By Jack Rico
For those comedy aficionados who really like their comedy uncensored, gutsy and emotionally raw, comedienne Lisa Lampanelli is a must watch. Howard Stern called her “a true original and a brilliant comedy mind who’ll steal the show every time. His words ring true after my Q&A with Lampanelli herself where we got down to the heart of many matters, including, her divorce, detailed insights on Donald Trump, why Cosby won’t survive his backlash, why she’s such a fan of Amy Shumer and how she gets away with being “mean” to her audience, amongst many other funny moments.
ShowBizCafe.com (SBC): Thanks for talking to us. Let’s begin your style of comedy. How would you say describe it and what would you say you bring to comedy that is unique?
Lisa Lampanelli: I think every comic is unique and has a little different spin on who they are. So I sort of combine the audience insult work with storytelling now. I tell a lot more stories, and it’s really personal now too because everything I sort of talk about really happened to me. I don’t talk about anybody else but myself, and I hope that what I go through is universal. So I talk about doing the specialty weight loss surgery, my struggle with weight for 32 years, my struggle with body image, my faults, the divorce I had. Some people will be, “Oh my God, I went through that too.” So my happiest time is when people say, “Oh I didn’t feel like I’m the only one going through that also.” It’s also to make a universal statement that, “You’re not alone. Everybody goes through this stuff, and I’m standing up here still, so you can too.”
ShowBizCafe.com (SBC): With wisdom comes empathy and compassion, but as “The Queen of Mean,” have you softened your insults as you age?
Lampanelli: No, I still do my insult comedy. I’m still exactly as edgy as I used to be. So yeah, it’s not like let’s change image. You can’t change your image. You just have to live your life and be like whatever happens happens. But it’s still where nobody gets mad, nobody gets hurt. Everybody just kind of is in it together. So I don’t think there was ever a real meanness to it. But it was definitely insult comedy, and I like that.
(SBC): Why not celebrities?
Lampanelli: No, never celebrities, always the audience. Comedy Central did roasts a lot, and they have celebrities on them. And Kathy Griffin is more of a celebrity lampooner, and she does it amazingly – like the best. So I learned more about audience work.
(SBC): When did you know that you wanted to become a professional comedian? I think there’s that moment where you understand that you’re funny because your friends, strangers just seem to laugh at everything you’re saying, and at some point, I imagine that you start thinking, “I think I have something special here. When did you go from social humorist to professional humorist?
Lampanelli: So I guess it was 25 years ago, and my first nephew had been born, and I was driving up to see him. I was in a job I didn’t love and I heard an ad on the radio for a DJ for the rental DJ’s, and they were looking for people to work for their company. I was like, “I bet if I get experience behind a microphone, as far as doing weddings or dances or stuff like that, I bet I could be brave enough to tell jokes.” So I signed up for that immediately and it all sort of worked out. I then took a comedy class, did my first open mic and I just knew the first open mic I did it was like some divine intervention. I’m going to be a comedian. That’s it, I just know it. And every year it just kept improving and improving. So it was just getting up the nerve do it the first time and saying, “Okay, whatever path it goes on, great. And if I only make $1,000 a week for the rest of my life as a comic I don’t care,” because knowing I’d do it for free and not care about anything other than the fact that I was doing it really made me realize this is what I’m meant to do.
(SBC): I’ve always found it fascinating that whenever you ask the great comics, such as Julia Dreyfus or Seinfeld or Chris Rock, they always tell you that the reason they take so many years in order to do standup is because they really have to know that their jokes will be funny. And so they go through a lot of rehearsals. But once they hit the stage it seems like they’re literally just coming up with it off the cuff. How much rehearsal goes into one of your standup shows?
Lampanelli: It’s not rehearsal because you’re not like going into a studio like an actor and practicing like that. You’re running around the city doing 80 spots at different clubs a night so you could get the jokes up to par. The audience is your scene partner. It took maybe the first seven years of my career – or just seven years as a comic – to get where I had my voice a little bit. I had to learn what is Lisa Lampanelli’s voice on stage. So after that, the next seven years or so were like just polishing it and honing it. And now it’s just like all bets are off. I can just do what I want and have fun with it. And to do a one-hour special … for me it takes about two years, two and a half years – probably two years – to get the material to be up to standards that I want it to be. So I think that takes about a couple years of writing and honing and doing difficult venues when we’re trying stuff out and putting it together. So yeah, it’s a long process, but if you love the process it doesn’t bother you in the least.
(SBC): One of the great things that I love about comedians is that you can literally ask them anything, and they’re so knowledgeable about the world. They all have an opinion and a thought about what’s happening around us.
