Stand-up comic Lisa Lampanelli has made a career out of insulting us. So why do we keep coming back for more? On her new CD, DVD and Comedy Central one-hour special, this Howard Stern favorite gives us plenty of reasons.
By Dylan P. Gadino
How are things with you?
Oh, good. I mean, God, this has been the week of my life, I suppose, because I was on Stern yesterday, again, which was awesome. Then I was on the Tonight Show for the fourth time last week, so that was great, because IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m always wondering when my luckÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to run out on the Tonight Show. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s like, when will I say Ã¢â‚¬ËœcuntÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ by accident? And then suddenly IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m the bad guy. So IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m always going, Ã¢â‚¬ËœOh please, God, donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t let me get banned from that show.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ And the CD and DVD are coming out. So itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s really cool.
And theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be airing it on Comedy Central.
Yeah. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s really good, because my other one was on after 1 a.m., so it wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t seen by as many people as this one will be.
Right, it was part of the whole Secret Stash thing they have?
Right. And itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s cool, because this one I was watching and I go, Ã¢â‚¬ËœWow, even though itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not Secret Stash, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s totally more hardcore than the other one.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ I was like, Ã¢â‚¬ËœOK, cool, as long as IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m as hardcore, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fine.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ Because I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to water it down for 10 p.m., because my manager was like, Ã¢â‚¬ËœLook, man, if you have to water it down too much, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not going to do it.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ I love that. I love somebody not telling me what to do.
Yeah. I was actually a little surprised to see that they were airing it so early.
I know. Well, you know what a lot of it is too? TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll show the Secret Stash version later in the week. But it wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t a lot of cursing. It was more like the subject matterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s really edgy, so they went for it. I was shocked. I mean, the shit we got them to play, it like squeaked through the censors. It was like literally weeks of just going back and forth and compromising, and it was so cool. So itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s good. I need to be rich. I love it. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not money motivated, but it does help.
Well, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s good. Maybe this is a good sign of the times. Maybe weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re loosening up our conservative constraints.
God. Yeah, I mean, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just so bad, this political correct bullshit. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to ever change anything I do, so itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s like if the times change, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s better for me.
Especially for you, being the type of comic who specializes in insulting just about everyone. How did you fall into this type of comedy?
When I was growing up, I never even watched stand-ups, so I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even know how it was done. But I watched those Dean Martin roasts on NBC and I thought thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what comedy really wasÃ¢â‚¬â€ like it was all people standing around making fun of each other without anybody getting pissed off. So it ends up IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m like, well, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what I like to do. And I remember the first time I ever went up, I made fun of the emcee or somebody in the audience, and I should have noticed that early on that thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s really what IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m having the most fun doing.
Because if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re a comic and youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re having fun, the audience is going to have fun, so you should always do what makes you laugh when youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re listening to your tape. So when IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d listen in the car to my sets and stuff, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d go, Ã¢â‚¬ËœMan, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s so much more fun when IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not doing material, when IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m just cracking on everybody.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s when I decided IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll do a little more of that. And then the roasts started happening and it took over the whole act.
So yeah, it just kind of happened. And also, the better you get, the more edge you can get away with. I could have never said the N-word 10 years ago. At that point, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re just not good enough to do a joke where you could do that justice. So the better you get at the skill, the more chances you can take.
Right. You could get away with more now whereas a decade ago youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d just be some hack cursing on stage.
Sure. If youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not a good comic, you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t talk about subjects like rape or AIDS or cancer. It would sound like itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just for shock value. So itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s better to just be like, Ã¢â‚¬ËœOK, you know what, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m going to wait until IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve really grown into my persona to talk about those things.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢
When was the first time you went on stage?
I think it was 30 or something, so about 15 years ago.
So at that point, did you actually sit down and write material?
Yeah. It was typical woman stuff. Well, not even really typical woman stuff. At the time, I was dealing with a lot of family and weight issues and dieting and all that bullshit, and it was still funny, but it was definitely more material-oriented. And then I started taking more and more chances and having fun and fucking with people more in the crowd. And I love that. So I think thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just ended up to be the direction I went in.
So you took those little breaks in material, when you veered off into talking to the crowd, and that actually became your show?
