Few comedians have altered America’s landscape of laughs quite like Lisa Lampanelli. Known as “The Queen of Mean,” Lampanelli has carved out her own genre of racy insult comedy with two HBO specials, two Grammy nominations for Best Comedy Album, and a role as master of ceremonies during Comedy Central’s roast of Larry the Cable Guy. On September 24, Lampanelli will be performing her signature brand of biting standup at the Palace Theatre in Stamford. We caught up with the celebrated empress of excoriation, who proved to be a lot more kindhearted than many might assume.
When did you first know you wanted to become a comedian?
I think I always wanted to try standup but I didn’t know how to start. It was always in the back of my mind as a kid and I kept pushing it down, but it kept popping up like when you try to push a beach ball underwater and it just pops up with more force. After the first open mic, I sort of knew in my gut there was something, so thank God I stuck with it.
Was it tough coming up as a strong female comic in such a male-dominated profession?
People always said about me, “She’s a monster when she gets up there, she’s a killer, she’s a warrior.” So I was always considered equal to guys, which, in the long run, ends up fantastic for your career since you aren’t compared to women. It was easier for me to stand out as a chick who has material strong enough for a guy, so I consider that it was meant to be that I was in a man’s world.
I know you wrote a play called Stuffed that will be debuting at the New York WP Theatre this fall. Tell me about what it was like to go in such a new creative direction.
The play really couldn’t have happened without me taking care of my father when he was ill. When he died, I missed taking care of somebody. I loved that. I just felt like it was service that I needed to do for people, and the play is really a service. Even though it is entertaining and emotional and fun, Stuffed really helps people who have food issues or have struggled with their weight or body image feel not as alone.
Did your father’s passing shape your comedy as well?
It really shaped my whole life. I am more open, more vulnerable, and softer. I feel that when I do comedy I can go harder because of that, since people know underneath it all there is that base of love that opened up during my father’s illness.
How do you feel your dramatic recent weight loss has influenced your comedy and perspective?
I think because of the weight loss I can open up more about everything and anything. I really am an open book. First I lost the weight and felt more secure with the audience and then I said, “Okay, I can just be myself.” I am not afraid to try anything right now. I don’t like getting dressed up or having cleavage, but I like dressing younger in a playful way. I am just having fun with it.
What can audiences expect from your upcoming stand-up performance?
I talk a lot about my views on gay marriage and marriage in general, as well as my divorce, which was oddly amicable. In fact, I went to [my ex-husband’s] wedding when he remarried two few months ago, and I developed a sitcom idea based on that relationship. I talk about the weight loss and the surgery, plus my struggle over the last 32 years with that. If there is a subject that you don’t think I will talk about, I probably will. I just can’t shy away from anything.
You have worked with and raised money for so many LGBTQ charities; why is this?
I just always felt disenfranchised myself and feel bad for those people who also are. Doing The Apprentice and earning $130,000 for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis was the best.