with a statue right at the entrance to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery for all his misbehavior, God bless him.

I was driving through my old neighborhood of Elizabeth, New Jersey, with my cousin the other day and I got to thinking about all the goyishe kops I grew up with, none of whom will have a statue erected in their honor. I have to say, my family's old house and everything around it looked smaller. The whole place seemed different: the neighbors used to be lighter, and I'm not talking about their weight. There used to be strike zones painted on every bare brick wall you'd pass by, and it's just not like that anymore.

We used to stay outside all night playing stickball against any number of walls until my friend Billy Hazelton's dad whistled. That was the signal and how we knew we had to go home. Everybody from Newark can do that whistle, by the way, either with their two pinkies or just their thumb and forefinger. It would be nine at night, just starting to get dark, but we'd keep playing until we heard the whistle. That meant it was time for supper.

Summer nights like that are my greatest memories of childhood, and I feel bad for these millennials that will never know what it was like being a real kid. In the summer, with no homework to do, we wouldn't see our parents for, like, fifteen hours. We'd stay outside and make up games or other things to do. We socialized by talking to each other, which, believe it or not, is what spoken language was developed for. There was no texting, no cell phones, no one sending you a fucking emoji on your birthday. There isn't an emoji that can capture how we felt and what we experienced during those summer nights. How would I have said "The Luciano brothers stole my wallet" in an emoji?

The Unlucky Luciano Brothers, as we are going to call them here, taught me more about risk and not giving a fuck than anyone else I've ever known. They gave me my first taste of it, and they were my heroes. I've changed their names, by the way, even though they're both dead; that's how much I respect them. The older brother we will call Louie (he was two years older than I was), and the one who was my age we will call Tony.

There was a place in North Newark called Two Guys Department Store (a name I will not change), which is where we used to steal things, because that's what street kids do. At that place it was easy, because the security guard was older than dirt. He was at the end of his career, capable of either that job or watching people steal burgers from White Castle. I got the feeling that he probably hadn't done anything too complicated earlier in life, which was great, because nobody who steals wants to get caught. That type of old-school department store is a thing of the past, by the way, so I'm not sure younger readers understand what those places were like. It was divided into departments that were decorated differently, each with a bit of its own personality, and under one roof you could find everything from electronics and music to clothes, appliances, and furniture. It was a one-stop shopping center, except it wasn't bland like Target and Walmart. The outdoor department at Two Guys was hilarious to my friends and me because they had everything you needed to go camping in the Catskills, but we lived in such an urban area that tents were as useful to us as space suits.

The most useless thing they had was a big orange canoe mounted on a wall, which sat there month after month. None of us had ever even seen a lake or a river, and no one brought a boat like that to the public pool.

One day, Louie, the older Luciano, coolly pointed to it and said, "I'm gonna steal the fucking canoe."

"No, you're not," I said. "How you gonna do that?"

"What do you mean?" he asked. He glared at us long enough that we realized he wasn't kidding. "Listen to me; it's a perfect crime. Why? Because nobody steals a fucking canoe."

We just nodded.

"Louie, if they see you taking it, they'll know you're stealing it," his brother said.

"No, no, no. Listen to me," Louie said. "I'm going to walk out like I just bought it. And no one is going to stop me, okay? Why would they? Are they going to think I stole the canoe? No way! They won't think that, because no one steals a fucking canoe."

Off he went, casually, like he owned the joint. My father was like that too, because, like a lot of city people, he knew that if you act like you own the place, you can get away with anything. Unfortunately, computers and surveillance cameras have changed the odds on that quite a bit. These days the bar code that is your face is easy to track down, so if you walk out of a store with a canoe and don't set off an alarm, give them time, they will find you anyway. And when they do, if you've ever been caught with a joint or haven't paid a parking ticket, you'll probably end up doing three to five in Leavenworth.

Anyway, Louie strolled over and confidently removed the canoe from the wall without attracting any attention. Then he balanced it on his head and started walking calmly toward the door. We followed ten feet behind him, trying to be cool.

I need to tell you something about Louie. He was the first time I encountered "the pot-smoking laugh." I've encountered it many times since, but Louie was my first. The pot-smoking laugh is like a stutter, real low, almost a hiccup. It's just ah-ha-ha-ha-ha. It's uncontrollable, like marijuana-induced Tourette's. It's always in a weird tone that is drastically unlike the person's typical speaking voice. It's very common among heavy lifelong pot smokers, but it was a part of Louie's DNA by age fourteen. He was the Jeff Spicoli of Elizabeth, New Jersey.

The pot-smoking laugh is funny, but it's no joke, because if you cross that line, you'll never be the same. Just look at Sean Penn. He launched his acting career on that laugh and he's never been able to shake it. These days he gives speeches on world peace to the UN General Assembly and it sneaks up on him. I can imagine him there saying, "We can't let Castro pay these, ah-ha-ha-ha-ha." He can't help lapsing into Spicoli. The thing is, everyone ignores it because everything else he says is brilliant.

It's a slippery slope and it's hard to climb back up, so keep this in mind the next time you laugh while you're stoned.

What also happens with the pot-smoking laugh is that your head bobs up and down in time, making it even more obvious that you're a huge pot smoker. This takes the average person years, but Louie was there at fourteen. When he put the canoe on his head, he understandably started laughing, and because of his pot-smoking laugh, the canoe started bobbing up and down. The canoe also echoed and amplified his laugh, which freaked him out and made him laugh harder. He sounded like a madman in an asylum giggling at the end of a hallway: ah-ha-ha-ha-ha! But he didn't stop marching toward the door wearing the dumbest orange hat in the world.

