Depending on one's tastes in comedy, Lisa Lampanelli is either very hilarious or very offensive. I had a chance to pick her brain about humor, political correctness, her new book, "Chocolate Please" and much more. I hope you enjoy!
PG- Hi Lisa, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for the Punk Globe readers. Can you tell us about your upbringing?
LISA LAMPANELLI- As you can probably tell, I'm from a big mouthed Italian family where I was the middle child, that's how you end up an insult comic. Typical middle class. We lived in Connecticut, we were Italians, which were kind of like that Blacks of Connecticut. Normal Catholic school. Oh God, now that I think about it, it was like twelve years of Catholic school. Crazy mom. My mom was very, very tough. I would say she could straighten Precious out in ten minutes flat. We grew up with a strong woman, strong opinions, and storytellers, so I don't think it's any accident that I grew up to do what I do.
PG- You did rock journalism before you did stand up, correct? Can you tell the readers about that?
LISA LAMPANELLI- Yes. It was the 80's so there was a bunch of hair metal bands that no one wanted to interview at the various magazines I worked at. So I figured I could do that beat, I could interview these guys and try to make their boring, awful lives seem interesting. I interviewed guys in heavy metal bands. I also interviewed a lot of progressive rock bands, like Rush, Jethro Tull, and Yes, people I really respected. By the time I hit about 28 I had interviewed about everyone I ever wanted to and a whole lot that I never wanted to. I put off trying comedy for so many years, I figured I'd just do it once and see if it worked. Thankfully it did.
PG- You were a journalism major, right?
LISA LAMPANELLI- Yup. I went to Syracuse University for journalism.
PG- Do you have any thoughts about the connections between journalism and insult comedy?
LISA LAMPANELLI- Well, I think the only way it really ever helped was that before I could afford a publicist I had to write all my own press releases, trump up my own hype, do my own email lists and my own promotional stuff. Unless you can put together sentences, you can't really do that. I think it helped me look for angles that I could promote to people about myself. It was a nice confidence builder to have that in my background.
PG- I have a question from Ginger Coyote : What you think of Kathy Griffin, Joan Rivers, and Margaret Cho?
LISA LAMPANELLI- I joke about a lot of women comedians in my act -- I'm a roaster, that's my job -- but no matter what I say, Kathy, Joan and Margaret are all amazing!! Total pros. Joan is a living legend, and both Kathy and Margaret are women to admire. I'd pay to see any one of them!
PG- And I have a question submitted by Siobhan "Shamama" Lowe : What was the impetus that propelled you towards the microphone for the first time?
LISA LAMPANELLI- I don't know. It's this thing that I've probably been thinking about over the years, throughout my 20's and I even say in my book: I got my first laugh when I was about 8 and it was very addicting. I was never a class clown officially, but I was always funny in school. I think I just kept it in the back of my mind, but I didn't know how to start. Thankfully, I heard about a guy who was teaching a class on how to put together your first five minutes on stage. I figured that if I at least knew what I was doing for five minutes, then I could get up there and try it.
PG- What was the content of your early material like?
LISA LAMPANELLI- Well, this teacher was great, he said, "Write about things you either love or hate." Strong emotion propels comedy really well, if you have passion in your material it's going to be much more interesting than talking about things that you kinda like, or kinda don't like. I always gravitated towards hate because it's funnier to be angry. I wrote a few lists of those kinds of things and then picked a few subjects and just went off. I was talking about my coworkers at my day job, my weight, my parents. Eventually I just started doing more insults and crowd work and having a good time with that. It all just grew from there.
PG- Who would you count as an early comedic influence?
LISA LAMPANELLI- Early on I didn't really have any because I never really watched stand up. I did watch the Dean Martin roasts with my folks when I was a kid. I think that was sort of in the back of my mind that that was what comedy was about. Then about seven or eight years in people were telling me to listen to Don Rickles. I thought he was awesome. He was a genius, the creator of this. Also another influence, kind of early on was Howard Stern, just in the level of honesty he always put out there. He talks about whatever shortcomings he has, his problems, and therapy. I thought that if he could be that honest then so could I. I think audiences like when you're really, truly honest with them.
PG- Did you ever have any interest in social satirists?
