A leaner, meaner Lisa Lampanelli

Comedy’s Queen of Mean talks about weight loss, divorce and how vulnerability has made her funnier.

click to enlarge SVELTE SASS: Lisa Lampanelli today, 100-plus pounds lighter. -  - Dan Dion
Dan Dion
SVELTE SASS: Lisa Lampanelli today, 100-plus pounds lighter.

Lisa Lampanelli: The Leaner Meaner Tour Sat., Nov. 8, 8 p.m. Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater. $36.75, $125.

When I first saw the woman she was dressed as Mrs. Claus. It was 2007 and she was taping Larry the Cable Guy’s Christmas special inside the Palms hotel in Vegas. Despite the North stripper poles, appearances by Goat Boy and Flavor Flav, it was the kind, plump woman in the red velvet and white fur that would forever garner my attention. From a sweet smile, she spewed a long list of hilarious insults and obscenities that made my cheeks redder than Rudolph’s nose. I was speechless. I was confused. I was inspired. She was Lisa Lampanelli, and she was like no other female comic I had ever seen. She was tougher than the men. And she made sure everybody knew it. If Larry was the reason I became a comic, Lisa was the one who reminded me I could do it.

Lisa has long been a stand out in the comedy world for being an equal opportunity offender insulting everybody from celebrities at Comedy Central roasts to audience members at her sold out shows, it is what we have come to expect from her — as a comic. With so many successful comedy specials, tours, films and TV shows on her long list of accomplishments, I asked Lisa to come clean on her personal life and her new Leaner Meaner Tour coming to Clearwater on Saturday.

CL: You started somewhat late in comedy around age 30, why did you want to be a comic?

Lisa Lampanelli: It was the one thing that kept coming up in my mind. I should try that, I should try that, but I was too scared. And then eventually you hit an age and you think, you know what? If I try it once and I am awful, then I won’t do it, but if it is something that feels right, I’m going to try it. So I took a little comedy class to figure out what I wanted to talk about and there was enough of an indication that I should keep doing it and I just keep going.

It seems you are always surrounded by male comics at these Comedy Central Roasts, has it been mostly male comics that have helped and supported you?

Actually they have not been supportive of me. The only people that were supportive of me were a couple of ex-boyfriends who were comedians, plus Larry the Cable Guy, Jeff Foxworthy and Bill Engvall, but they were the only ones. The blue-collar guys were the only ones who were supportive at all. So many male comics were threatened by me, which I realized later. I always thought they just hated me and thought I stunk, but I realized later it was their problem. A lot of the guys I came up with weren’t supportive at all, so I just struggled along by myself with my friends who were my opening acts, and I made it work.

And how were the women comics?

The women were better but I was always a male-type of comic. I never did comedy like a girl. I did comedy that was hard hitting and fast paced and it was never a ‘woman-type of comedy.’ There were women when I was coming up in New York that were nice and supportive, and at least you felt like, oh they get it and how hard it is to be a comedian, (not necessarily a ‘woman comic’ cause we don’t have it any harder than a guy), I think we have it all just the same. They at least were nice to me and liked hanging out.

For those people out there that might want to try stand-up as a career, what are some of the challenges of being a stand-up comic?

The challenge for everyone in life is not being a victim and I think a lot of people in the arts make themselves out to be powerless and victims and wah wah through life, it’s so hard, well guess what else is hard? Everything. Guess who else has it hard? Everybody. The guy I am looking at right now who is drilling the sidewalk has it pretty hard as much as you poor open mic-er has it hard so I really don’t feel sorry for you unless you were molested or born with a deformity. And maybe I’ll feel sorry for you but maybe I won’t. Because maybe you also are meant to be on that path so it’s just any comic, or anybody in life, the advice is stop whining and honestly do everything it takes and if it is meant to happen, it’s going to happen. And if you are meant to be famous, you are meant to be famous. If you are meant to be a headliner at local clubs every week just for fun, that’s what your path is. It’s like everyone can’t stay so hard, because it’s not that hard. Just do it.

Going back to being known as the "Queen of Mean," you are an insult comic who does ethnic and racial jokes in your act and at Comedy Central Roasts, yet in person I know you to be a kind and sensitive person, how has that been for you being so different than your stage persona?

Luckily most people are smart enough to know the difference, and the other 50 percent who aren’t, you have to just educate them by calmly saying, “Well, that’s the onstage me, I’d rather talk seriously now.” But I do get a kick out of people who say, “Hey, can you call my wife and call her a cunt?” That’s fun, and of course I will do that. But I don’t like sparing and I don’t like making fun of people offstage and I think it is like with (Don) Rickles, the nicer you are offstage, the more hardcore your jokes can be, because everybody knows you are kidding and that’s why they let you say those things. You don’t have to be what your act is.

You’ve recently had gastric sleeve surgery losing over 100 pounds and then gone through a divorce, how has some of these things changed your comedy or you as a comic?