Louie was right, by the way. It didn't matter how hard he laughed and bobbed on his way out — no one stopped him! The year was 1979, so there were no fancy alarm systems, just an old white guy who looked like Matlock if he had failed the bar exam. The guard actually paused as Louie approached, then nodded at him and told him to have a good weekend.

"Enjoy your weekend, son," the old guy said.

"All right, thanks, I will," Louie said. "Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha!" It was a very strange moment. It felt like the guard knew all about Louie's big plans to canoe down the nearest rushing river.

Louie was the coolest person I knew before stealing the canoe. Afterward he was a living legend. He was gambling before I knew what risking something even meant. Louie walked through the parking lot laughing so hard that he banged the canoe into every single car he passed as people cursed and jumped left and right to avoid him, and it was the greatest thing I'd ever seen.

Exactly twenty-four hours later, my buddy Mike called me. This is the how I remember the conversation.

"Are you sitting down?" Mike asked.

"Why? What happened?" I said.

"Listen to me, you have to sit down. You're going to laugh so hard."

"C'mon, man, what happened?"

"You didn't hear about Luciano, did you?"

"No."

"He got arrested."

"Why? He got busted for the canoe?"

"Yes! No! Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha! You sitting down?" Louie Luciano made off with the canoe but the very next day got clipped at Two Guys for attempting to steal the oars! Somehow, that guard became Columbo overnight and bagged him.

"Hey!" the old guy said as Louie tried to slip out with the oars under his arm like two baguettes. "Hey, you there! Stop! Are you the guy who took the canoe?"

Apparently at that point, a younger guard tackled Louie, because Sherlock was in no shape for that.

Louie Luciano did time in juvie for his actions, by the way, and that was a terrible gamble on his part. He went to Boys Town because the canoe heist qualified as grand larceny. Grand larceny was being caught stealing goods with a value over $500, and the canoe's sticker price was $515. How about that crap luck? Stealing that boat was a grown-up crime in the eyes of the police by just $15.

If you saw a photo of me, hanging out with those guys, I wouldn't blame you if you predicted that I'd be dead by twenty-five (I would have bet the under myself). When Louie went off to juvie, that moment in time was gone for good, which is probably why some of us are still alive. After that summer, I lost track of the Lucianos and vice versa. Their parents were ne'er-do-well nomads who were never around to the degree that Tony lived with my girlfriend's family in high school for a while when things got really bad. My ex-girlfriend's father, who was a barber, was friends with the Lucianos' father. They referred to themselves as camparis, which is Italian American slang for two friends whose families are intertwined all the way back to the old country. If you've got one, you can count on a campari.

Anyway, Louie was the king of the world in our neighborhood for twenty-four hours. He risked it all and won, then he got greedy and lost everything, all in the same day, which is how gambling works. It's a roller-coaster ride, and we all find different reasons to buy that ticket and buckle up.

Louie went back to the store because he needed the accessories to sell the canoe. There was a guy in Newark who sold stolen goods out of a shop on North Seventh Street right by Branch Brook Park. He took it all: jewelry, radios, musical instruments, clothes, anything. Except canoes.

"What the fuck am I going to do with a canoe? This is fucking North Newark, kid. I can't sell a canoe."

Then he reconsidered. "Know what? I can sell it to my jerk-off cousin; he's outdoorsy. But I need the oars. Get me some oars, and you got a deal, kid."

The next day, Louie Luciano went back for the oars and ended up in Nebraska, in Boys Town, for six months. He came back even tougher, with a tattoo cut into his arm with a razor blade. It was a very creative prison tattoo — it said his name.

The thing that the Lucianos were best known for, by the way, was stealing car stereos. They made a killing doing it in the years following the canoe heist, up until the day they got caught. Tony, the younger brother, was better known as Sticky Elbows because every time he broke a window, the glass stuck to his arm. Every time.

The Lucianos were profiled by the cops and hauled into court before they were eighteen and were sentenced identically. They were given probation, and on their way out of court, they stole a pair of car stereos from the parking lot. They both made sure the cars that they stole from had government plates, hoping that one of them belonged to the judge who had just sentenced them.

Another kid I went to school with rode a bike out of the same department store. Same approach, same guard, same store. Like Louie, he figured that no one would question someone crazy enough to ride out on stolen wheels. There is a way to go so crazy with your plan that no one questions what you're doing. You confuse them so much that you're gone before they realize what just happened.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Wanna Bet?"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Five Points Posse LLC.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Place Your Bets 1

1 The Pot-Smoking Laugh 11

2 Long Shot 23

3 Sliding Doors, Part 1 35

4 Sliding Doors, Part 2 51

5 The Bad Cop 57

6 Injun Giver 71

7 My Two Uncles 83

8 Keef for President 93

9 Digging a Hole 101

10 Off-Campus Betting 117

11 Dirty Work 135

12 The Sports Hall of Shame 147

13 Now Everything's Happened 165

14 Hollywood Wigs, Valley Head 179

15 Where Heroes Dare 187

16 Some Risks Are Too Great 197

17 If You Hit, You Play 219

Conclusion: Is It Blood or Hawaiian Punch? 231

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