‘Queen of Mean’ Lisa Lampanelli talks unamused lesbians, drag inspiration and how to survive Trump
If you know her racy sense of humor, you practically expect Lisa Lampanelli to hurl a slur at you when she calls. Once, she wanted to know “if this was the same cornholer I talked to the last time,” and because she’s Lisa Lampanelli, I took that as a compliment.
Known for her stereotype-mocking comedy routines and hilariously foul roasts (during 2011’s Comedy Central roast of Donald Trump, Lampanelli called the now-president a “bloated, stinky douche”), the 55-year-old Connecticut native acknowledges that her interview persona is either a version of her exaggerated stand-up self or the “real” Lisa.
Both showed up to my recent candid talk with Lampanelli, who spoke about Oprah’s bread obsession, why she would perform at Trump’s inauguration and how drag icon Miss Coco Peru inspired her to consider becoming a motivational speaker. And about those dual personalities: “It’s like I’m becoming two people merging into one, so enjoy the double-ended dildo interview.”
Hey, Lisa. Took you long enough. Three minutes late.
Listen, bitch, you’re lucky I wasn’t 12 months late. Wuz up?
Explain to me how you decide who you’ll be during an interview, because I’ve only ever been on the receiving end of crass, stand-up Lisa, but I’ve also read interviews with you where you come across much softer.
Yes, it’s like, you kind of have to combine them for an interview, usually because that’s who we (comedians) are anyway. Sometimes you just wanna have fun, and then you interject some serious stuff, or you wanna be serious and you interject some fun stuff. So it’s kind of like, whatever mood I’m in. Like your interview today is based probably a lot on the fact that the guy before you was not a dick.
When did you first feel like you’d made it in the gay community?
It sort of built. I remember being able to make fun of everybody and have them not get mad, except the occasional guy or girl who has no sense of humor. I never felt until recently like the lesbians understood me, but in the last 10 years, which for me is recent, I’m like, “Oh, they get it, they don’t hate me.” Because it used to be, when I started, I had played a few places that lesbians were not happy, honey.
Why do you think it took longer for the lesbians to come around?
Oh, because those bitches used to take themselves too seriously. Couldn’t stand it! I’m like, “Listen!”
They stopped being a bunch of clams with no sense of humor. I mean, honestly. I almost feel like the younger lesbians coming up kind of were like, “This is cool; she doesn’t mean anything she says.” You know, I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who hate my act, and it’s fine, and they’re allowed to, but I can no longer say the lesbians don’t have a sense of humor – they do!
How does the current political climate and racial tension in the country affect your comedy?
I push more because I think my push has always been in the direction of making fun as love, so I think it’s like going, if I sort of stop pushing hard, people could go, “She has some hate or prejudice behind it now.” It’s like putting up a light between how I say it and how true racists or homophobes say it. They see such a difference between me saying horrible things and those people saying horrible things. Thankfully my audience gets it and understands why.
What’s scary are the people who may not get the difference between real bigots and a comedian who’s mocking bigots.
I’m lucky that I really don’t get any feedback like that. I really don’t have people coming up after shows saying, “Thanks for those faggot jokes.” I’m lucky people get it on the level it’s intended. Also if they don’t, like Cher says, she only answers to two people: herself and God. And I can look in the mirror and say, “I’m just answering to me because I get me.”
From what I’ve read, your act these days is more self-reflective.
I mean, I’ll be just more vulnerable on stage, meaning I’ll tell you real stuff from my life. A lot of the past life was over-exaggerated sexual stuff that either just didn’t happen or were funny stories that I blew out of proportion for humor’s sake. Now, I just tell the truth behind my divorce (from Jimmy Cannizzaro in 2014), behind my weight loss, behind the struggle to keep it off, behind the self-help journey I’ve gone on. So yeah, I just tell the truth more.
So, wait. You didn’t have sex with all those black men like you claimed?
Well, I mean, I had a black boyfriend, and we dated for three-and-a-half years, which I thought was pretty good! He cheated on me with another white bitch, so I cut him loose.
Wanda Sykes was recently booed at one of her shows for calling Donald Trump a “racist, sexist, homophobic president.” She shouted expletives at the audience and gave them the middle finger.
By the way, who’s coming to see her not believing that?
Exactly. How would you have handled Trump hecklers at your show?
I do a whole Trump roast now. I wrote this really funny Trump roast – an updated one for Howard Stern – and I’m doing even more Trump jokes. But I get away with that kind of roast humor all the time. Nobody gets mad, even Trump supporters, if I say something serious about Trump, which I hardly ever do because I don’t talk politics much. Not my thing. Once people booed something and I go, “Oh, shut up. I’m a comedian, not a senator. Shut the fuck up.” And they shut up.
I have no political agenda, and I think they know Wanda really has that strong belief, so maybe that’s why they booed, and it’s fine. But people know I’m not, like, all serious about stuff, so that’s probably why I don’t get a hard time.
You say you stay out of politics.
I don’t care.
Do you not care that Trump is the President of the United States?