 I think vulnerability and more connected feeling of people resulted from all of the things I went through in the past year, which included the weight loss surgery. My father dying really made me much more emotionally grounded and more present and more vulnerable, I wasn’t scared to be vulnerable with him so I am now more ready to be vulnerable with other people. I also think getting out of a relationship that was getting in my way of being vulnerable with people and being real and kind of saying yeah, this isn’t working, or whatever you can do to make yourself more real, makes people in the audience connect with you more. And it’s not even that the jokes have changed, it is that my demeanor has changed. You can’t even put a finger on how it is different, but people have said that my energy is different. I like it a lot better and I feel more open. Oh and I can still throw down and have a 16-minute screaming match with somebody in the audience, but the energy is different and I love it so much more now.

click to enlarge ROAST WITH THE MOST: Myers with Lampanelli when she presided as roastmaster at Larry the Cable Guy's Comedy Central Roast in 2009. - courtesy of Meredith Myers
courtesy of Meredith Myers
ROAST WITH THE MOST: Myers with Lampanelli when she presided as roastmaster at Larry the Cable Guy's Comedy Central Roast in 2009.

We are now in a time where so much is about being “liked” and tweeting on social media, is that important to you?

I do it to promote friends or to promote my own stuff or I’ll tweet something funny occasionally, but I really don’t care. I just decided that I am not going to do anything that I don’t want to do anymore. So if something feels bad, I don’t do it. Whether it’s a meaningless friend that I don’t really feel is contributing to my life, or tweeting daily, or going to a benefit where I don’t believe in the charity just because there will be photographers, it’s anything that doesn’t feel right in my gut, I just say oh gosh I’m not available. I’ve become an expert at saying no, which adds a lot to my happiness.

I hear you might be taking something called Fat Girl Interrupted to Broadway, what’s that about?

That’s the one-person show I have been working on for four years. Every city we have tried it in has gotten a standing ovation because it really connects with anyone who has any struggles with weight, relationships with co-dependence, it is very funny but also really heart-felt at the moment so they go “Oh My God that is me!” So it helps men and women feel less alone. I don’t know where it stands because we had a couple Broadway offers but the dates didn’t work, everybody is still working on it date-wise and money-wise so we’ll see, but I’ve adopted the attitude that if it is meant to happen it will happen. I’m not going to force it. I’ll work hard but I won’t force anything in life because nobody really can. It is more showing people what I struggle with so that they can feel like they aren’t the only one.

You are also the author of Chocolate, Please: My Adventures in Food, Fat & Freaks. Any plans on another book?

Again, if it something I want to do, then I am willing to do it. Right now, honestly, (in a great way and in a very positive way), I am completely unmotivated by comedy, or by getting ahead, or by fame. The only thing that makes me happy right now career-wise is live shows, and making people really connect with me and forget whatever they were upset about that day. I’ve been so lucky to be able to do this for such a good amount of money and have a good career, that I don’t need or want anything more for myself. I just want them to be happy and I like doing this so I think this is still pretty healing and good for people. I’m just going to do whatever comes my way.

I’m a firm believer that just because you are good at something, doesn’t mean you have to do it. My father was a brilliant painter but he got uncomfortable with it physically after awhile because his hand shook. He never wanted to sell anything; he just wanted to put it up in our houses. And I‘d say to him, just because you are great at it, doesn’t mean everybody has to know. Because he would feel guilty about not sharing it with people and I go, don’t worry; you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. I’m good at a lot of stuff but I don’t want to have to do it all. I just don’t. I know it sounds bad, but other than those live shows like when I come down there and I am so present and fulfilled in work, I kind of don’t want to do anything else.

It sounds like you have taken time to think about what makes you happy…

I’ll look at my calendar and go does that dinner with that friend inspire me? Yes. If it doesn’t, I’ll cancel. Does that gig sound like it would be good for me and for the audience? Yeah, then I’ll do it. I know that fame and money does not fill the hole and it never will ever. Ever. EVER. The minute I figured that out, I got to fill the hole with something else. And that’s love and compassion, family and friends, and that feels really good because now I know what not to cheat.

What can we expect from this Leaner Meaner Tour?

 I take more chances with it now. I don’t have to second-guess anything. I get to be who I am. I know why I say certain jokes. I am less scared of reactions. What I am doing in Clearwater is practicing for a new special I am taping for a network so people are going to see brand new material. A new level of tightened, edgy stuff that I am doing now. They are going to see some stuff. It will make people go Wow, okay; she’s still the same Lisa, but better. It feels good to be in a decent place where I don’t have to be mad anymore. I can save my anger for the stage.

Being a redhead, I’m angry that no matter what I do, I am always compared to Kathy Griffin…

I think the more you embrace it, the more good will come to you. That anger and edge never helps. If someone says to me, “Hey you are the female Don Rickles,” I’m like, wow, I’m flattered, you know? Edge on stage is great, but the less edge and defensiveness in your voice than the less you feel. Take everything as flattery, I think that is a super flattering comparison, who doesn’t want to be compared to an icon?

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