In comedy, everyone has a shtick — a routine that stands as an identifying mark distinguishing them from other comics. What seems to be an effortless telling of a simple joke is, in reality, the byproduct of countless hours of fine-tuning a uniquely funny point of view. Consider the observational humor of Jerry Seinfeld and Elayne Boosler, or the prop comedy of Gallagher and Carrot Top. The oblique whimsy of Emo Philips and Steven Wright, or the party rap records of Rudy Ray Moore and Skillet & Leroy. Carrying on the tradition of Don Rickles and Joan Rivers, track down a copy of her revenge comedy The Girl Most Likely To … and see if Lisa Lampanelli doesn’t uphold that tradition — she specializes in a kind of humor that drags the truth about the human condition into the cold harsh light of hecklers and booze. Dubbed “The Queen of Mean” for her incessant insults on every nationality except Argentineans, she’s renowned for her love of black men, transcendent genitalia and the shortcomings of society. She has, by her own admission — most poignantly in her 2009 memoir, Chocolate, Please: My Adventures in Food, Fat and Freaks — dated a whole lot of losers. It has remained a slow process, with a learning curve steeper than Everest. Now armed with an Italian-American fiancé — the mysteriously-named Jimmy Big Balls, introduced to the nation during her April appearance on The Tonight Show — and a series of new television prospects in the wings, Lampanelli’s life has begun to change course from the mean to the meaningful.
VCReporter: Are you the first person to introduce Middle America to the concept of anal beads?
Lisa Lampanelli: I probably am. The anal beads reference is one of my best and funniest references ever. Doesn’t it just crack you up when you hear those words? There are just some things that are funny no matter what, so even though Leno blushed a little, I’m like, “Ahh, screw it. That’s fine with me!” They’re very liberal over there, believe it or not. That’s probably why I’ve been on a lot.
VCR: While you were looking for the perfect man, was there a point at which you’d found the perfect man and were happy, or is it the process of finding that perfection that mattered most? Do you reach perfection and try to pick it apart, or are you happy with it?
Dude, I mean if you read my book — which you obviously didn’t — you’d see that I dated far from perfect. I just was definitely scraping the bottom of the barrel because I was a fixer — I like to fix people. If somebody came to me with an arrest record and a broken-down home situation — sign me up! I’ll make you better! So I finally found someone who doesn’t need fixing.
VCR: Were there things that you just wouldn’t countenance, things you just wouldn’t suffer?
I was dating really bad guys, and then I took two years off to really assess how I could attract nice people instead of bad people. Right before I met Jimmy, I was dating decent human beings — people who called when they said they would, people who were on time, things like that; people who didn’t have kids, because I frigging hate kids, unless they’re my nieces and nephews. So I was getting closer to what I want, and by the time I got to him, all the bad seeds had been weeded out. He’s a great guy. It’s so funny; he’s the first boyfriend I’ve ever met who I’ve ever said, “If you don’t want me to make fun of you on stage, I won’t.” It’s come to the point where he comes out on stage with me. He knew what he was getting into with me. Most of the previous guys have been cool, they get flattered, but the first black guy I ever dated a few years ago was like, “Oh, no, don’t make fun of me; don’t talk about my kids.” He didn’t last more than a day. If you’re that self-serious, I can’t be bothered. If I can’t mention somebody, it’s going to be real problematic. Luckily, Jimmy gave me the go-ahead.
VCR: This raises the question: is there any dangerous stand-up comedy out there?
The guys who are really being uncensored and doing their thing are guys like [Dave] Attell, [Jim] Norton, myself, Sarah Silverman, Louis C.K. The way that [Andrew]Dice [Clay] was . . . I don’t know if anybody will ever get to the point where you’re the guy who’s such a cult hero that you’re selling out Madison Square Garden eight times. Certainly guys like Dane Cook and Larry the Cable Guy have huge followings, but they don’t do something that you go, “Oh, that’s dangerous or edgy.”
VCR: How many stand-up comics do you think are working at any given time in the U.S.?
Oh, my God, there’s got to be . . . I don’t know, because there’s so many crap-holes where you can see comedy, and then there’s a few people who do theaters, and then there’s comedy clubs. I’m not really sure. There’s a lot of people starting all the time; a lot of these idiots who try comedy fall off the map pretty quick once they see what hard work it is. I always tell my openers if they haven’t driven to Florida and back and not been able to afford a hotel room, then you don’t deserve to be a comic. It’s a hard job. It’s not like you’re running around New York City doing three spots a night at good clubs. The worst gig I had was a benefit — comics hate doing benefits because it’s always so somber, and we’re supposed to make people laugh. It ended up being a benefit for Sally Jessy Raphael and it was a benefit for this organization that helps retarded children in Israel. So they show the retarded-kids-in-Israel footage and then announce, “And now, Lisa Lampanelli!” How do you follow Jewish retards?
VCR: Not with a Holocaust joke!
That’s for sure!
VCR: Because your act deals so much with race, how does it play in the South?
Oh, fine, because your fans are your fans. They’re coming specifically to see you, so they already like you. So I’m insulated from anyone who might be an asshole or might not be a fan. So everything I say, I say the same thing everywhere. Your fans never react wrong to you. Over 20 years, I may have had, like, five screaming fights with somebody but I think that’s a pretty good average for the amount of shows. It’s always a drunk — it’s always somebody who doesn’t get that you’re making fun of everybody, and they feel singled out. If somebody doesn’t get it, they just don’t get it.
VCR: Is it more “Queen of Mean” or is it more “truth hurts”?
The truth is, I make fun of the stereotypes, and I think that anyone who believes the stereotypes is pretty retarded. If they don’t get it, then I can’t really torture myself over it. I know what my intention is, I don’t do it out of meanness. It comes from making fun of people I like.