In Advance of Her Upcoming Playhouse Square Show, Lisa Lampanelli Talks About Her Lengthy Career (And Has a Thing or Two to Say About Trump)

click to enlarge In Advance of Her Upcoming Playhouse Square Show, Lisa Lampanelli Talks About Her Lengthy Career (And Has a Thing or Two to Say About Trump)
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Best known for tossing out insults based on sexual preferences and racial stereotypes, comedian Lisa Lampanelli says she's actually not sexist or racist at all. Rather, she feels she can be that way on stage because she's not that way in real life. Lampanelli, who has published a memoir, had roles in a few films and released several CDs, comes to the Ohio Theatre at 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 23.

After the Ohio Theatre show, she plans to take a year-long break.

In a recent phone interview, she talks about her career and talks about how she really can't fathom the transformation of former reality TV star Donald Trump.

I see your recent argument with the heckler in San Jose is all over the internet. That guy seemed like a dick.
Oh yeah. I was having a conversation with a woman [at that show]. I never pull out the woman card and say, “Women need to talk, and men need to shut up,” but she and I were talking and he goes, “boring — shut up.” It hit me wrong. That wasn’t cool. I told him to get the fuck out. I was talking to TMZ about it yesterday, and I joked about my phenomenal command of the English language. I say “shut the fuck up” something like 80 times. It’s so dumb. Kids, you should stay in school.

I’m glad you’ve moved on.
I was talking to my book editor today, and he laughed and said, "Huge story: 'Insult comic insults people.'" We were laughing so hard. I’ll be honest. I try to not snap on people in real life anymore. I’ve tried to change that about myself. But if you can’t yell on stage, where can you yell. You have to yell at somebody, at least if you were brought up like I was brought up.

You grew up in Connecticut. What was that like?
We were Italian, and we were the black people of Connecticut. It was a middle class lifestyle. It was easy but not exciting and not boring. I’m grateful I had it easy in so many regards. Being born white in America to a family that can afford to take out student loans and send you to college, I feel pretty blessed.

What was it like to work at Rolling Stone magazine in the '90s?
That was cool. I was probably the only one there who hasn’t snorted coke or done any kind of drugs because I’m such a wimp and a baby. I can’t even drink and have fun because I’m such a control freak. I was working as an assistant to one of the big, big editors, and then I came back as a researcher. I got to talk to the guy who produced Eric Clapton’s “Layla” just to fact check a story. I thought that was the coolest thing.

You were into metal, right?
I was the metal mama, dude! I loved progressive rock. I loved Rush and Yes and all these bands that total geeks liked. I was working at Hit Parade and to do the stories on the bands I liked, I had to interview the other real metal bands like Cinderella and Slaughter and Ratt. I’m not bragging. To squeeze those in, I had to do those really horrible metal bands. It was fun but by 30 years old, I was done.

Do you remember what your first standup gig was like?
Yeah. I loved it. I didn’t know how you go about putting together material. I didn’t know how it worked. I convinced this improv teacher in Connecticut to show us how to put together your first five minutes. He taught us how to mine for material and do stuff that’s important. It was late '90s, and it was at a sold out club on a Wednesday night in New Haven called Jokers Wild. I was doing really well and then I did an ad-lib that got a high-five. I realized that me ad-libbing was really fun. A year later, I tried more of that and that’s when it set in that I could go off and see what happens and try the insult comedy.

What made you gravitate to doing bits about racial stereotypes?
I thought I could get away with anything because I was really not prejudiced. I thought I could get away with it. I looked at Don Rickles and realized he’s not racist and greatest guy in the world but could get away with those types of jokes.

Do you have anything that’s off limits?
No. Rape, AIDS and anything horrible is what we’re supposed to make fun of. I think if you don’t laugh about it, you’ll kill yourself. The other night, I made a nice Kate Spade joke and an Anthony Bourdain joke. This stuff is horrifying. What are we going to do about it? Cry? We should definitely cry in private but in public, the comic’s job is to lighten it up. There’s a problem when comics think it’s therapy. You have to make it funny. I have it in my head that money is hard to earn and the people paid you dough, so you better make them laugh. If I can’t make Sept. 11 funny, then I’m not talking about it. What’s the point?

When did you first meet Donald Trump?
First, I roasted him at the Friars Club years before the roast on Comedy Central. He was so nice and fun. I thought he was a non-threatening douche bag. Then, we roasted him on Comedy Central, and I still thought he had a sense of humor. He kept saying he was going to run for President. I thought it was like one of those kids who asks for a pony at Christmas. It’s just not going to happen. Somehow, this frickin’ guy ends up President. He cast me on Celebrity Apprentice, and I thought he was fun and light-hearted. I don’t know what happened to him. His ego has just gotten away from him. I always joke in my act that he tried to grab me by my pussy, but my cock and balls got in the way.

Well, he did fire you on Celebrity Apprentice.
He had to because I wasn’t famous enough to win. I didn’t know how I stayed on as long as I did.

What was it like to write your memoir, Chocolate, Please: My Adventures in Food, Fat, and Freaks?
Some of the chapters were fun and easy, but some were really hard because I had just started to get a lot of therapy. There were chapters about co-dependence and and bad relationships and food addiction that were hard. Women have told me that those were the meaningful chapters, but it was hard as F. If I write another book, I am having someone hand hold me through the whole thing. When I wrote my play, it wasn’t as emotional as writing the book. When you’re stiting alone in a house talking about your addictions, it just sucks.

We live in a time when people are really sensitive about the things we say about other people. Has your comedy changed or adapted to the times?
Oh no. I’m just under the radar. Think about the people who are really popular like the Amy Schumers who are way in the public eye and everything gets taken apart. I’m essentially self-employed. Nobody cares what I do. I’m grandfathered in. They know what I do and think I'm fine and harmless. I think I've been taking more chances [with topics like] Anthony Bourdain, rape and AIDS — that should be the title of my next book. I’ve been lucky enough to stay under the radar to say what I want to say.

Talk about what the live show here will be like.
What I’m thrilled about is that I’m taking a year off from standup, so Cleveland is my last show. It should be a long show because I won’t want to leave the stage. I’ll talk about every horrible subject you’ll never hear about for the next year. I don’t do any political stuff, but I have a few new Trump roast jokes. I’m doing a Q&A with the audience so fans can ask about my weight loss and divorce. You can ask anything you want. Cleveland is a great place for the last show. I always liked Cleveland, and two writers have recently told me it’s gotten better, so they both can’t be lying.
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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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