Lisa Lampanelli has a few announcements in her new special “Back to the Drawing Board,” which premieres on EPIX tonight at 10 p.m. EST. She's lost over 100 pounds and has kept it off for three years. She's mad that a known date rapist didn't make a move on her. And she's still unapologetic about and thrilled to reiterate everything — everything — she says.
The loudmouthed comic most known for her bawdy insults at Comedy Central's roasts is a consummate professional. She engages audiences, reels them in with honesty, then sandblasts them with grotesque jokes. We caught up with Lampanelli to discuss her joke-writing process, her heroes, and what she thinks of her old “Celebrity Apprentice” boss Donald Trump.
How does producing a standup special feel different than other times you perform?
The only thing different — because it literally feels no different, having done this so long — the only thing different is you have to be conscious of hair, makeup, and outfits, the crap I normally don't care about. You have to present yourself decently. You don't want to hit yourself in the face with the mic and smear lipstick on your face. No one likes that. Other than those physical things, everything is basically the same. I have the material loosely prepared. It's not fully scripted, at least in my case. So yeah, it feels just like another night of shows.
What does your set outline look like? Do you have certain jokes written out? Bullet points?
I definitely have bullet points. When you do a special, you've done those jokes hundreds of times before you tape it. So you know what's going to work, but you never want to forget a whole bit that you want to appear in the special. I'll look over notes and say, “Oh, definitely do the one about Whole Foods. Do the weight loss one.” Those are key points you want to make in the show. I kind of glance over them. It's almost like when actors memorize their lines and then sort of forget them. I just say, “I'm going to forget everything I know and just go out there and perform.” It's just letting go at the end.
Is all of your material in standup specials tested beforehand? Do you ever try new material at a taped event?
I definitely ad-lib during specials, even this one. Sometimes I look back and say, “Damn, I said that right off the cuff. That's cool.” If something happens the previous week, I might say, “Oh, I need to talk about that onstage Saturday and find the funny in it.” Then maybe three years later I'll be filming a special and that joke will have evolved the way it's supposed to, with punchlines and more jokes and everything.
How has your relationship with audiences evolved? Have you always liked talking with certain audience members?
I found about nine months in that I really liked to talk to the audience and have them talk back. I loved to ask them questions, interview them and stuff. Then I started to realize they aren't that interesting. I realized that what I wanted to say about them was more interesting than anything they could say. So I evolved that into roast-type humor, insult humor. I kept going from there.
Who do you consider your peers? I don't think you have an obvious “colleague” in comedy.
I really love Don Rickles. I've always loved him because he's the king of the insult comics. Onstage he has this undeniable warmth that I always thought I have. He can make fun of anybody for that reason. I've revered him. I love Howard Stern for his honesty, and that's why in this special I talk about myself, things I've gone through, what's going on with me. I thought, if Howard's not afraid to be honest, I'm not afraid either. Those are the two guys I always look to. Like, I hope I'm like them or can someday be like that.
There is a confessional element to the comedy in your new special. Is any of your work painful to write?
What was painful for me was writing a one-person show about my food issues. That was painful getting to the “Why do I really eat?” question. “What emotions cause me to eat and date the wrong guy?” Figuring out the destructive behavior. That was hard. But then I was able to see the humor in it, and parts of those explorations ended up in standup. It was cool. It was like, wow, I'm revealing something heavy about myself. There's a date rape joke in my special that comes from a writing session I did where I learned a guy I dated was a date rapist — and I found out later he was arrested. And it was so sad because he didn't rape me or anything. But it all comes from digging. My stories about divorce, stories about weight loss — they probably begin with a twinge of “Ugh, this is too real! I can't believe I'm talking about this!” But then I always find the humor in it without getting too dark. It's cleansing for me.
Who are your idols outside of comedy?
I idolize everyone who won't stop working on themselves. I have a friend of 30 years, and no matter what the world throws her, which is often horrendous stuff — two car accidents, totally being disabled, a near-fatal fall downstairs, losing disability insurance — no matter what happens, this bitch picks herself up and works on being positive. I'm just like, “Holy crap. I hardly have anything go wrong in my life and it takes me a week to recover from something.” You know what it is? Resilience. I like resilient people. People like Wayne Dyer, who had cancer, and he's this huge self-help guru. People who take the crap thrown at them and use it to help other people. People who make themselves of service I kind of admire.
Do you ever get sick of standup? Do you like watching other people perform, or is that tiring?
I'm never interested in anyone else's comedy. Honestly! I'm not. I don't care. It's just… fine? I'd rather listen to them on the radio. I love when Howard Stern does in-depth interviews with Jeff Ross, Amy Schumer, or Sarah Silverman and I hear about the inner-workings. But I'm not a standup fan at all. I don't watch it. I don't care about it. But just because I don't watch standup doesn't mean I don't like talking about myself. I never need a jolt of interest; I'm always interested in me.
You were once on “Celebrity Apprentice.” Donald Trump has evolved into a different type of celebrity since you were on his show. What do you think of him now?
Yeah, it's really odd that he really is running for president. Eventually he had to, right? He kept saying he was going to and never did. I'm not really surprised he's running. But aren't there are 11 or 12 guys running at this point? Republicans? I personally think he should win so he can pay off the national debt with a credit card, but if he doesn't win, I wouldn't be totally surprised. He does need to produce a birth certificate saying that what's on his head is actually real.
Finally: Do you have a proudest comedy moment?
You're going to think this is super gay, but I had a show at Radio City Music Hall and both my parents were still alive to see it. I lost my father unfortunately, and every time I watch “America's Got Talent” — they broadcast it from Radio City — I always think, thank God my dad was alive to be at Radio City. There's nothing like being at Radio City as the headliner. You sign this big letter book. The marquee says “Lisa Lampanelli — Sold Out.” I thought, “This is the thing I'm most proud of.” I'm also proud of going against the Westboro Baptist Church and got in their face about hating the gays.