I have a very distinct memory of seeing Lisa Lampanelli perform. It wasn’t one of her specials, nor was it a live stand-up show. Her wonderfully politically incorrect words first touched my ears via the Comedy Central Roast of Pamela Anderson in 2005. She’d been in the middle of making a rather interesting observation about Andy Dick’s penchant for taste-testing Popsicles when she suddenly segued into Courtney Love. A longtime Nirvana fan, I was immediately hooked.
Lampanelli’s popularity earned her subsequent roast appearances, as well as four comedy specials. Her fifth, Back to the Drawing Board, details her life since undergoing gastric-sleeve surgery, the subsequent post-surgery weight loss, and her divorce from Jimmy “Big Balls” Cannizzaro (her words, not mine). Back to the Drawing Board premieres on EPIX on Friday, June 26. We spent some time talking about her dog, Parker (which she named after Sarah-Jessica Parker), PC culture, and her background in journalism, among other things.
When you started preparing the new hour, was it difficult to bring up personal subjects like divorce and weight loss, or was it just another subject to do comedy about?
Well, I’ve always been an open book. If Howard Stern, who is just the greatest radio host of all time, can get out there and talk about his real life the way he does, I was always inspired by that. So I was like, “You know what? I’m just going to tell the truth.” So right after the weight-loss surgery, Jimmy and I went on TV with Doctor Oz and talked about it. Why hold it back? So yeah, the whole special is more of an effort to be real, tell the truth, tell about real things people have been asking about. The jokes just sort of write themselves from there. I like building on what’s really going on.
It’s refreshing when you talk about your divorce, because you don’t go on stage and say, “I got divorced, I hate marriage,” and tell the usual anti-love jokes.
I hate that. I love marriage. I’d get married a few more times. Really, I just love weddings. I’m a terrible wife with all my faults and everything, but I do love the idea of it. So, by the time I work all my kinks out, if I’m 80 and still looking for love, I may do it again.
Summer is the time of weddings. I’ve been to two already, and have a few more lined up, but only as a spectator.
It’s so much fun! And I just love that, hopefully gay marriage will pass (the Supreme Court). It’ll be fantastic! Let’s hope for the best so that everybody will find what they’re looking for.
How long have you been shaping the hour for the new special?
About nine months ago, I thought I really liked the stuff I was working out, the divorce, the weight loss, the food issues. I just do it when the hour seems right. I don’t have projected goals. I don’t feel like I have to do one of these every five years. Just when I thought the hour seems like a lot fun, and that people would like to hear this stuff.
It seems like you really enjoyed working with EPIX.
They’re great! Honestly, they don’t make you edit anything. They don’t take anything out. They’re not scaredy cats about material. It’s pretty cool. I love that they don’t have this censoring mentality. Also, they have fun social-media ideas. They’re young, hip and everything I’m not.
I watched Back to the Drawing Board the other night and my roommate overheard when you referenced Parker with the Sarah Jessica Parker joke. He didn’t know about the website that compares her to horses, so I showed it to him.
Oh my God, that website is so horribly great! I just love it. It’s my favorite.
Did you just recently discover that? Because I know it’s been around for a while.
It’s been around forever. I just couldn’t believe people didn’t think it really exists. I’m like, “No, go home and look for it. It’s there!”
The first time I ever saw you perform was on Comedy Central’s Roast of Pamela Anderson. You were telling some jokes about Courtney Love, and my roommate and I were huge Nirvana fans. We immediately loved you for it.
Thank God for Courtney Love, or I wouldn’t have much of a career. It got out what a mental case she was on that roast, so everybody watched it and saw me. I have Courtney Love to thank for selling tickets, which is great.
You give the impression you don’t care what others think. But now “PC culture” is a hot topic of conversation, with people like Jerry Seinfeld criticizing it on national television. Do you get a lot of flak for your jokes anymore now than you did before?
I think people just expect that from me, so I don’t really get a lot of hate about it. All I can say about Seinfeld is, “Welcome to my world, b*tch!” I’ve been doing it for 25 years. What, did he make fun of a Q-tip? Somebody get mad because they clean their ear with something else? It’s not like the guy is pushing the envelope. It’s great that it brought it to the forefront. They weren’t listening to me and Jim Norton b*tch about it, but they listen to Seinfeld b*tch about it. So at least it got attention, showing people that it’s all getting out of hand and a little ridiculous. But I never let it affect me because I just do what I do, and if people don’t like it, they don’t have to come see me. I’ll make a living.
Right. Suddenly, it’s getting talked about more.
Because it’s him! Which is great, because if you see how it affects a mostly safe comic, then you go, “Oh boy, these other guys must be affected too.” That’s kind of cool, in a way.
It’s a nice contrast though. Not because you don’t care, but because it doesn’t affect you as much. Comics like you and Norton are able to make that kind of material really funny.
I don’t think you can care. I think you can only care that it’s humorous to people, and maybe takes them out of their own heads for an hour or so, but yeah. I think it’s really important to just go, “Yeah, it’s my show and I get to do what I want to do.” If we start caring about what everybody thinks, we’re going to be so watered down.
I hear you’re working on a play?
Yes, I’m writing a play based on my one-person show. It’s called Fat Girls, Interrupted, and it’s about dealing with any kind of eating, weight and body-image issues from the perspective of four women sitting on stage and talking. Sort of a Vagina Monologues-style show. I’m writing that now, and it’s in the second draft. Hopefully it can be out next year in the fall. It’s super funny, but it also has a lot of great revelations about what people go through with ridiculous standards of beauty. I’m really excited about it.
People mostly know you for your stand-up comedy and your roasts, but you have a journalism background and you’ve dabbled in other things.
It’s nice to do stuff that’s outside the box, where people are like, “I didn’t know she did that!” I’m just bringing to the forefront more what I really am about.
Does that energize you?
Yeah, it almost seems like the five days of the week that I’m not working — Sunday through Thursday — I can be calm, relax and work on my issues. Then I’m totally geared up for the Friday-Saturday shows because there’s been so much annoying stuff that I haven’t let get to me during the week, that it’s gotta come out somewhere. The audience gets the benefit of that, and so do I, when it comes to the paycheck.
How’s your dog, Parker, doing, by the way?
He’s so good! He’s the best dog in the world.
Do you get to take him on the road?
I used to take him on the road, but he just doesn’t like flying, and he ends up just being a little b*tch. So I said, “You know what? Let’s leave him with his favorite aunt and uncle.” So, he stays there instead.
Yeah, he has like three homes now.
Back to the Drawing Board premieres Friday, June 26 on EPIX at 10 p.m. EST. Check it out here when it becomes available. Until then, here’s a clip from the show.
(This interview was edited and condensed.)