Lampanelli: That’s interesting because I don’t. If you ask me anything to do with what I’m interested in I will tell you. Like for instance, if you say to me, “Lisa, do you think that becoming more spiritually aware has helped or hurt your comedy? I’m interested in psychology, spirituality, emotions – things like that. My work is internal. I’m not interested in anything outward. I don’t care about politics. So if you ask me, for instance, “Lisa, are you still working on healing from your divorce, and what’s that like for someone to go through that?” Or “Lisa, once you got the surgery is it really a struggle to be able to keep the weight off, what with emotional eating being such a problem?” That’s interesting to me. So yeah, I can talk about anything interesting to me – just not anything interesting … sometimes subjects just lose me because I don’t care about them.
(SBC): But even you have to have a thought on Donald Trump! I know you worked with him on “Celebrity Apprentice.” Who is he really? Is he an asshole?
Lampanelli: Well, I know him really as who he kind of is. Because I really like him as a person. He was always a gentleman to me. He always had the greatest admiration for my work ethic. So he always appreciated that because I think we had that in common. And I also know him as a really charitable guy because I did a ton of work for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital with him. So I don’t know him as a blustery blowhard, but a lot of people do. They can think what they want, and I don’t have to defend him because that’s not sort of what I’m on earth to do. But I can say for me, personally, the things he says are ridiculous and crazy, but you know what? In my dealings with him I have not one complaint. It’s just really kind of … I see him as a guy who likes a lot of publicity. That’s what he gets and he’s happy with it.
(SBC): One of the things I’ve been arguing with people about is that they take things so seriously. I mean you’re a performer. To me, isn’t what he’s doing a level of performance?
Lampanelli: Yeah, to me he’s like P.T. Barnum. It’s funny how everybody has an opinion. He loves publicity. Once I initialed a work for his brother – Robert, I think. And I said, “Why isn’t Robert the big success that Donald is?” And he goes, “Oh he is, financially, but he doesn’t have a publicist.” Donald loves the spotlight. He loves attention. And you know what? As a comedian, I get it. I love the attention too. So hey, whenever I see he does big things I go, why are we shocked by that? That’s what cracks me up too that people are shocked by how he talks. I’m like God, it’s Donald Trump, dummy.
(SBC): So many people like Jim Carrey, Jay Leno – they all have great things to say about you. Is there anything you have to say about any of the comedians out there whose work is pushing the comedy genres to other levels? One name that comes up frequently today is Amy Schumer’s. Why do you think Amy Schumer has resonated so much with America?
Lampanelli: I don’t know, but I know why she resonates with me – first of all because every time I watch a commercial for that movie [Trainwreck], I rewind the DVR, and I watch it again, and I study her. First of all, I know she did a two-year acting program at a conservatory called William Esper Studio, and I was like that’s what hard work looks like. Because her acting is so effin’ good just in the commercials. I would make my friends watch them whenever we’d watch. Rewind back, and I was like this girl is a fucking good freaking actor. I go, “That’s the first thing I have is respect for somebody who will go through all that.” I did a conservatory for acting for just six weeks one summer at Yale. And it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Look how it shows. Every comic thinks they can just step seamlessly into a TV show, and they can step into a movie role and be funny and natural. And it’s not about being funny and natural. It’s about being funny, natural and also trained enough to be really good and captivating on the screen, which she so much is. So I love the hard work behind it. I also love her edge and pushing the envelope because I’m in that tradition. So even before you mentioned her name I was going to say Amy Schumer. I mean I’m such a fan that I was like such a little girl about it when the movie came out. I was like, “Oh my God! I can’t wait!”. I was like yay, one of the good ones is getting ahead. So oh my God, that is some talent right there.
(SBC): America has become extremely hyper-sensitive, a police watch dog for the political correctness. You can no longer say anything bad about anyone in jest. If you’re beautiful, and I hypothetically complement someone by saying, “You’re beautiful,” I’d probably get, “Why are you calling me beautiful? I’m also someone who’s also smart. Why are you stereotyping me, pigeon-holing me as beautiful.” You have to be extremely careful how you say things today. Why do you think comedians can still hide behind the veil of humor and be protected from the fury of social media and everybody else?