Yeah. At one point, I erred on the side of too much crowd work, and I was doing 30 minutes without one joke. And I was just having a blast and so was the audience. But club owners would be like, Ã¢â‚¬ËœWell, you need some material too.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ Like when youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re an actor, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re too dramatic, then youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not dramatic enough. And it has to come back to the middle. So at first I wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t doing enough crowd work, then I was doing too much, then it kind of got back to where it was half and half. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s kind of where I am now.
And the thing is, I listened to the new CD, Dirty Girl and IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve re-watched your older DVD, Take it Like a Man and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s interesting, because you do so much crowd work and you weave your material in so seamlessly that you barely know youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re doing material.
Right, right, right. Well, yeah, because itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s so much fun for me to do that. Just when the crowd thinks IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m doing a bit of material, I say something to somebody in the crowd and it takes them by surprise. With Don Rickles, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all insults. With me, I guess IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m like, Ã¢â‚¬ËœOh, well, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll just weave it in like that, and it just comes offÃ¢â‚¬â€ thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what I have most fun doing. So IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m glad you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really tell where the joke begins and the crowd work ends. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s good.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s funny, because youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re 20, 30 minutes into watching your act, and you think to yourself, has she even told a joke yet?
And I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know, maybe you have, maybe you havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t, but the point is people are laughing.
You know whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s so funny? ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s like most of the stuff starts off as crowd work or angry rants. Right at the beginning of one show, I said something like I hate these people in Connecticut, theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re looking at their watch going, Ã¢â‚¬ËœOh, I have to go check on the babysitter. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m like, screw you bitch, I hope your kid gets molested.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢
And I was just really mad about something that night, and I forget why I brought that up, and I just said it like that, and people laughed really hard. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m like, Ã¢â‚¬ËœOh my God, let me just do it again and again.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ So you justÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ you rant about something that youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re really pissed at, and then all of a sudden itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s part of your act. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m like, man, it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t matter if itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a hard punch line or not. If people are laughing, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s cool.
A lot of what you do deals with exploiting stereotypes. What is it about something so basic as a stereotype thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s so funny?
Well, because the fact is theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re so stupid. The whole point is to make fun of stereotypes. YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re making fun on two levels. Your audience could get it on two levels. The first level would be like, Ã¢â‚¬ËœOh, she said the N-word.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ Well, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not really the people you want to appeal to.
And the second is the level of, Ã¢â‚¬ËœWow, sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s really making fun of the people who say the N word and who really believe that all Hispanics steal or all blacks kill people. Because the stereotypes are so stupid, that to hear them put out there in such a blatant way sort of pokes fun at the people who believe them. So itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s better to do that. All fa**ots have AIDS. I mean, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s so blatantly untrue, that itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s funny.
Every day IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m amazed that one of my biggest laughs is when I just go, Ã¢â‚¬ËœThe sp*cs, they steal.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ And I swear to God, I have no idea why thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s that funny, but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s like the biggest laugh I get all night. And IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m like, jeez, that was easy. Because it is that ridiculous and that base, that people go, Ã¢â‚¬ËœWow, that is kind of stupid that we think that.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢
Do you think you create an environment where itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s safe to laugh at things like that? People may be looking to laugh at the same things at work or at home, and they canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t. But then you just create this safe room where anything goes.
Right. And then everybody kind of makes friends. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s weird, because after a show IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be signing stuff, and theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll go, Ã¢â‚¬ËœHey, thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Hector,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ or Ã¢â‚¬ËœHey, thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the black guy,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ or a guy will come up and be like, hey, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m the dirty fa**ot. And itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s like they embrace these nicknames and they really embrace what I just said about them. And IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m always shocked and amazed that people have that kind of sense of humor. And IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m like, cool, works for me.
Do you think Ã¢â‚¬â€œ even in this day and age Ã¢â‚¬â€œ there are still people that donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get what youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re trying to do, kind of like a lot of people never got what Andrew Dice Clay was doing?
Yeah, definitely. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s funny, I did a show once in Dayton, Ohio, and I was all upset, going, Ã¢â‚¬ËœOh my God,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ because thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s right near where the Klan started. And I had a black boyfriend at the time. I said, what if theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re laughing for the wrong reasons?
And he goes, well, just as long as you stick with your jokes about having a black boyfriend so they know you really arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t racist, then youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re OK and youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not to be held responsible for anybody elseÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ignorance. So I just do it, I put it out there, and the right people get it, the wrong people donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t. And itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s like I know whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s in my heart, so thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s really all that counts. And also, then IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll donate some money to the NAACP just to make myself feel better.
