As a reliable putdown artist for many of Comedy Central Roast, Lisa Lampanelli rose to prominence as a breed of comic that seemed more destined for parody by Triumph the Insult Comic Dog on late night TV than the club circuit. Her latest, Dirty Girl, was just released last month on CD and DVD. I talked with the Queen of Mean about having warmth on stage, interracial dating and where to sit if you do or do not want to be a target for her insult comedy.
Your act seems like it would be hard to develop because until people know who you are, they would be less likely to get you. There are a lot of comics who say until people are coming just to see you, that sometimes it’s hard to win them over.
Well, what it is, is that I always knew I could do whatever I want because I’m freaking lovable, OK? Because I’m the most likeable, nicest person you’ll ever meet. So basically I can make fun of you and you’re not going to get mad.
But there will always be a percentage of people going to a comedy club as a fan of the club first. As in, “Oh, we love Caroline’s, let’s go,” or “We love Punchline, let’s go.” And those are the ones who will be shocked and go, “Oh my God, I can’t believe she said that.” But in a theater now – now that I’m drawing into theaters – you deliberately make the choice to come see that comic. So now I can do what I want.
But to be honest, I always did whatever I want. I never edited myself for these pricks. There was a whole string of Improvs who wouldn’t use me because they thought I was racist. And I was like, “You’re a cunt. You’re gonna be sorry.”
Not all the Improvs. There are ones that are great. Just this string that this one guy opens, who are calling now, “Can we get her?” Too late, dude. You missed the boat.
But this type of act is not something you can do right from the start.
You have to be seasoned enough to get away with it. If you’re a lawyer you’re not going to try a murder case your first week. So as a comic you gotta warm up to where you have the skill to say jokes that are about risky subjects and get away with it. And just have the skill to pull it off.
I saw Don Rickles recently at the Comedy Festival and I was amazed because he has a real care for people that comes through when he performs. That doesn’t seem like a skill you can learn?
It’s not. It’s not.
How do you find that in yourself?
You have to be a warm person who cares about other people. And have good karma and people love you. It’s warmth and likeability and then you can say whatever you want.
You can’t create it. There’s so many guys out there who write better than me and Rickles. They’re better comics maybe technically, maybe better looking, whatever. But there’s something about that warmth that makes people want to see you again and again. It’s really nice to have that one skill.
It was very powerful to me. Because he started talking about how much we have to support the war and I don’t believe in that. But because of his presence, I felt a little stirred right then.
Exactly. It almost puts you into their camp a little bit.
I think, too, there’s a lot of hate from comics who don’t have that warmth. Because Larry the Cable Guy has got that total warmth, you love him the minute… I tell you the truth, I don’t watch comedy. I cannot flip by Comedy Central if he’s on. Because he is so warm and lovable that that character just radiates the nice person on the inside. The people who don’t have that get real pissed at us because, “Oh they’re just characters and they’re just saying dumb jokes.” Yeah, well guess who the fuck is buying the Gucci purses, motherfucker. Not you. Spend more time writing a joke too.
I tell you, I’m not the biggest fan of Larry the Cable Guy. But I have laughed at some of his jokes.
And as a comedy writer, you get why it works.
Yes. It’s one of the things I’ve mentioned. It’s not my favorite stuff, but I mention to readers that comics should look to what Larry is doing and see if they can find parts of that in themselves.
One of the things I’ve noticed now is there’s a few comics out there who play it kind of coy with stereotypes. They’ll play that I’m racist but I’m not. Do you feel that they’re hedging and just not going all in with that joke?
Well, I don’t criticize a lot of those comics because…
Well, no names here. But what do you feel when you hear material like that?
I would definitely be like, “Oh go all the way.” Just do your thing. Just say what you mean. It does seem like it’s playing it too safe. And I hate safe comedy. Because why bother doing it?
