There’s nowhere Lisa Lampanelli won’t go in the pursuit of funny, so long as the intent is to initiate laughter.
“I mean if you can’t make it funny, why bother? That’s my only boundary, ever,” says Lampanelli, the self-proclaimed “Queen of Mean.”
“They don’t pay to sort of hear your therapy or hear your prose,” she says. “They pay for punchlines, I learned that early on. I think no matter what the subject is, whether it’s right down to Sept. 11, if you can make it funny and meaningful to you and to the audience, go for it.”
Lampanelli’s unrestricted approach in her stand-up performances and her famous comedy roast appearances routinely defy what is considered taboo in mainstream society. “I don’t see any subject barriers as long as there’s something people can be entertained by,” she says. “That’s the only thing that stopped me from certain subjects, is if I can’t make it funny because hey, we’re not here for us – we’re here for them.”
Lampanelli is a staple on Comedy Central and Friars Club roasts, where she has eviscerated such personalities as David Hasselhoff, Donald Trump, Gene Simmons and Flavor Flav. Part of her success in roasting is that she is a genuinely loveable person – as attested to by both her fans and peers – whose jokes come from a place of affection, not hate.
Out & About had an opportunity to chat with Lampanelli before her upcoming show at The Grand Opera House on Friday, May 11 – the next stop on her national tour.
O&A: Over the years you’ve taken part in many comedy roasts. Is there a victim in particular you most enjoyed roasting and why?
Lampanelli: Well, I mean, the people are more honorees than victims, believe it or not. A roast is a real honor. If someday Comedy Central or the Friars Club said to me, we want to do a roast for you, it’s saying it’s a real honor, and that’s the kind of tradition of the roast.
The people that I really get into are people who are so flawed that there’s just so much area for humor. So, for instance, if you have Donald Trump or Flavor Flav or David Hasselhoff, there’s so many great areas for you to concentrate on; they have foibles and flaws and different things that they have done.
That makes it a lot more fun and easy for me. You can never roast anyone you dislike – that’s the whole problem. With people trying to do a roast of someone hateful it never works because a roast is out of love, and then you can joke with them. The Friars Club has always said we roast the ones we love.
So, it’s usually a bad roast when it’s someone who you don’t like and those are the roasts I wouldn’t want to do.
My greatest ones I felt are Trump, Flavor Flav, and I really enjoyed the Gene Simmons one. So that being said, to roast Trump now would be much more difficult. But back then when people actually just got a kick out of him and he was not a threat, it was a fun roast. Now it would be a whole different story.
I got the chance to roast one of my heroes, Howard Stern. So that was fantastic because we would do all these in-studio roasts for the starring cast and crew. So, I enjoyed that a lot because Howard is my hero. And it was good to throw a few jokes his way.
I unfortunately didn’t get to roast my other hero, Don Rickles, because he died. But hey, I’ll keep doing my Rickles jokes because I just know somewhere up there he’s madder at me by the second for making fun of him. But yeah, it’s usually people I really enjoy and love that I like to roast.
O&A: Your unique approach to comedy has often been described as distinctly brave. Does this bravery exist beyond your performance or is it something you just tap into while you’re on stage?
Lampanelli: I’m most brave on stage, but recently I have been doing a lot of work on myself and you know just becoming someone who takes more chances in real life. You’re never going to see me take a physical chance, like I’ll never do anything stupid like skydive or bungee jump – I won’t even get off my couch. I mean, I really enjoy sitting and not moving. That’s like my best thing ever and I’m really good at that.
But I think as far as being in a relationship to people and setting boundaries with people I’m getting braver and braver in my real life. Trying new things like writing a play when I never even dreamed of doing something like that. Acting, just stuff that sounds scary. I’m like, just do it – what’s the worst that can happen? I always say I’m the person who says what’s the worst thing that could happen and no matter what the answer is, I do it anyway. So, you know, I’ll never be homeless. I always could type if I need to, if I completely lose everything I’ll type for a living. I’m really good at that. So, I think I’m just kind of letting the fear go away off stage too.
O&A: You got to spend some time with the current president on Celebrity Apprentice back in 2012. Looking back now that he is the president, how was that experience?
Lampanelli: I mean I was a raging lunatic as you saw because I was really in it, I wanted to win. Actually, I knew I wouldn’t win because with those things I’m smart enough to know I’m not famous enough to win something like that. But I wanted to stay in it as long as all the stupid people were gone before me. Because I was like, oh, God, if I get booted off the show before Theresa from the Real Housewives it says that I’m a real dummy.
I’ve got to prove that comics are smart people here and [carry a torch] for them. So it was very stressful and hard, the most difficult thing I’ve ever done professionally, and it wasn’t fun in the least. But you know what? I’m so glad I did it because you know I became more recognizable even though afterwards I lost over 100 pounds and cut all my hair. So then I was never recognized again.
It made me more of an entity and more well-known so I could do what I wanted more on my own terms. So I’m glad I did it, but oh, my God, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Working 20 hours a day six days a week is really tough.
O&A: What’s your take on fellow comedienne Michelle Wolf’s performance at the White House Correspondence Dinner and the backlash that followed?
Lampanelli: Well, this is all ridiculous because these are called jokes. We’re not senators – we’re frigging comics. My shit would have been much more hardcore. Maybe it’s the old school comic in me knowing that I just go way hard and don’t give a f***. I just was like, what she said was fine.
Like maybe I just have no boundaries (Well, I don’t, you know that). Maybe I’m just mentally ill because I thought it was fine. And of course there should be zero backlash to jokes ever. That’s so stupid, because it’s comedy, not a statement made to the press. And I think it’s just terrible.
I think next time what they should do with that correspondence dinner is to ask me to do it and have Trump there and I’ll show them that Trump can take a joke when he’s roasted in person. That’s the problem – he doesn’t show up, then it looks mean. So, open invitation to the White House: Get a real brawler in there – Lisa Lampanelli!
O&A: You’ve clearly been an ally of the gay community with your donations to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and being proclaimed a hero of the charity. What drives you to support this cause?
Lampanelli: I personally have always felt like an outsider and I’m always sort of drawn to people who themselves have had struggles of feeling outside the box. So growing up, my friends were people who weren’t sure of their sexuality or people with weight issues or people with different codependency issues. We all just feel like we don’t quite fit in.
I don’t know what happened, but one day that Westboro Baptist Church just got under my skin so much, that I was like, you know what? I’m going to take up with a cause that actually does some good for people who don’t feel as in society as they should and as accepted. So the first thing I thought of was the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York City and all the help they do. So I think it was always feeling in step with people who were slightly out of step.
And you know the more that I meet people the more I’m realizing we’re all the same. We all feel a little on the outside even if we look perfect on the outside. So what’s great is that, man, I made $130,000 for them on The Celebrity Apprentice and I donated $50,000 of my own. And man, you really feel like a community and I realize community is really important to me and it’s really fun to feel part of something like that. And hey, the gay men, oh, boy, they come out in droves honey, so they better come out to Wilmington. Even some lesbians, get [them] in there too.
Tickets are still available for Lisa Lampanelli’s show at The Grand Opera House this Friday, May 11, at 8 p.m. For purchasing options and ticket prices, visit thegrandwilmington.org.