Lampanelli: Welcome to my world. I mean I’ve been doing this 25 years. So I’ve heard it all. And I’m really politically correct when I’m off-stage – not in an obsessive way like these weirdos are who you can’t say, “Hey that black girl over there.” They’re opposed to … “Hey, the girl with the black hair.” And you’re like, “Which one?” And they won’t say black, like they don’t see color. You know what I mean? “Hey, the Asian girl,” “Oh the lawyer over there.” You know to not even be able to describe someone is ridiculous, like off-stage. But off-stage I’m really sensitive to if somebody uses a racial slur or a gay slur. I’m really sensitive and on it. But on-stage I’ve been doing it for so many years that … it’s my show. If they don’t like it they don’t have to come. It’s my Twitter. If they don’t like it they don’t have to read. So I’m really like … don’t even argue about politically correct things because I know that I’m going to do what I’m doing. I’m 53 years old. Am I really going to change for any of these douche bags? Is like somebody typing in their mother’s basement behind a computer telling me I shouldn’t say something on stage really going to change how I do my career? No. But I’m pretty sensitive to political correctness in my real life.
(SBC): How do you get away with it today?
Lampanelli: I have a warm personality. People know I hit everybody, so I’m just kidding. If I was hitting just one group I think that’s hard to defend.
(SBC): So you’re an equal opportunity offender.
Lampanelli: Right. I don’t go around [flagging off] Asians; I go around flagging off everybody. And it’s pretty obvious. I always make the jokes so ridiculous and broad that no one would believe them. So instead of … I mean that’s how Rickles did it all these years. The jokes are so broad and so obviously untrue that people know it is a joke. I think it’s the level of not being prejudiced and your warm personality, so people let you get away with it.
(SBC): What is hands-off – like something that no comedian should ever do? Are there rules in the comedy world?
Lampanelli: No, I think now people get crap for talking about Caitlyn Jenner, but that will end soon, and we’ll be able to make fun of her again. But there’s no subject off limits. I mean there are comics who can do a great bit about September 11th if they’re skilled and really smart about it. So no, there’s never a subject. I’ve joked about rape, AIDS, pedophilia – every kind of horror that there is. And there’s never any repercussions because I … and even if there are I don’t care. So yeah, nothing’s off limits. The only thing I won’t make fun of is if I can’t make it funny. If there’s a subject I can’t make work then I don’t tell it. The audience didn’t pay to come hear me do something unfunny. They want me to be funny.
(SBC): Speaking of sexually charged cases, Bill Cosby is also a comedian who’s going through a pretty rough time in the media. But he also still manages to go out and perform and do shows.
Lampanelli: Those 10 people in the audience are really enjoying it.
(SBC): Well, do you think Cosby can save his career? You talk openly about all the problems you’ve had and it’s worked for you. Can’t Cosby make fun of his issues just like you are doing and come off on top?
Lampanelli: I think there’s a big difference between doing humor the way I do it and having to make fun of the fact that you legitimately hurt dozens of people. Could Hitler have made a bit comeback as a standup comic? I’d rather see that. That’d be hilarious. But I think honestly – he’s going to be so hated for this for so long he’ll probably be dead before anyone forgives him because he’s sanctimonious even now. He’s so smug and so full of himself and always was. And I always hated him. I always hated his comedy. He’s sanctimonious and self-righteous, and there’s something about him I don’t like. And a lot of it’s coming out now. And I could never stand him. And unless he was to do a full-on 20 years of therapy – and I don’t think he has 20 years left to live – I don’t see a comeback coming. If people are that stupid that they forgive a rapist for that many rapes … I mean maybe if you had one date-rape in college, and you’re 70 and talk about it, and that’s after you’ve worked on yourself for 50 years – maybe we’ll embrace you. But if people embrace a rapist like that you just know they hate women, and they’re anti … what’s the word? They’re misogynistic. So let’s not forget that too quick.
(SBC): So you don’t think he deserves a second chance like another fallen hero in Brian Williams?
Lampanelli: He had a second chance. He had a second chance after the first rape to go, “Oh my God. Here’s a million dollars to the girl I raped. Hush, hush, keep quiet. I’m so sorry. Let me get therapy for 50 years.” So I think he deserves a lot worse than what he’s going to get. I mean he deserves it. Well he’ll go someplace where he deserves what he gets. He will have to come back into this life next time as a rape victim for me to be happy about it.
(SBC): You’re going to be in the Borgata at Atlantic City, Monterey, California in September. What can we expect from a Lisa Lampanelli performance? Why should we go pay our money?
Lampanelli: I’m going to do a few jokes from the special [Back to the Drawing Board]. I have so much more new material now since the special was taped. You know, when you tape the special you have to rehearse it for about six months. I’m so bored with the material that I have stuff that people haven’t seen yet on TV even in the special. So yeah, I’m doing a ton more material – sort of all my codependent horrible boyfriends from the past, a lot of my gigs that were horrible, a lot of people I hurt through comedy. So I think it’s great because it’s even more stuff than they got that’s original from the special. So I’m really excited.