Love and Ridicule

The Queen of Mean splits her time between Tucson's Canyon Ranch, gigs around the country

A combination of anger and love fuels Lisa Lampanelli's comedy.

Dubbed "the Queen of Mean," the 46-year-old comic is a rising star, thanks to her ability to make people laugh by insulting them, which is probably why she has been called, among other things, the female version of Don Rickles.

"I totally get off on being able to call people lots names, like the C-word and the N-word, get all sorts of shit off my chest, and work out my aggressions on the asshole in the front row or wherever, and still make people laugh," she said during a recent interview.

But she only ridicules people she loves.

"You can make fun of anyone or anything as long as it comes from a place of love. I really love gay people and blacks and ethnic people. I love women and men. That's why I don't make fun of the English or Europeans--because they bug the fuck out of me."

When pressed, Lampanelli admits her off-stage persona is hardly mean at all. During a recent phone interview, she was sweet and charming.

"You have to have that flip side, or else it's all going to come off as negatives. You know how when you meet someone like a celebrity, you say, 'Wow, I hope they're nice,' and they really are? That's a good feeling.

"I think I can say this for Don Rickles and other insult comics: I think that whatever we are on stage is only maybe 10 percent of our personality. Well, for me, it's maybe 20 percent. I mean, I wouldn't walk into Starbucks and say, 'Hey cunt, get me a latte!' Maybe if she made a really lousy latte and then was rude to me, I might be justified in calling her a cunt. But unless you have a good reason not to, you have to start off being nice to everybody."

Lampanelli spoke via phone from Tucson's Canyon Ranch Health Resort, where she is spending the summer getting healthy. When it's time for a gig, she just hops in a jet and later returns here, she said.

"I had this really big breakup in June, and I just decided to take this whole summer and work on becoming the most awesome person. Tucson is nice and beautiful and all, but it's fucking 120 degrees, man."

The new Lisa Lampanelli is also 40 pounds lighter than the old one. How'd she do it?

"I did Jenny Craig, but very loosely. I mean, it's tough having a skinny bitch weigh you in--you know, someone who looks like a size 2--but I did it."

Lampanelli said comedy is not rocket science, and it's not some deep philosophical exercise.

"You have to expect nothing from comedy except to entertain people. I don't care if you are Carrot Top or Larry the Cable Guy, or the top guys; it's not your responsibility to do anything except make audiences say they were entertained. If you're worried about taking the weight of the world on your shoulders or educating the audience, you shouldn't be on stage."

Lampanelli was born in Trumbull, Conn., and graduated with a degree in journalism from Syracuse University. She was a copy editor at Popular Mechanics and an office assistant at Rolling Stone before moving into rock journalism, which she practiced on behalf of that magazine, as well as Spy and Hit Parader. "I interviewed all those douchebag hair bands in the 1980s: Cinderella, Slaughter. I thought there had to be something more interesting."

By the early 1990s, she was doing stand-up across New York state. Her big break came via the Friars Club.

"They talked Comedy Central into putting me in the roast of Chevy Chase. The fact is, I grew up on those old Dean Martin roasts on NBC, which to me was the best. You have to have a lot of love for the person you're roasting, and be likable and warm and to be able to get away with anything you say."

Subsequent objects of Lampanelli's roasting abilities have included Pamela Anderson, William Shatner, Jeff Foxworthy and Flavor Flav.

As Lampanelli's stand-up act has grown, she has moved into doing her own concerts on cable TV, seeing them released as DVDs, and appearing in feature films. In addition to performing in comedies such as Delta Farce and Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector, she appeared in the comedic documentary The Aristocrats.

But she doesn't really have aspirations to make the transition from comedy to movies and become the next Jim Carrey.

"The only reason I did those is because people who were my friends asked me to do them, and I didn't have to audition. Everybody wants me to be the next Roseanne, and I have been pretending for my agent's benefit to want that for a while. If it's the right sitcom, sure, I'd do it. But most of the sitcoms they put on TV with comedians as the focus suck. With a few exceptions."

When asked if perhaps it has been harder for Lampanelli to earn respect as a female comedian, she disagreed.

"I never think it's harder for a woman in this life. I am so sick of victimy shit. It's actually easier for a stand-up comedian to stand out as a woman. In comedy, it's the white males who really get lost in the shuffle."

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