Insult comedy is a rich tradition.
Don Rickles, who’s 84, and 74–year–old Jackie Mason have been offending people – on purpose – for their entire careers.
Lisa Lampanelli hasn’t been around nearly that long – she started doing standup in the early 1990s – but she’s earned her honorary title “The Queen of Mean.”
Lampanelli, who’ll perform Friday at the Lucas Theatre, is insulting, offensive, racy, racist, raunchy and ruthless. She cusses like a sailor, and seems to mean every word.
There’s ample evidence in her Comedy Central specials (the latest, Tough Love, premiered a few weeks ago) and on the network’s tart–tongued celebrity roasts, during which the Connecticut native pulls no punches, slashes and burns and calls it how she sees it.
Forewarned, therefore, is forearmed. You probably don’t want to bring the kids to this Lucas Theatre show.
Like many comics – the insult ones in particular – Lampanelli offstage is thoughtful, articulate and polite. During this phone interview, no abuse was hurled.
I’ve spoken with both Rickles and Mason, and they couldn’t have been nicer. The obvious question, then, is: How different are you, personally, than your onstage persona?
Lisa Lampanelli: I bet Steven Wright is a little more talkative in person than he is onstage, and I’m probably a lot louder and more obnoxious than I am in real life. Although my family would probably disagree.
Do you ever let the checkout girl at the supermarket have it?
Lisa Lampanelli: Yesterday, somebody on Twitter screwed with me, and I decimated them. And yet, that same night somebody said a similar thing and I was, like (in a sweet voice) “Oh, really? Why do you feel that way?” So you pick and choose, and I wonder why, at that moment, I felt I needed to slam that guy? Do they catch you tired or upset? Or when you’re already bummed about something? They’re going to get you with full force.
Do you ever piss off the wrong person, only to find them waiting for you afterwards at the stage door?
Lisa Lampanelli: The thing is, when you’re a comic who plays big places, you don’t really attract that any more. Because those are the people who want to be there. Nobody goes and pays 30 or 40 dollars to see a comic they don’t want to see. So nowadays that wouldn’t be an issue.
But when you’re playing clubs, it’s like “I hope nobody gets mad at me.” Because somebody will just wander in, or wander in free, when it’s not billed as your show. I’ve had a few people over the years, I got them mad or hurt their feelings, or “that was inappropriate.”
I never apologize unless it was my fault – and it never is. It’s always them. We have to think that or else we wouldn’t do it any more.
Would that happen in the club days? I’m always sitting a few rows back, squirming for the guy in the front row.
Lisa Lampanelli: Well, if it’s me doing the roasting, you wouldn’t squirm for him. Because if somebody seems slightly uncomfortable I just don’t make fun of them any more. If someone seems like they can’t take it, then I’m like “Ooh, that’s not the right person.” Because that’s not fun for anybody.
The only people I make uncomfortable are the people who would maybe heckle or something, and then I’d have to put them in their place for the sake of the whole show. Because it’s so awful to pay for somebody, and then hear some loser yelling.
Since I’ve been doing this for so long, 20–something years, I know when to push and when to back off of somebody.
What’s the precedent for a foul–mouthed woman comic? Are we going back to Moms Mabley?
Lisa Lampanelli: Yeah, and I guess Totie Fields was one of them. Phyllis Diller in a way. I never concern myself with women comics because I’m not particularly womanly onstage. Ninety percent of my jokes could be told by a guy, and still get laughs, and big ones.
So I never compared myself to female comics. Dice, Rickles, Howard Stern, those people are really my heroes. Because whatever he is now, Dice sold out Madison Square Garden multiple times. He’s got to be somewhat of a legend. So yeah, I didn’t really care about the woman comics very much.
Could you do what you do without being blue?
Lisa Lampanelli: Oh, sure. I just had my anniversary – I did my 10th Tonight Show last week. The only time I get bleeped, by the way, is when Jay comes back and says “It would be really funny if you try to get through the show without bleeping, and you say a certain thing and I bleep you.” So most any bleeps that happen on the Tonight Show, with me at least, are deliberate. But it’s funny, it’s fun.
I think your personality comes through, and they’re laughing at the personality, not the jokes. That’s what I think.
Do you think audiences like what you do because you’re saying things they’re thinking but are too timid to say?
Lisa Lampanelli: I get told that a lot after shows. I don’t know how to take that, because part of me is like “Hmmm, are they getting that I make fun of stereotypes, or are they getting that the stereotypes are true?”
And if I worried about that for every audience, I’m not gonna do comedy because then you’re just crippled by “What do people think of me?” So you gotta hope that they get it for the right reasons, and that they’re not Klansmen.
Before comedy, you were actually a music journalist. What was that transition like?
Lisa Lampanelli: I know, it’s weird, right? I don’t think it was anything conscious. I always had it in the back of my mind that I should try comedy. One day I hit 30 and I said “You know what? I just gotta try it, this is ridiculous.” But I also said ‘Hey, if it doesn’t work out, I got this education. I’ve got something to fall back on.” Luckily, thank God it worked out.
Do you still get nervous?
Lisa Lampanelli: I have never gotten nervous, except for the first time. Because the first time it’s like, oh my God, it’s make–or–break. Suppose I suck? I’ll have to quit.
Where: Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St.
When: At 8 p.m. Friday, April 15
Tickets: $39.75 at scadboxoffice.com
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