Published in the Lake Champlain Weekly
April 24, 2019
By Joshua Miner
As a child, Lisa Lampanelli would gather around the TV with her family, transfixed by the Dean Martin Show. Finding a kinship of spirit with the irreverent comedians who would frequent the show, she soaked up a style of comedy she would later transform and make her own.
After attending Boston College, Syracuse University and the Radcliffe Publishing Course at Harvard, Lampanelli began her professional life in the world of journalism – working for publications like Popular Mechanics and Rolling Stone. Never one to grow complacent, it wasn’t long before her mind wandered back to the world of comedy. While she may have been unsure just what she wanted to tell the world, she knew with certainty she was going to give everyone a piece of her mind.
“I didn’t know I had anything to say,” Lampanelli recalls of her early notion to become a comic. “I remember being at Rolling Stone as a fact checker in the research department, and I said to some coworkers, Steve Futterman: ‘You know, I think I’m going to try stand-up comedy.’ He said, ‘Oh, it’s the worst, they’re re so self-centered! All it is, is people [putting] all the focus on them.’ And I’m thinking, as a middle child: ‘Sounds good to me!’”
After a few years, she says he worked up the nerve to take improv classes. Since the focus was on other people and not herself, she hated it. On the other hand, she says, with stand-up you’re up on stage all by yourself, with all eyes focused on you. In this, she had found her true calling.
While in 2019, up-and-coming comics often face backlash for telling jokes deemed too offensive, Lampanelli’s comedy career flourished before the politically correct climate which new comedians today must navigate – taking part in numerous Comedy Central Roasts as she solidified her role as comedy’s ‘Lovable Queen of Mean.’
Lampanelli says her family never tried to make her fit any particular mold, allowing her to pursue her passions and follow her heart.
“I’ve never felt pressure from anyone to do anything,” she explains with some humor. “I even had parents who were like, ‘Do whatever you want!’ Rolled their eyes and said, ‘Jesus Christ we paid for college for this ****? It’s funny, I got very lucky. No one tried to force their view on me, and I haven’t ever taken any advice except my own.”
A fiercely independent woman throughout her life, her comedy never pulled any punches. While Lampanelli admits the comedic climate today is different than when she was a young comic, she believes anyone strong enough in their convictions can do and say anything they want. If your intentions are true and you know why you’re doing what you love to do, you can overcome any critic.
“When I stopped doing comedy six months ago, I was still doing every single thing that I wanted to. I could say anything to my audience that I wanted because they get me. So, I’m almost grandfathered in to this type of comedy. I can say racial or sex things because [they know my] heart is in the right place.”
Although Lampanelli had always knew her fans could read between the lines, this new endeavor will certainly be palatable for a much larger audience. With many of her jokes in the past poking fun at minorities and marginalized groups such as the LGBTQ community, Lampanelli says she never had any real malice in her heart. Preparing for a performance in Topeka, Kansas, the hate group known as the Westboro Baptist Church planned to protest her outside the venue. Lampanelli fought back, pledging $1,000 for each protestor that turned out. In total, she donated $50,000 to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis organization as a result.
With a big mouth, and an even bigger heart, Lampanelli was never one to bite her tongue. As she embraced her niche in insult comedy, she would soon be trading barbs with some of the most famous comics in the country – as well as the man who would one day become president.
Working with Donald Trump during his Friars Club and Comedy Central Roasts – and later the Celebrity Apprentice – Lampanelli and others would joke about the prospect of a Trump presidency, the notion being all but dismissed.
“I was like: ‘He’s not really going to run for president.’ It’s like a little kid saying he wants to have a pony,” Lampanelli laughs. “There’s no ******* way you’re getting a pony for Christmas.”
Making it to the finals on the Celebrity Apprentice, Lampanelli spent a fair amount of time with Trump, competing with other celebrities as she tried to avoid getting “fired.”
“He had been really nice to me in the past, because I had roasted him at a closed-door roast at the Friars Club years before,” she recalls, saying that he had always been a gentleman to her.
Lampanelli recalls Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice being the most difficult experience of her life, often working 20-hour days on only four hours of sleep. As she strove tirelessly to prove that comics could be just as smart as anyone else, her hard work ultimately led her to the show’s final four. While she didn’t win the competition, Lampanelli says Celebrity Apprentice – like everything else in her life – is something she’s glad to have done. From journalism to television to life coaching, Lampanelli explains how such experiences served to mold her into the person she is today.
