You could say that Lisa Lampanelli has a mouth like a sailor, though there has likely never been a sailor on the seven seas as funny, rude or delightfully obscene. In fact, most sailors would get a motherly mouth-swabbing for the stuff she spouts on stage.
A self-described insult comedian, Lampanelli has been toiling away for more than a decade in the bars, nightclubs and occasional bowling alleys of the comedy circuit, but has only recently received national acclaim for an act that’s as brash, brazen and politically incorrect as ’80s bad boys like Andrew "Dice" Clay or Sam Kinison.
Over the years, Lampanelli has raised her profile with outlandish performances on several of Comedy Central’s celebrity roasts, and in the recent documentary The Aristocrats, distinguishing herself with an especially nasty telling of the "world’s filthiest joke." As the entertainment business has slowly tightened its collective sphincter (courtesy of a post-Nipplegate FCC crackdown), only a handful of bold comedians has continued to push the envelope. To Lampanelli, it’s not a calculated strategy of shock; it’s just a matter of laughs.
"I’m just doing what works for me," Lampanelli says. She’s unconcerned with the dangers of doing a more extreme act.
"I haven’t given it that much thought; I’m smart, but I don’t analyze it. Clearly I play a character on stage to point out that these stereotypes are ridiculous," she says.
The comedian doesn’t worry for a moment about who will be offended. "I like making jokes about spics and blacks, and saying ‘cunt’ and ‘faggot’ and stuff. That’s why I do comedy. I see what I can get away with to prove that these stereotypes are bullshit, and anybody who really talks like that is ignorant."
Far from an ignorant bigot, she’s a Syracuse University journalism major who later walked the halls of Columbia, Radcliffe and Harvard. That led to writing for such major magazines as Spy and Rolling Stone. "I just got into journalism to meet rock stars, not even to bang them, just meet them. I was really just a geek."
After a series of what she refers to as "career crises," Lampanelli took a comedy class in her native Connecticut and was hooked from her first night on stage.
Having broken into what’s traditionally a boys’ club, Lampanelli has no sympathy for complainers who think it’s harder for women to succeed — in fact, she has strong words for the vast majority of her fellow comediennes: "They suck and should die of cancer of the ass. They stink."
Lampanelli thinks too many of her XX-chromosome peers are shrill and whiny, and too narrow in scope, with material about their dates and their periods and their waistlines. "Why do you think there are no women other than me who have a male, straight following? It’s because these women think other women want to hear that shit. If you want to attract that 18- 34 year old male your going to have to talk some shit, you’re going have to talk like a guy talks."
Unlike fellow provocateur Sarah Silverman, who veils her assaults with ironic girlishness, Lampanelli uses the cigar-chomping, locker-room jocularity of times past. Racial epithets flow from her mouth with alarming frequency, but there is never a sense of legitimate malice, and Lampanelli feels the leeway audiences give to her is not simply based on gender, "I think I’m fucking lovable, dude. I’m a big marshmallow inside."
Her style of in-your-face comedy is hardly unprecedented, she notes.
"Look at Don Rickles; he gets away with more than I do. And he just plays the bitter-old-Jew card," she says. "There’s one thing to just be dirty and vulgar without any purpose in mind, and there’s another thing to know why you’re doing it and stick to what you do."
Now that she’s poised to take her game to a bigger stage, with a major network series deal in development, will success spoil Lisa Lampanelli? Will television money lead to a more glamorous lifestyle and an avalanche of bling? Forget it. "No grills for me man, well maybe just one. It would be really fucking cool to have one gold tooth."At 7 and 10 p.m., Thursday, March 30, at the Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-544-3030. Bill Bushart to open. The show is sold out, though tickets may be available for resale on eBay. Corey Hall is a freelance writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org