But yeah, it’s like go for it or why do it at all. Why stick the tip of the dick in if you can the whole thing in? (laughs) It’s a beautiful analogy. I hope you enjoyed that.
I enjoyed that. I’ll be thinking about that later tonight when I’m fucking my wife.
I trust you would. (laughs)
So after the Michael Richards incident, did that fuck up any gigs for you?
Think about it for a minute. Do you think it did?
I don’t think it did. But I ask questions sometimes where I already know the answer.
No, no of course not. I have this likeability where I can say whatever I want. I’m not going to edit because some prick who’s an actual racist says the N-word. [Editor’s note: Lisa greeted me at the beginning of this interview with a “What up, nigga?” so it’s interesting that she does make a distinction here.]
So my thing is if that’s the first thing he thought of when he was mad, that’s pretty fucked up. So I was kinda resentful that…well, first off I’m resentful that we forgave Mel Gibson too. And went to see his fucking movie. And the only reason we forgave him is that more people are annoyed by Jews than anything else. It’s more acceptable to hate Jews, which is really fucked up. Because everybody is just as annoying as everybody.
I always tell my wife that we’ll have true equality when everybody’s unequal equally. It’s impossible to get all good so let’s go for all bad. So we’re all in the same pile of shit.
It’s so true, man. We’re all the same.
So I read the Spy Magazine book and I didn’t know you were a fact checker for Spy?
I was the Chief of Research.
That’s right. How did you get involved with that and what influence, if any, did it have on your sense of humor?
Oh no. It just drove me into comedy because I couldn’t handle it at all. I was a journalist and I worked as a writer for Rolling Stone and a bunch of heavy metal magazines in the ’80s. Because I had been a journalism graduate from Syracuse.
And then I was really bored with it and I went to this thing at Harvard called the Radcliffe Publishing Procedures Course. It’s a small class, maybe 50 people. It’s hard to get in. And right out of there I went to Spy.
And I was way over my head because try fact-checking the stories that were in Spy. We did a map of the mob guys’ home addresses. It was really crazy stuff. And at one point I was like I can’t do this anymore, I quit.
So I ended up going to grad school for teaching. Hated that because I really didn’t like kids. So I just ended up doing this, thank God.
Does anybody ever come to you after a show and say, “Why didn’t you make fun of me?”
All the time. Cause I didn’t see you, you dirty cunt. “It’s my birthday, why didn’t you say something?” Shut up. Nobody likes you.
If I can’t see you, I can’t make fun of you. I have the audience lit ten rows back so I can see everybody. Not bright bright, but I gotta be able to see if there’s any blacks or spics or other disenfranchised people.
If you’re ever in an area that’s not as mixed, do you ever say to an owner, “Could you move that black couple up front here?”
No, no. I feel that’s racist against whitey who bought the tickets that cost more. But I remember when I saw Rickles, he moved us up further because I’m a Friar. The Friars’ Club had just set me up to meet him. I was just so happy to move up closer. I wanted to be made fun of.
All of these people tell me, “I’m going to your show in San Diego. I hope you’ll make fun of me.” I think that’s so cute. That’s such good self-esteem.
I think that’s great. I know a lot of people who don’t want to be a part of a comic’s act. Is there a place for them to hide if they still want to see you?
Oh yes, ten or more rows back. If they’re that insecure, the faggots. (laughs) C’mon. Get over yourself.
So many people when they interview you ask if you really bang black guys. Why don’t they believe you?
You know, I have no idea. I think some comics back up some shit just to get press. But I really enjoyed it for a while. Now not so much because my shrink convinced me I was being racist to not bang white guys.
Really? You go to a shrink.
Oh God, yeah. Are you kidding?
Well you seem like you have good self-esteem and are relatively well adjusted.
Yeah, because I go to this cunt. (laughs) You have to pay somebody to listen to you. So that’s how we get through it.
