Lisa Lampanelli :: The Queen of Mean Comes Clean
"I am the best comic that ever lived," joked Lisa Lampanelli at the start of a recent interview in advance of her appearance at the Wilbur Theatre on May 3. "That’s your headline -- best comic, living or dead. I am definitely better than anyone dead now."
Lampanelli’s joking boast may be an exaggeration but there’s little doubt that fans of the self-styled "Queen of Mean" adore her. When she was in Boston a year ago, there was such a strong vibe between the audience and the performer that it’s easy to see why she’s become one of stand-up’s most popular performers.
Good thing, because without stand-up Lampanelli would be nothing. "It’s the one talent I have. I am definitely terrible at everything else, including blowies. So I may as well be good as something."
Considering much of her stand-up revolves around her attraction to black men, the inevitable response was to ask her if she was good at blowsies.
"No, that number has been greatly exaggerated. And, guess what? I wouldn’t blow a white guy, never mind a black guy."
To those who don’t know the 52-year old Lampanelli, her insult humor could be considered coarse and rude. "If you’re a pussy," she warns, "don’t sit in the front row."
That’s because Lampanelli uses her audience for material -- taking ethnic, sexual and racial stereotypes to levels that push the limits of taste for some. That is, if Lampanelli didn’t create such a rapport with her audience. She may be the queen of mean, but there’s nothing mean-spirited about her.
"My logic has always been, if you’re going to make fun of one person, you have to make fun of anyone. I just include everybody that I like. I don’t think I have ever when I’ve been cut off in traffic by a black guy or a Hassidic guy walks in front of me when I’m pulling out of the driveway, I never go to the ethnic thing. I don’t say, ’Fucking black. Fucking Jew.’ I just say, ’Fucking asshole,’ or whatever. So I think not having any prejudice is a requirement for this type of comedy. Otherwise people sense it."
Lampanelli has been doing her brand of stand-up for twenty-or-so years; though it wasn’t her first profession. She began as a journalist, having worked at Rolling Stone and Spy Magazine in the 1980s. Then at 30 she decided to take a stab at stand-up. "I would do it once, if I sucked, that’s fine -- at least I could say I tried. My first open-mic went well, and felt that it was calling in life."
By the time she was 35, she had found her grove as an equal-opportunity insult comic. "I knew what I was doing and if I could make it funny. I just paid attention and figured out what worked."
Are any subjects off-topic?
"No. For instance if I could have made September 11 funny on September 12, I would have joked about it. There were a lot of comics who did, but they had to be super skilled and really know what they were doing. I remember September 12 and 13 at the Comedy Cellar a couple of guys got up and did some stuff about September 11 that was really meaningful and humorous and lightened the situation. I could never make it funny. So if I could have made the Boston Marathon thing funny, I would have joked about it. I don’t think there’s a topic off-limits as long as you have something unique, original and funny to say about it. I’m not there to make people miserable. There are some subjects I don’t have the skills to make funny. I am really skilled at making the audience laugh at themselves and pull together as a crowd. That’s my job."
Her weight loss
But she still has detractors: when she joked about her budding friendship with Lena Dunham a year ago by referring to the "Girls"-star using the N-word, Huffington Post columnist Kirsten West Savali went after: "Lisa Lampanelli is to comedy what the Tea Party is to patriotism. And for her to think that she has the right to progress a racial dialogue that has never affected her in any way, shape or form -- other than a few extra Twitter mentions and a spin around the news cycle -- solidifies her position as one of the most ridiculous people on the planet."
Mentioning this missive to Lampanelli only made her pause for a second, then say she hadn’t read it or knew about it, adding "I don’t think about people that don’t get me."
Did she worry about them in the past? "The first seven years I worried, why didn’t they get it? Then the second seven years, it’s like, fuck them if they don’t get it. And the third seven years, is, if they don’t get it, that’s okay; but if they get it, that’s great too. So that’s where the confidence comes in -- not getting upset when you read a bad review or tweet. It’s like going out on dates -- not every guy going to like you; you’re not going to llike every guy, but it is nothing personal. I don’t care about those things. I get upset when they don’t get it at all and call me racist. I just think they’re just ignorant and feel sorry for them."