LISA LAMPANELLI- God, probably not. My stuff is very base: set up, punch line, set up, punch line. I read a lot of Tom Wolfe, which was new journalism back in the 80's and I liked that. I think more or less I just really respond to edgy, set up, punchline comedy.
PG- So, you are referred to as "the queen of mean" and an "equal opportunity insulter" and the people you roast seem to have a fondness for you. Do you have any thoughts about that?
LISA LAMPANELLI- I think the whole thing is: if you don't love everybody, then you can't make fun of anybody. I think people can sense that I have respect and love for different ethnic groups, different sexual persuasions, and the different celebrities that I make fun of. The people you're roasting sense that you don't mean it and there's no real malice behind it. I think that's why they like me and think, "Oh, she's great" as opposed to, "Wow, that really hurt my feelings." That's why it would be really tough to roast somebody that I didn't like at all, or somebody that I really hated. That would be really tough, because there would have to be a lot of acting involved to make it look like I don't really hate them. So, you know, the jokes work because you don't mean them and the more you don't mean them, the more hard core you can get.
PG- Who would be your favorite person to roast?
LISA LAMPANELLI- I would love to do a roast of all the people who won't be roasted, the talentless douche bags like the Kate Gosselin's, the Situation, and the Snooki's, just the people who are famous for absolutely no reason. That would be really fun because I pretty much unleash on people who are kind of asking for it. So I wrote a whole roast of all those type of people for my special that I'm taping in a couple of weeks. That should be pretty cool.
PG- Have you ever genuinely pissed anyone off?
LISA LAMPANELLI- Well, you work 21 years and your bound to have. I had a couple of incidents where people didn't get it, which is usually at club level because when you're doing theaters people make a specific effort to come out and see you in particular, so they know what they're gonna get. But, back in the clubs when people didn't know what hit them I'm sure that there were some that were like, "Oh, my God." I rarely had walk outs, I rarely had people getting really mad and up in my face. For it to happen a hand full of times in this many years I feel pretty lucky. Again, I credit that with people really seeing past the words and knowing what I'm saying is sort of a satire instead of me really meaning that Hispanics are lazy, or that gay guys all have A.I.D.S. Clearly those things are not true and it's funny to make fun of it. I'm making fun of the people who actually believe that shit.
PG- What is the most offensive subject matter you've dealt with?
LISA LAMPANELLI- Basing it on what Comedy Central and networks don't seem to like...they get really, really scared of jokes about retarded people. The funny thing is, I am the biggest pussy when it comes to special needs kids and handicapped people. I'm a big softy for all those causes and my nephews all volunteer with the Special Olympics. It's really a heart felt thing with me and that's why I think that I can make fun of handicaps and special needs people because even parents will come up to me and say, "My kid is a special needs kid and thanks for not being afraid to make fun of him." But networks are super scared of that stuff. Networks are also really afraid of anything that is about domestic violence. So if I make a joke about my Italian husband being Italian and hitting me with an open fist they get really nervous, which I think is so stupid because it's just another stereotype. Networks get nervous about certain subjects and I find it hilarious. Like, really? That's what you're going to get annoyed about? Out of everything that I say?
PG- That is interesting. Some would say that subjects like domestic violence that are sort of cloaked in silence need all the discourse they can get.
LISA LAMPANELLI- Yeah and the network just picks and chooses what they feel is ok to talk about, which is bullshit. That's why I like Stern, because there's no censorship at all.
PG- There are many views on humor as a facility for subverting dominant ideologies. Do you have any thoughts on that?
LISA LAMPANELLI- I am of the feeling that if you can make fun of something and take the piss out of it then you can make the subject not so daunting anymore. If I could do an A.I.D.S. joke, or a cancer joke, or a political joke that is actually funny I think that people end up thinking of things differently. I think it's good that it can change minds and that comedy can make people think. Even though it is funny, maybe later on people will change their mind about what they thought about these people or this subject or whatever. I don't set out to change people's minds, but if it changes people minds about say racism, then that's a good thing.
PG- So, the politically correct. People have different reasons for opposing it. Some have it that PC-ness is an oppressive burden, I've even heard it called "communal tyranny." While others have it that PC-ness is a sneaky way of manipulating language so as to obscure one's authentic feelings. How do you have it?
