Arts & Culture


Formerly a journalist, Lisa Lampanelli now pokes fun at stereotypes in her live comedy act.
Formerly a journalist, Lisa Lampanelli now pokes fun at stereotypes in her live comedy act. COURTESY PHOTO

Warning: This is an interview with Lisa Lampanelli.

If you don’t know who she is, then you probably haven’t seen her on any Comedy Central roasts, which means you’re probably not the kind of person who watches roasts, which means you probably shouldn’t read this interview.

After all, Lampanelli, who headlines this year’s Central Coast Pride 2010, isn’t called “The Queen of Mean” for nothing. She uses words that family newspapers can’t print — or if they do, they have to use dashes or symbols, like #, * and @!

A former music journalist — she interviewed bands such as Cinderella, Bon Jovi and Slaughter—Lampanelli tired of that and tried teaching, only to learn she hated kids.

Finally, she found her true calling—putting people down.

Author of the book “Chocolate, Please: My Adventures in Food, Fat and Freaks,” she’s an insult comic who pokes fun at stereotypes on race and homosexuality. Known for zingers, she quickly became a main attraction of the roasts, which found her getting kissed by a drunken Courtney Love and insulted by “The Brady Bunch” actress Maureen McCormick.

We recently talked to her, by phone, hoping she’d play nice and only insult other people.

Q: You were a journalist yourself. Are you better at interviews because of that?

A: Yeah, because I know when you bastards try to twist my words the way I used to do.

Q: You didn’t start comedy until 30. What made you finally decide to do that?

A: I don’t know. I guess it was on my mind so


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much, I was like, “I’ve got to try this or else I’m going to be regretting it.” So thankfully I got up the nerve to try it after I deejayed for a while and got comfortable at least holding a microphone.

Q: Did you start off with the insult comedy?

A: I always say you don’t really ever start out where you’re gonna end up with comedy. Because it’s not like it’s deliberate — you see where it goes. From the start, I kind of liked effing with the crowd a little bit and making fun of the emcee. And then eventually I liked it so much it grew and grew into what I wanted to do.

Q: You’re a fan of Don Rickles. What did you get from him that you use in your act?

A: I think what I got from him most was if you’re likable, you can really get away with about anything. He’s such a lovable guy, and you know he didn’t have a prejudiced bone in his body, which is why nobody took him to heart and got mad at him and beat him up. And I was like, “Am I likable enough to do this?” And thank God I am because what else am I going to do?

Q: On TV shows, the hecklers are usually funny too. But in real life—

A: Oh my God — it’s the rarest thing in the world to have a funny heckler. Judy Gold used to say how people would come up after and say, “Didn’t I help your show?” and she’s like, “No, you didn’t.” People think they’re so funny. And I say to them, “I didn’t pay to see you, you paid to see me. And you’re not funny — you’re just stupid.”

Q: What’s the best way to handle them?

A: Be like a Boy Scout: Be prepared. I got heckled once early in my career. And I just spent the whole next six months writing heckler put-downs and lines in case people yelled this or that. So if you’re prepared, at least you’ve got that ammunition. And you almost give off this vibe that you are stronger than them, and you don’t need it. So the more prepared you are, the less you need to really deal with it. You just have more of a confidence about it. So that’s what I think — just be prepared. And definitely go for something about how small their penis is. That usually works.

Q: What was it like having Marcia Brady insult you with a string of raunchy jokes?

A: I loved it. You know why I loved her? It’s like with Betty White — they’re actors and so they’re so good at delivering the scripts. She acted it out so well. Those guys you go, “Oh, man, this is great.” I felt really good. And actually, she hugged me afterward. I think she wanted a lesbian moment like Courtney Love. They can’t help themselves.

Q: (The Pamela Anderson roast) was almost too easy. You had Courtney Love, Andy Dick, Tommy Lee — that was like insult nirvana.

A: Exactly, dude. Speaking of Nirvana, Courtney Love—didn’t she kill that guy from Nirvana?

Q: Andrew Dice Clay back in the day maintained he was doing a character, and gay people hated him. And you’re doing Gay Pride. What’s the difference?

A: I think the big dirty homosexuals look at me and they see that I actually have no prejudice. Anybody who’s been on the receiving end of real hate and prejudice knows it when they see it ... so it’s all really a matter of what you mean on the inside. Plus, also the gays, they never fit in anywhere, I never fit in anywhere — I think they can kind of sense that. Plus, gays love mean bitches— what can I tell you.

Q: How long did you do the clubs before you managed to get up to the bigger venues?

A: About 16 years. I was playing decent clubs — improvs and things like that. But the minute the Pam Anderson roast came out, what happened was Courtney Love was real misbehaved that night. So it made the news, and everybody wanted to watch that roast. So suddenly I’m going to places, and they’re sold out. And I’m like, “Holy sh--, what did they see? Because last week wasn’t sold out.” So pretty soon after that I’m like, hey, instead of doing five shows in a town, can’t we lump everybody into one and do a theater? And my agent took a chance and thank God it worked out.

Q: Is there one roast that stands out as the worst?

A: The worst was the Pam Anderson one because of Courtney Love. She really made it miserable for everybody. Because of the prolonged taping. Because she wouldn’t get her sh--together, and she wouldn’t sit down, and she was just running around and being an overall a-hole drunk.

Q: When Courtney Love did the kiss thing, did that throw you off?

A: Not really. I was just so happy that she’d shut the hell up during my set.

Q: You probably want to dig into her. But at the same time, you’re just worried about how disruptive she’s going to be.

A: Right. But when I was up there I had written up a ton of jokes that would be about her if she misbehaved — if she got worked up. But I didn’t need any of them. But again if you’re prepared, you’re not really worried about it.

Q: Do you have plans for more book writing?

A: No, I hated it. It’s really hard if you do a good book yourself. If you do it with a ghostwriter it’s not that hard. But I did it myself. Maybe if it was something light like an advice book or something that doesn’t take a whole lot of emotional energy. That would be a lot easier. Or maybe a line of greeting cards: “Happy Mother’s Day—go eff yourself!”

Reach Patrick S. Pemberton at 781-7903.