Though she’s won awards for her comedy, Lampanelli says what kept her fulfilled all those years was the impact she had on her audience. She would often get letters from fans telling her how she made them laugh for the first time since the death of their child, or the loss of a job or relationship. Lampanelli knew she had the ability to do something special in people’s lives. Tapping into that connection, her new endeavors focus solely on this power to transform.
As she closed the book on her life as an insult comic, she began writing a new story for herself, sharing with the world her own struggle with body image issues, serving now to build people up rather than to tear them down.
“You start to notice that’s where the fulfillment is coming from,” says Lampanelli of the letters and feedback she received from members of the audience going through trauma. “So that’s why when I decided to retire from stand-up and do a storytelling show, like the one we’re doing in Plattsburgh – it’s funny, the show is funny – but it really helps people feel less alone. “
Lampanelli says there were seven long years where she struggled to make sure the audience understood where she was coming from. As she slowly became more secure with herself and her routine, Lampanelli says she stopped caring so much about what other people thought, with a mindset of “**** you if you don’t get me.” By the end of her stand-up career, however, her attitude had shifted once again.
“When I retired, I was just so secure that I was doing my thing. I was like, ‘Oh my God! If they get me, that’s great. If they don’t, that’s ok too.’ But I’d rather play to 17 people who really get it, than people [coming] in loud, drunk, wanting the same old crap over and over.”
For those loud, drunken fans looking for insults on May 4, Lampanelli suggests staying home and watching old clips of her stand-up on YouTube. “Losin’ It,” she said, is for those looking to face real issues head-on and transform their way of thinking,
Lampanelli had decided it was time to open her heart not just to the audience who knew her so well, but to everyone out there who struggled as she did with body image issues. Now, at 57, Lampanelli has a brand-new direction in life, and a fresh new career to keep her fulfilled for years to come.
“We’re going to have a good time at the storytelling show. But I’m going to tell you more clearly why you should accept yourself and like yourself, because I’m still struggling and trying to,” she says. “It just feels very real what I’m putting out there now.”
Although she has embraced this new direction, Lampanelli says she is still the same loud, crude person she’s always been. That, she says, will never change.
Born from Lampanelli’s Broadway play “Stuffed” – where she explored her issues with food and body acceptance – “Losin’ It” is the culmination of years of internal strife. As she grew to accept herself as a comic, she also learned to love herself and her body – although she will admit the struggle is never over.
Now, she says she’s now prepared to share that fight with the world. Through these storytelling events, Lampanelli hopes to reach those who feel alone in their own battles – just as she had felt her entire life. By letting them know they’re far from being the only one, “Losin’ It” promises to take people out of their isolation, connecting them with a community of people just like them.
“The big, defining issue of my life has been body image stuff,” Lampanelli explains. “If I care that much about that issue, and I’ve lived it for so many years and see so many people in pain about it, let me do a show that really helps us work on it – without being a workshop.”
While she holds weekend workshops throughout the country, “Losin’ It” gives her a platform to connect to audiences, allowing them to open up and process their own issues in a unique way. By laughing about her own struggles with food and weight loss, Lampanelli hears countless stories from fans who were encouraged by the performance to speak out themselves.
Now on this third chapter of her professional life, Lampanelli is excited to have the same passion and drive she did as she began her previous careers, a passion she says is necessary for anyone to really love what they’re doing.
“Giving up stand-up has been good for me. I feel like I have a purpose, I feel like I have a message,” Lampanelli says. “Stop beating yourself up, like yourself. Which is a hilarious, ironic message for an insult comic. But when I told Howard Stern and all the rest that I wasn’t going to do insult comedy anymore, it wasn’t because I thought I did something bad or wrong. It was just that I evolved to the point of ‘let me spell it out for you.’”
The key, she said, is to forget what’s going on with other people. When you compare yourself to others physically, professionally or even emotionally, nothing good can come of it. The only way to live, Lampanelli says, is by coming to terms with who you are as a person at this moment in time.
“I love the saying ‘Compare and Despair,’ because the minute you start comparing yourself to anyone else, or to a former version of yourself, you’re going to be disappointed. Or, you’re going to feel above them – and neither way is a way to live. You can’t feel above people or below them, you have to just be able to accept yourself as you are.”
Lisa Lampanelli’s “Losin’ It” makes its North Country debut at Plattsburgh’s Strand Theatre May 4 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35-$65 in advance, and $40-$70 the day of the show and can be purchased at strandcenter.org or by calling the box office at (518) 563-1604 (ext. 105).