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An interview with the mean and lean Lisa Lampanelli.
by David Goldberg
There are loud, politically provocative comedians, and then there’s this comedian. When it comes to pushing the envelope of political correctness in America, it doesn’t get much more vicious (or delicious) than Lisa Lampanelli. “The equal-opportunity offender” returned to Houston last month for another night of sickening stand-up. OutSmart chatted with the Queen of Mean about her recent marriage, losing over one hundred pounds, and her beloved gay audience.
David Goldberg: I have to confess that I saw you when I was seventeen when you hit Houston on your “Dirty Girl” tour. When I came for an autograph, you said, “What is this? The f–king Disney Channel?” It was a moment for me.
Lisa Lampanelli: Well, good. I’m a life-changer. How old are you now?
You’re old. As a gay guy, your days are numbered.
So, what do you think of the Supreme Court situation?
The whole gay-marriage thing? I always said if you’re lucky enough to find somebody you want to spend the rest of your life with… every gay person should have the opportunity to be as miserable as us straight people. It’s just ridiculous that they can’t have what everybody else has.
You’re on the vanguard of breaking barriers of political correctness. Over the last year, there’s been a lot of talk about how the gay struggle is over and how gays have made it in this country. As someone who constantly pushes perceptions, stereotypes, and norms, do you think things have really gotten better?
I have a warped perspective, because I live in New York City. New York has been comfortable with gay men for a long time, the way I see it. It’s different when it comes to small towns. I got a bunch of e-mails and tweets from gay kids where I am now, which is deep in Iowa. And that’s not somewhere where you go, “Oh my God, it’s Gay Central!” But I’ve got notes from gay kids saying, “I worship you. I’m going to come see you, so you can make fun of my gay ass!” And it’s like, if you’re going to be out and proud in these little towns, maybe we’re making some kind of progress. Obviously, there’s a far way to go, but at least some kids are starting to feel more comfortable.
Do you think the world is too PC?
I’ve never let that bother me. I do what I do for a reason, and I make fun of every stereotype and poke fun at every word that people say and go for what they really mean. But oh yeah. You can’t even say “black people” anymore without someone getting mad. But I don’t let it affect me. This political correctness is ridiculous. I’ve started to say that political correctness is just retarded. I thought, Good, that will piss off some people who have retarded kids.
That sounds like the recent Down-syndrome storyline on Shameless.
Loved it! “Retard Nation”! That was great. Poor Joan Cusack. [Cusack’s character, Sheila, takes her daughter, Karen, to a support group for families with Down syndrome children, because Karen has a baby with Down syndrome. Some in the group want to reclaim the word “retard” and begin chanting “Me-tard, You-tard, Retard Nation.”] Her heart was in the right place, but she just didn’t know how to get the message out there. I felt for her, because I’ve been in the situation where I’ve been panned for the language I use. You try to defend yourself, and then you’re like, Wait a minute—these moron people aren’t going to get it, so I might as well not even argue anymore. But that was a great scene. I loved that.
Why do you think you have so many gay supporters? In your specials, it looks as if your gay audience members are glowing.
I know, I know. I think its because gay people feel really accepted around me. I surround myself with people of different minority groups—people who kind of don’t fit in. Gay people can sense that I never felt like I fit in. I never liked how I looked. I never liked my thighs. I always felt a little ashamed deep down, and I feel like, unfortunately, some gay people have that shame, that place of “Oh my God, I’m not good enough.” I hope that’s why I have gay supporters. I hope it’s not just because I’m funny and loud and they think I’m a drag queen, because I have a penis. But for whatever reason, people feel at home in my shows and feel included. And that’s really the goal of the whole thing.
Are you seeing any other minority groups rally behind you in a similar way?
