Comedy's queen of cruel longs to be king

At Meyerhoff, Lisa Lampanelli plans to insult, well, all of you

November 13, 2008|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,sam.sessa@baltsun.com

Lisa Lampanelli is an equal-opportunity basher.

Blacks, whites, Asians, Jews and Hispanics are all in the cross hairs of this up-and-coming insult comic. The only demographic she doesn't lampoon on stage? Europeans.

"You only hurt the ones you love," she said. "That's why I don't make fun of French people and Europeans - because they smell and I hate them. They do. Try smelling one. I have. Horrible."

Tomorrow, Lampanelli brings her stinging stand-up act to Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. She has about a week to refine her live routine before she tapes a one-hour special for HBO at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa, Calif.

The special is one of several big projects Lampanelli has in the works. In addition to her live shows, the comedian, 47, is writing an autobiography and working on the pilot episode for a prospective HBO series with comedian/actor Jim Carrey. The secret to her blossoming success, she said, is her stubbornness.

"I was always like, 'I'm going to do it how I'm going to do it,' " she said. "This is my path, and that's life. And if they don't like it, too bad."

When it comes to stand-up, Lampanelli was a late boomer. She didn't start seriously pursuing a career in comedy until she was 30. Up until then, the Connecticut native made a living as a journalist. She earned a journalism degree from Syracuse University and worked as a copy editor for Popular Mechanics and an assistant at Rolling Stone. But Lampanelli grew tired of journalism and abandoned it.

In hindsight, Lampanelli is glad she delved into stand-up later than most comedians.

"A lot of people start when they're really young and don't have their personality already," she said. "They keep getting talked out of what they really want to do by people. They take too much advice because they're young and insecure."

Lampanelli cut her teeth on Friars Club roasts, during which a panel of comedians and celebrities lampoons one of its own. She shone in roasts of Star Trek's William Shatner and KISS front man Gene Simmons.

Lampanelli's cutdowns got the attention of Carrey. Last August, he signed with Lampanelli's agency and recruited Lampanelli to work with him on a TV pilot. So far, she said, it has been a blast.

"I knew he was smart, but I didn't know he was this smart," she said. "I love it. It's so cool to be like, 'Oh, my God, Jim Carrey is in my cell phone.' "

When she's not working on the pilot, Lampanelli is mining dirty secrets from her past for her autobiography. Titled The World According to Lisa: The Queen of Mean's Guide to the Universe, it brings together her early passion for writing with her love of comedy.

"Finally, journalism that doesn't pay $12,000 year," she said.

The book is filled with scandalous, never-before-told stories about Lampanelli's childhood and her stint in rehab and fat camp. Digging up these sad and shameful but hilarious tales was painful but necessary. Lampanelli winced a lot, like the time when she'd gone into rehab for co-dependency. After rehab, Lampanelli wasn't supposed to have sex with anyone for a year.

"That's really difficult when you're me and you're a big celebrity," she said. "The offers just come flying in."

But Lampanelli relapsed with a short Italian man from Las Vegas.

"I was writing that part and I was going, 'Ugh, I can't believe I wasted it on that guy,' " she said. "It was awful."

Dirty, funny secrets aside, isn't it a little weird for someone to write their own life story at age 47? Shouldn't one wait until the twilight of their life to look back?

"It's closer to the end than you think," Lampanelli said. "Actually, it's called a big, huge advance, and you go, 'Wow, I could spend that money on a lot of purses and maybe two more Toyota Camrys.' You know how I roll."

The book is why Lampanelli hasn't done a Friars Club roast since last November. It takes her a month to prepare for a roast, and she hasn't had the time. She had to skip Matt Lauer's roast, which Tom Cruise infamously crashed, and the roast of Bob Saget. She's not too sad about skipping the Sagat roast, though.

"I guess if there was one roast to skip it was the Bob Saget one, because who the hell is going to watch that?" she said.

Just how tough is it to be an insult comic? Well, you can count all the successful insult comedians on one hand. There's Don Rickles, who, at 82, refuses to quit, and Triumph the Insult Comedy Dog, the foul-mouthed, cigar-chewing fist puppet.

Lampanelli said she can't wait until Rickles kicks the bucket. Then, she'll be the most famous human insult comic (technically a puppet, Triumph doesn't qualify). Considering Rickles' age, she said, it could be soon. Once Lampanelli earns the title, she doesn't plan on giving it up any time soon.

"I can't wait until he dies, so I'm the only one," she said of Rickles. "I think I could last as long as that dirty heap."

if you go

Lisa Lampanelli performs at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall at 8 p.m. tomorrow. Tickets are $36.75. The venue is at 1212 Cathedral St. For tickets, call 410-547-7328 or go to ticketmaster.com.

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