You say that in your act. Is that true?
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s absolutely true, dude. I would feel so guilty. Because once I did a thing where this guy from the NAACP got mad. I felt so bad, because I know what I really feel. So I was like, Ã¢â‚¬ËœOh, let me donate something and see what I could do.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ What else can I do?
Is there a type of comedy you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t like?
Well, the only annoying thing to me is that most women comics are fucking horrible. And you know that and I know that. Whether they want to admit it, they donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t work as hard as usÃ¢â‚¬â€ us guys. You know what I mean? First of all, the ones in LA pretty much are just throwing their cunt around hoping to get a deal. And the second part are women who just donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t bother working hard enough to get punch lines, and ramble on and tell stories.
Men are like, Ã¢â‚¬ËœLook, whore, if I want to hear a woman comic bitch and moan, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m going to just stay home with my wife.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ So the whole thing is that men donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to pay to see women, because itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s usually just something their wife says without a punch line. So thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why women comics kind of bug me, because IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m like, Ã¢â‚¬ËœWork harder getting the joke out.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢
And also, I just donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t like safe comedy. I like edge. I love Jim Norton and Dave Attell. I love edge, because it takes some chances. These people who are just putting together seven minutes to get a sitcom shot, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not going to work. Because the last guy to get a deal that really worked was Ray Romano, and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not because he had seven minutes. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s because he had a lifetime of history with his family and with comedy, and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a sitcom. So that kind of safe, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m-going-to-get-a-TV-deal type of comedy really bothers me.
Where are you living these days?
I have a place in Connecticut, and I just bought an apartment in New York. I live in Connecticut because my parents are there and theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re probably going to die within the next 10 years, and I want to be around for it. And I wanted to hang out with them. And IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been there for the last three years, and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been great, because I see them all the time when IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not on the road. But then I also just bought a place in New York so I could be single and not look weird. Because in Connecticut, to be single is just likeÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ Ã¢â‚¬ËœWhat?! You must have half an arm.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ You get strange looks.
Whereas when youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re married in Manhattan, you get strange looks.
Exactly. So for me itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to be like Sex and the City, but ugly. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be great.
You were raised in Connecticut, right?
Do you think that had some kind of effect on the way your act turned out? Is there a sense of you acting out against a suburban upbringing?
I think itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s more that I always felt like an outsider in that kind of town, so I always identified more with minorities. In other words, my family and my friends and the environment kind of treated me like a minority, so I have more empathy for minorities and how theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re treated. Like the people who donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t fit in, the guy whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the only black guy at the high school because they recruited him to play basketball.
So I always identified more with people who were on the outskirts than people who were right in that mainstream Connecticut life. And also, we were Italian in Connecticut. We were the blacks, you know? At that time, people were like, Ã¢â‚¬ËœOh, hey, the Lampanellis, theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re the ni**ers.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ So itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s like a different environment than youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d think.
It wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t typical Connecticut, like typical WASPy Connecticut, but it definitely was predominantly white. I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t meet a Jewish person until I went to college. That was just weird. I think I called somebody a kike. I was just joking around. The fucking guy had a fit. So I think early on I learned that, uh-oh, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got to really know how to do this right. You canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be doing it just indiscriminately.
A while ago, I interviewed Greg Giraldo. And upon meeting me, he said, ‘Who knew that a guy with his shit so much together would have hair like Lisa LampanelliÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fuckhole?’
Oh, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s great.
So I wanted to give you the opportunity to retaliate.
Oh, no, no. I like Greg. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what we call the smart Hispanic. You know what I mean? He doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t end his jokes with Ã¢â‚¬Ëœfucker.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ He ends them with silence. And itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s like Greg is great. I love him. I view him as a Hispanic who actually has a job, which is very enlightening in this day and age. And IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m a very big fan. Although I must tell you, do you know heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s clean and sober now?
He mentioned that he was in the process at the time, yeah.
Did you know he brought a sponsor on the road with him? Which is weird, because if I had to sit through GregÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s act, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d be on heroin. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a few good insults for you. Thank God I roasted Greg, so I had a few in my back pocket.
The views expressed above are not necessarily those of Punchline Magazine.