Since I used to have a reputation of dating black men all the time (even though I pretty much only had one black boyfriend for a while), a lot of jokes were made about it. I definitely had a lot of interracial couples at the shows, and I still do—which means that they haven’t jumped ship even though I married a white guy. I always have tons of Latinos at the show. I don’t know why. It’s just that they have such a great sense of humor, and they can laugh at jokes about their heritage. Filipinos, Asians—it’s just bizarre to me that people get that it’s not poking fun at them, but at stereotypes. I’m really lucky that it spans a lot of different minority groups.
Even my mother got it after a few minutes. I think it’s fascinating that that many people are in on the joke.
I do, too. In her defense, your mom is a real c–t.
Do you see yourself doing this for another fifty years? The next Joan Rivers?
I don’t have a choice—I have to do this. I don’t think people in my situation ever retire. They just do it. It’s not about the money or the spotlight. It’s just what you do and who you are. It’s so much fun. It’s so exciting just to go out there and do this show every single night because it’s not scripted. It’s probably not going to be another fifty years, but at least another thirty.
What’s next for you?
I’m doing a one-person show on Broadway. It’s been in the works for a couple of years. It’s sort of different than stand-up, because it has a storyline. It’s about my struggle with self-acceptance and food and men, and while it’s not serious by any means, it has serious moments. People will get to see what I’m about in a different way.
Would it be similar to the memoir you published?
Not really. Because that’s a lot of old history—some of the crappy men I dated, some of the crappy diets I tried before losing the weight. It has a lot more heart and a lot more realness, but it’s not exactly a daytime soap opera.
It seems like you’re getting a different kind of press now that you are thin and married.
I think people were worried at first that I wouldn’t be funny if I wasn’t overweight, which is funny because it’s not like there’s a fat gene or a funny gene. You stay who you are no matter how you look, but you get more real with time. I think I take more chances now that I’ve lost the weight. I feel more secure and happy. I can say what I want and kind of defend myself, because I’m not bothered by a ton of self-hate. I still do have a ton of self-doubt. I think there was the initial “Oh my God! If you’re thin, you can’t be funny,” which is weird shit, because Joan Rivers has never been overweight. Joan Rivers, in my opinion, has never been funny-looking. Whitney Cummings is beautiful and funny. There are very good-looking women out there who can still bring it home when it comes to comedy. But I think people who come to my show will say that I have gotten worse and crazier than when I was overweight.
It’s as if you were expected to become more quiet and respectable when you got married. You are challenging the norm all over again.
I’m lucky, too, because I married a guy who knew that he could take a joke. He knew that I was messing with him on stage, bringing him up on stage, making fun of his balls. I would never be attracted to somebody who has those kind of hang-ups. Even though I am hooked up with somebody, it doesn’t mean I’m going to be calmer or quieter. I don’t think anybody would expect that out of me.
How does it feel when you are asked in public about your marriage and your love life?
I don’t mind being asked. We make jokes about it. But when you’re fifty-one years old, you’re not exactly swinging from the chandeliers. We have sex once a week whether we want it or not, or need it or not. It’s companionship; you’ve got a great friendship. You can run around and laugh a lot. I don’t mind answering those questions, but it’s not as relevant as other things going on right now.
You’ve performed in Houston before. What’s your relationship with Texas?
It’s twisted. [Houston and Dallas are] just two different demographics. It’s not blue-collar in Houston, but it’s closer to blue-collar than Dallas is. I just do what I do, and whoever likes to see it comes out. I never set out to get a certain group of people or a certain state or city to like me. I don’t do jokes about where I am. I just be myself, and whatever comes out comes out. I’ve always had a great time in Houston and Dallas. Even though they hate each other, they both have groups that really get me….
Anything else you’d like me to include?
Tell your mom I said hi.
Lisa Lampanelli’s new radio show premieres Monday, May 6, at 6 p.m. (CST) on the Howard 101 Channel on SiriusXM and will air the first Monday of every month. Lampanelli also visits Howard Stern on Wednesday, May 22, at 7 a.m. on SiriusXM radio (with encores all day).
David Goldberg is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.