Those who know Lampanelli from her videos and appearances on television may be surprised to see her these days. Two years ago she dropped 80 pounds after surgery. Her husband, Jimmy Cannizzaro, joined her in this weight loss regimen by losing 60 pounds. Now the hard part is keeping the weight off.
"The kind of surgery I had is called gastric sleeve, which means it is different than a gastric by-pass in that you can eat any food, but have to learn how to feel your emotions without eating. Because 90% of people are fat, believe me, it’s because of emotional eating. It’s not about, ’oh, I love food.’ No, you know what? We all have to take a crap to, but you don’t do it unless you physically need to. So the problem with food addicts like me is that we see food when we’re happy or sad, or any emotion, and just go to it like a drunk goes to alcohol. That’s our go-to. So now it’s feeling my feelings without going to food, and that’s really hard because I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t over-shop, so what else is there? It’s learning to be uncomfortable; it’s learning to deal with your emotions."
Like most comics, Lampanelli is a study in contradictions -- brazen, in complete charge on stage, yet strangely lacking confidence when off. "I am really insecure. I think a lot of comics have no confidence. They get it from the stage -- that’s where we get our reinforcement. The moment we leave the stage we are insecure again. It’s a fake confidence. So I have just got a little confidence in myself in the past few years where I am more confident that I am the best person I can be, the nicest person I can be in real life; that I am good as a comic -- not the best but not the worst. It’s more balls to get on stage. It’s more like I’m going to prove something here. That’s what we fake as confidence."
Lampanelli’s method is unusual: she doesn’t write her material beforehand; instead riffs onstage, taping her routines then playing them back to see what works and what doesn’t. "I do everything on stage. I don’t sit at a computer and write things. I experiment on stage. The things that come off the top of my head, I tape and transcribe it and use it again. That’s how they become bits."
But she’s taking her career in a new direction by developing a solo Broadway show, which she has been trying out in various cities prior to bringing it to New York (hopefully) in the fall. "It’s called ’Fat Girl Interrupted.’ It’s about my struggle with weight and food and men and body image. It’s got a standing o every time we’ve tried it, which gives me a lot of hope for it. And I do believe we have a Broadway offer for the fall. So I like it because it’s a story and it’s meaningful, but it’s super-funny. It’s like Billy Crystal’s show where he has you laughing, but you’re really touched at the same time. So it’s a little bit different than stand-up because it’s a story and every bit of it is true, so it’s the other side of the coin.
"I would like to tour it around the country. I don’t think it’s just something New Yorkers and tourists should see. I think it is really important for anyone working on themselves and any struggle they have. It requires a lot of concentration to do an hour-and-a-half by myself... the different emotional range I need to tap. So I’m just so glad it is finally happening after three and a half years. When I was watching ’Smash’ they said it takes 6 years to get to Broadway, and I guess that’s true."
And at any Lampanelli stand-up show, expect to hear her address her gay fans in the audience by using every-known derogatory term to describe gay men. But, as she says, it’s all in fun -- she admires her gay fans as much as they love her. "I think that they think I’m a gay guy that tucks his penis. Fags just love bitches. And also I think gay guys can take a joke and have a pretty thick skin. So when I call them ’cornholers’ and ’spermburpers,’ they’re like, ’OMG. I love it.’ I think gay guys have a real need to be included in the same way I felt I needed to be included. We just really don’t fit in. And in my show it is clearly obvious I have a real affection for gay guys, so I think they think they can be themselves with me and I can be myself with them. So it’s a combination of all that stuff."
Asked about celebrities she hates, a couple of famous names immediately came to the front. "I hate the same people everybody hates. I hate the Kardashians. I really hate Kanye. I’m over Beyonce. I don’t get it? How does she keep getting whiter? She’s a blonde white woman. She thinks she’s Shakira. I hate anyone precious... someone everybody loves. If everybody loves you, there’s something going on with you. I don’t trust it. She’s kind of gross. I think we all hate the same people."
Lisa Lampanelli appears at the Wilbur Theatre on May 3, 2014 at 7 p.m and 9:45 p.m. For ticket information, visit the Wilbur Theatre website. For a full list of Lampanelli’s upcoming dates throughout the country, visit her website.