I mean, what am I gonna do? No – really. What exactly am I gonna do? I still will donate to the charities I want to that have nothing to do with him, I’ll still do shows or appearances for the charities I like, I’ll still sign petitions for women’s rights and various charities and different causes that have clearly opposing views. But what am I gonna do? Am I gonna get him un-elected? Am I gonna sit here and cry and go on my swooning couch? Nothing’s bugged me more than my friends after the election going, “I couldn’t get out of bed for a week.” Really? How about you go online and create a charity and get some petitions out there? How about that instead of lying on your swooning couch?
I have a friend who created an entire – after one day of mourning this little homo created a website where you go to donate time to different charities that Trump doesn’t support, and I’m like, “You did the right thing.” Take action. For some reason we have been saddled with this president and we have to figure out what to do despite it. Maybe it’s to make people more united. But whatever’s gonna happen is gonna happen.
Look, if I’m dead tomorrow because of a nuclear bomb – what, did I worry about it the day before? No, I had game night and dinner with my mom and my friends and went out on a nice note because we didn’t stop our lives. I can’t cry about this.
You’ve crossed paths with Donald Trump several times. You roasted him on Comedy Central, and you competed in the fifth season of the Celebrity Apprentice in 2012. Would you perform at his inauguration?
Absolutely, but only if I could roast him. You understand, there’s a fine line of what I would do. Like, if they asked me to be the White House Correspondents’ Dinner host to perform, I’d be like, “in a second,” because I could reaaaally do a good roast on him and that’s the best, so it would be a way of sticking it to him a little bit and it’d be fine. I would absolutely have a clear conscience about making fun of Trump. I always do.
Maybe that’s your “in” for his cabinet.
I wanna be the minister of gay affairs! You totally need me to be in there making sure you faggots can get married even though I don’t know why you’d want to.
You wanna get married again, don’t you?
Nooo. I was. And honestly, I don’t even think about dating or men because I’ve been working so hard on myself. When I got a divorce, I was like, “I’m free of being with somebody who isn’t my spiritual equal.” So I never even think about that. It’s weird, but such a gift. I’m so happy all the time. It lifted this weird pressure off of me to be myself.
You seem very fulfilled by your work too. In 2015, you premiered your first play, Stuffed. As someone who has dealt with food issues throughout her life, can we please talk about Oprah’s “I love bread” Weight Watchers campaign?
I am so angry with her. And I’ll tell you why I’m angry with her. First of all, it’s idiotic. It’s the dumbest thing. The biggest joy in her life is bread? Then, bitch, you’ve been preaching wrong for all these years, and you tricked us. Because I thought her biggest joy was helping people; I thought her biggest joy was about self-improvement. I would’ve taken anything except the name of a food, so I was like, “Dude, show us some enlightenment here.” I just can’t stand the un-self-awareness of her putting that out there, but it’s her journey. It’s none of my business. I don’t like to watch that one, ever. I always flip right by it. I’m like, “ack!” I’d rather watch those poor dogs with the one eye from the “Angel” ads and I hate those.
My thing is, how can anyone be that obsessed with bread and keep the weight off?
’Cause she’s not keeping any weight off.
How are you finding the theater work you’re doing fulfilling in a way that standup isn’t?
Just because it’s emotional, because you can have emotional moments and humor in a play, and it was more of a conversation. It was challenging to write dialogue instead of monologue, and having four actors as an ensemble was really cool too, because working every day with other people was fun, especially if you cast a bunch of great people like these were. I just loved having a place to go that was super warm in spirit, and I was like, “Aw, man, six months of my year I’m gonna spend doing plays, for sure.”
I heard that a drag queen inspired you to move into humorous motivational speaking.
Oh, Coco Peru! The best, best, best. She does this routine, and there is such a real great sort of emotional and spiritual element to it that you don’t see usually with drag queens. When I saw that, I said, “I am definitely going to make sure more of that vulnerability is in my act.” I frickin’ love her. It’s like, you never know what you’re gonna learn when you go and see something, and that was the last thing I expected from a drag performer. I’m so glad I went to that.
What can we expect from you in the new year?
I wanna write about different issues with women. I don’t want to just stick to the food one. I also wanna do one about these four women – the same four characters and their love relationship. I wanna do another play about them and anger, and them and grief, and then maybe test the waters and start seeing what’s out there as far as what I wanna talk about if I were ever going to do a motivational (speaking) thing. Gonna have to see in my gut what feels right, but I think the plays are a bridge to really doing that.
I love that you – insult comic – have now become this emblem of empowerment not just for women but men.
It was funny how gay men really responded to the play, because I think gay men, unfortunately, have just as big of a problem with body image as women do. So, I’m so lucky that they really responded to the show, because, man, who doesn’t have a problem with the way they look? It’s just so hard. It’s nice that they would actually come to me and be like, “I went through that too,” which I’m pretty grateful for.
As editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service, Chris Azzopardi has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. Reach him via his website at www.chris-azzopardi.com and on Twitter (@chrisazzopardi).