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Stern sidekick Lange rolls with the punches

Artie Lange is used to abuse. He takes his lumps every morning as a jokester-in-residence on Howard Stern's radio show, both from the cast and from callers. Nothing is sacred -- not his weight, not his past problems with drugs and alcohol, not even his laugh. On some websites, fans discuss how annoying he is compared with other celebrities.

It's not that he can't take a joke. With Lange, what you see is what you get, onstage and off: a good-natured schlub from New Jersey with a knack for impressions and self-deprecation and with a sometimes surprising wit. "I've been trained in the art of being insulted my whole life," says Lange, who opens for Robert Schimmel tonight at the Cape Cod Melody Tent. "I'm actually fine with it. I can deal with it."

What has affected him, though, is speculation about his death. One website puts odds on when and how he will die. Lange, who doesn't own a computer, has never seen the site, and he isn't bothered by it personally, but it has caused him some aggravation. He says one company even denied him life insurance because of it. "They put my name on this Google thing, and they saw all that and they were like, `no,' " he says, laughing at the absurdity.

Lange seems to have a knack for drawing attention. He was part of a New York City sketch and stand-up troupe in 1995 when he was picked to be one of the original cast members of "Mad TV," the first season of which has just been released on DVD. It was his first big break in show business, and he hasn't looked back since.

"I was 27 years old, I had never lived away from home, and I blinked an eye, the show got picked up, and I was living in LA doing a sketch show," he says. "It was that quick. But since then, I've never had any other job except show business. I've made a good living every year."

His drug and alcohol addictions got the better of him in the second season, when he took a swing at a police officer on the studio lot. He came back east to his native New Jersey to get cleaned up, thinking he would accept "Mad TV" producer Quincy

Jones's invitation to come back to the show once he had gotten control of himself. That's when he auditioned for and landed the spot on the radio show he had been listening to since he was 13, replacing Jackie "the Joke Man" Martling. The job allows Lange to be near his family and friends, and it gives him time to work on projects like his first stand-up DVD, "Artie Lange: It's the Whiskey Talking," which will include a short film he is shopping to studios.

Radio fans, especially fans of Stern, are a passionate lot, and their interest in Lange isn't usually a problem. Most people respect his personal space and just want to say hello. "But there's other times," he says, "when they'll just get you in a headlock before they even say hello, and it'll be like, `We're having a beer!' "

Still, encountering the occasional overenthusiastic fan is a small price to pay. "I fully planned on having to go back to LA and the Howard job dropped out of the sky like a blessing from above," says Lange. "I have to pinch myself sometimes; it's great."

DVD watch Two entries from "National Lampoon Live," "New Faces: Volume One" and "Down & Dirty: Volume One," hit the stores Tuesday. Gary Gulman and Alonzo Bodden anchor "New Faces," even though they have roughly 20 years of stand-up experience between them. The performances offer a glimpse of Bodden, Gulman, and Bonnie McFarlane before they were tapped for "Last Comic Standing," including a version of Gulman's Olympic skater routine that includes a more sarcastic twist. The "Down & Dirty" comics don't fare as well. Outside of some inventive impressions by Craig Gass and a solid set by host Rich Vos, most of the comics spend too much time trying to offend and not enough time writing jokes.

Around town ImprovBoston staple Zabeth Russell performs her last show with the troupe tomorrow night in Inman Square. . . . Bobcat Goldthwait plays Jimmy Tingle's Off Broadway on Tuesday. Goldthwait is fresh from Montreal's Just For Laughs Festival, where he performed with a group of friends from his days in Boston in celebration of "When Stand-Up Stood Out," a documentary about Boston's scene. He also screened his own "Windy City Heat," a reality show satire that originally aired on Comedy Central.

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