It cool, because she says, “You know, you should really not exclude every other race.” And I’m like, “OK.” So I started dating spics and whites because I lost weight. And the blacks like that ass to hide behind when the rent’s due. So…
You know, I think with how whites adopt all the cool stuff from black culture, I think whites are now adopting the ass.
You know, they sure are. I’m really happy about that. Although you know what asses I hate? The ones that have that shit written on the back. The Juicy. It’s disgusting. These young girls – they shouldn’t have Pink and Juicy written across their ass. I’m old fashioned. It’s too early to be strutting your cunt around.
I hear that the networks are trying to do a sitcom with you. It seems like with the standards of network TV today it would be impossible to translate your style. Do you get a lot of meetings where they say, “Oh we love you and your work. Let’s do something completely different from that.”
Oh no, that’s not it at all. I do meetings all the time. They never really like my idea because it’s all about interracial dating. I’m not going to do a show if it’s not about me. They never come out and say, “Oh it’s a black guy.”
But who knows? They just don’t seem to like the idea. But if the right writers…I mean I’ve been on the Tonight Show three times in eight months. Obviously, I’m clean enough to do that.
It’s strange particularly with the networks being castigated for not having blacks and Latinos and all these people represented, that they would be excited to have one where all these people would be part of the show without having to shoehorn them into an existing concept.
My friend who’s a black comic thinks that there will never be a black/white couple on TV as the main characters because the Jews in Hollywood are threatened by the black man’s big dick. I like to think he’s right.
He’s a conspiracy brother. It’s funny because all these things you deal with are all little secret motivations under the skin. Everyone’s a little bit racist.
You’re absolutely right. And you know what’s weird, I like to think of myself as not at all. I find myself thinking something like…the other day, I was dating a guy for a while who I really really liked. And he told me that he dated a black woman. And I went, “Hmm. What’s wrong with him.” (laughs) Why doesn’t he have enough self-esteem to get a white chick. And I go, “Wow!” I can’t believe it’s acceptable for me to think I could date black guys because they’re hot and I’m going, “Hmm. What’s wrong with him? Why does he feel bad about himself?” That’s fucked up.
So you’ve done quite a few roasts the past few years. Do you ever think you’d want to be a target of one yourself?
Definitely. I can’t wait. That’s awesome. How much great attention is that.
Do you think you’ve used up all the material? Because you’re very self-effacing.
It’s kinda hard to make fun of me because I’ve gotten there first.
Right. You say, “I’ve screwed over more black guys than Katrina.” There’s a joke that’s gone for somebody right there.
That’s what funny. Nobody will ever be able to do better jokes about me than I did. But it’s still funny when somebody does a good one. Like Artie Lange had a great one. “If I had a dime for everybody who ever said to me, “Aren’t you Lisa Lampanelli?’” (laughs) That to me is the funniest joke ever. That’s when it doesn’t hurt your feelings, when it’s really funny. If it’s truly funny, it’s not going to hurt.
That’s a very hard target for some comics to hit.
Right. That’s why so many people bomb. At these roasts you have to know what line not to cross. I’ll occasionally do one and I’ll be about to read the joke and think, “I just can’t.”
I had one [joke] that I finally did. It was written for three years [and didn’t perform it] where I said I’d look at the old person and go, “Don’t worry, it’s almost over. I don’t mean the roast.” I always thought it was so mean and I finally said it to Jerry Lewis. We did a roast of him at the Friars. He has a heart attack two days later. I’m like, “Oh God great. I finally use the joke…”
“Lisa Lampanelli kills Jerry Lewis.” But he would have deserved it because he said women aren’t funny, right?
But he was right. You know what he should have said is, “Pretty, skinny women aren’t funny.” There’s one pretty, skinny woman who’s funny and it’s Sarah Silverman.
I had a friend who repeated one of your jokes at a cocktail party and he’s on the outs with those people now. So, don’t try this at home?
Yes. They should probably quote somebody else if they don’t want to be killed.