LISA LAMPANELLI- I think the second it true. I could call a Black man the N word and not have hate in my heart and someone else could call someone 'that Black man' and have some huge racist feeling about them. Suddenly he's better and more politically correct than I am even though he really has bad intentions. I do think PC is a way of kinda sneaking those things in. I never let it bother me because I'm politically incorrect. If you don't like it that's ok. If certain networks don't like it, that's ok too. The people who laugh and like it, those are the ones who are supposed to laugh, those are the ones I was supposed to reach and have as fans. Whoever likes me, that's what's meant to be and that's that.
PG- Lenny Bruce had it that if a slur were repeated over and over again that it would eventually lose it's power or it's viciousness. Do you agree with his thoughts?
LISA LAMPANELLI- I had a joke once that I loved the C word, that the C word and the N word were my two favorite words and that everyone should be sure to look for my new single, it's called, "cunt, cunt, nigger, nigger, cunt." I would have Black people laughing so hard with that because when I'm saying it in that manner of non racism and pointing out how dopey the word is, then it has no power. But like with Oprah saying that she's banned the word "bitch" from her network. It's like, you know what? You're giving the word power, you dumb bitch. It's such a dick move. No word is evil, it's what's behind it. People give more power to those words just by banning them.
PG- This is a similar question, but I'll ask it anyways because the subject is interesting to me. Do you see any problem with having words that cannot be said or do you think there is actually a social benefit to having taboo language?
LISA LAMPANELLI- No. We're not in a country where you don't have freedom of speech Yes, people are going to say words that I don't like, but where does it end? A person calling me "fat" may hurt more than someone calling me "cunt." The swear word is "cunt," but to me the other word is more offensive. Pretty soon there will be hundreds of words that no one is allowed to say and then you don't have freedom of speech anymore. Some words I would love to see banned, but I know that it would mean banning others that don't deserve to be banned. It's either all or nothing with that.
PG- Can you tell the Punk Globe readers about your book?
LISA LAMPANELLI- I have a book out, it's my autobiography called "Chocolate Please." I wrote it because I had gone through some food addiction and codependency and I thought it's be interesting to write about the different experiences in these different programs to work on food addiction. I talk about my childhood and some behind the scenes stuff about the business people might not know. They had been asking me to write a book for awhile so as soon as I had enough interesting life experiences I finally did. It was hard to do. Writing is really difficult, but since I had the journalism background I was able to tap into that. I'm really proud of it. I really put realness out there, still with punch lines so it's not all serious.
PG- So, you recently got married. How's married life treating you?
LISA LAMPANELLI- It's a lot easier than living with somebody. It's really weird. You're actually committed and you feel a sense of being more connected. There's no escape. We really said those vows and we really meant them. It's been really easy. We probably had one fight since the honeymoon and I'm really impressed with how much better we communicate. I guess marriage is good, no wonder the gays want it.
PG- Any advice for young aspiring comedians?
LISA LAMPANELLI- Yes. Quit, because you're probably not funny. Unless you're willing to put in 21 hour days and drive anywhere as long as there's a gig. I've driven to Florida and back, stopped in an $18 a night hotel for three hours of sleep and then sleep on the road, fall asleep in rest stops. You have to really be willing to do it and you can't be a baby about it. You can't feel entitled. Just because you think you're funny and clever doesn't mean we have to. So, you're not entitled and if you have any of those kind of sensibilities that you're owed something, then it's not going to work for you as a comic because you're really going to have to work hard. If you're not prepared for that then go do something else. Do something easy.
PG- Do you have any upcoming tours?
LISA LAMPANELLI- I'm on the road all the time, every Friday and Saturday. I play theaters all over the country. It's like a never ending tour and all my dates are on my website: http://www.insultcomic.com/
PG- Any other projects or links you would like to share?
PG- Thanks again for doing this interview. Do you have any parting words for the Punk Globe readers?
LISA LAMPANELLI- If you're gonna come see me have a thick skin because if you're in the first ten rows I will verbally cornhole you. If you have really high self esteem you can sit in the front or if you have really low self esteem you can sit in the front too cause I can reinforce either one. So, don't be a pussy. Come and sit in the front, if you dare.