Here’s the open secret about the “Queen of Mean,” comedian Lisa Lampanelli: she’s a sweet person, really. Although her stand-up career has been filled with more swearwords than an entire seaboard of dockworkers, more vitriol and insults than a traffic jam filled with cab drivers, she’s accommodating and friendly in interview. (However, when this writer made a mistake with one question, she let me have it.) As her fans will tell you, it’s a delight to be insulted. They’ll get that chance this Thursday when she comes to the Chumash Casino Resort for an evening of no-holds-barred comedy that is not for the sensitive.
The biggest change in Ms. Lampanelli’s recent stand-up routine is not the subject matter, but her waistline. Without sounding too much like a Cosmopolitan article, Ms. Lampanelli lost just over 100 pounds through gastric stapling surgery in April 2012, with her husband, Jimmy Cannizzaro, following suit in June.
“We were such raging food alcoholics,” she said. “We’d been dieting and exercising, but something just wasn’t working … We realized we had to do something now or we’d really be in trouble in the next couple of years.”
This did run against her previous routines, in which she was proud of her size and unapologetic. She’s had to rethink that a bit since.
“Should you try to like yourself the way you look? Yes,” she says. “But guess what? Some ways are healthier and some people live longer, and it’s probably because they have the proper weight and stave off diabetes. Hopefully, it will work for us. There’s no guarantee it won’t come right back. But at least it’s a do-over, and you can work on it now.”
The surgery only kept her off her feet for a few weeks. It didn’t stop the work, and it didn’t stop the swearing.
“In fact, it made it worse!” she laughs. “People are like, are you happier now? No, I’m angrier now because I can’t eat out of frustration … but it’s good. I have more material now.”
Ms. Lampanelli grew up in an Italian-American family. Her father was a quiet man, but her mother didn’t hold anything back in her language, and she — along with watching Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts on television — accounts for a lot of her style, which gleefully invites audiences in to be roundly, but hilariously, insulted.
“My mother throws it down,” she says. “She knows how to do it right. I learned a lot from her.”
And for the most part, her audience loves it. She jumps headfirst into stereotypes, explores and explodes them, and her strong gay and African-American following shows they know exactly what she’s getting at and where she’s coming from.
Ms. Lampanelli started off as a journalist, working for Rolling Stone, Spy, and Hit Parader, interviewing — as this was the 1980s — numerous hard rock and hair metal bands. Her closest brush with groupie fame was Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P. answering the door in nothing but a thong. But as she jokes, “I was a chubby 25-year-old who couldn’t get laid even by a heavy metal band. I was like, ‘Let’s just stick to the questions, sir.'”
She changed to stand-up in the early ’90s and slaved away at her set for years until her big break. It was tough being a woman comic, she says, and many of the male comedians who actively discouraged her or insulted her on her way up are still on her list. (She doesn’t name names, though.)
Appropriately enough, she got her break through a Friars’ Club roast of Chevy Chase, and she’s been working ever since.
Ms. Lampanelli admits that her standup is a release valve for her anger. If she didn’t have it, she says, “I’d be a raging c***. I’m a raging c*** the way it is. I just screamed at a guy today in the parking garage, trying to cut me off. I’m always screaming at people. If I didn’t have my stage outlet, how much worse could it possibly be? I guess it could be worse.”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Chumash Casino Resort, 3400 East Highway 246, Santa Ynez
Information: 686-0855, www.chumashcasino.com