Lean and Mean
By Liquid Todd
After toiling in obscurity on the stand-up circuit for a while, Lisa Lampanelli got her big break as a complete unknown (and the only female on the stage) at a Comedy Central roast of Chevy Chase and went on to make a name for herself as an insult comic at many a roast since. But now—after weathering a bumpy ride on the Celebrity Apprentice—the self-described “Queen of Mean” is ready to leave her comfort zone and is developing a one-woman show for Broadway. On her way to NYC she’ll be bringing her act all across the country but this time she promises a whole new experience.
“I’m doing standup but it’s a 100 percent new show from the last time I was there,” Lampanelli says. “Since then I did Celebrity Apprentice. I also did weight loss surgery and I lost 107 pounds. I got married. So, a lot’s happened since the last time I was there, so it’s a brand new hour and change of material.
The first time I really saw you, was on Celebrity Apprentice where—I have to say—you did not appear to be having a good time.
It’s harder than you’d ever think. I mean you work 20 hours a day, six days a week. You pretty much have to contend with people who are just f*cking stupid and I have no patience for anything like that. It’s a really tough show. It’s really hard. I mean if you take it seriously and want to win actual money for your charity—which I did.
And after putting up with all that crap, how much did you end up winning for your charity?
$120,000. After I took my 15 percent cut those fags got cured of AIDS!
Would you do it over again?
Oh God, no. It’s too hard. I’d rather just cut a check for the $130 grand myself.
Do you think it was a positive thing for your career at least, if not your sanity?
Oh no, it was positive, because I just got more well-known and the whole thing in this business is to reach more and more people. So that when you do something like this Broadway show that I’m going to do next year that people go “Oh I’ve heard of her and I want to go see her!” So yeah, overall it was definitely worth it.
Your upcoming Broadway show is called Skinny Bitch?
That’s the working title.
When does it start?
We’re work-shopping it around the country now and it’s tentatively scheduled for October 2014.
What are you trying to achieve with the show and where are you at right now with it?
Well, about three years ago, I got really bored with stand-up and I was like, wow, I can either do something new or I could just retire. So I got this idea that I wanted to do a show about my work with myself on co-dependency and food and weight trouble and decided to develop this show with Alan Zweibel, who wrote Billy Crystal’s one-person show for Broadway, so that kind of took off and producers liked the idea. And it’s great. It’s hilarious but it’s also about very real points so it’s really worth doing.
And you are working with director John Rando who has done a lot of stuff both off and on Broadway.
Yeah he’s ridiculous. It’s hard for me to believe that I’m working with him. He gets it. All it requires is for somebody to get you.
So how long is this show exactly? And it’s all you, right?
90 minutes. Nobody wants to see somebody standing up and just talking for more than 90 minutes. I’m sorry. I don’t care how famous you are, nobody cares. 90 minutes is the limit for anybody.
How close are you to being finished?
Well it’s never really finished until it hits Broadway and you do previews but it’s pretty much in the order its gonna be in. Let’s put it that way. It’s almost a ticket-ready show.
And you are doing your first scripted show—for the very first time—on Broadway. You’re not starting small here.
It’s going to start on Broadway first and then I’m going to tour it around the country after that.
That’s pretty huge. I assume this is your first time performing on the Great White Way?
Oh yeah. Definitely. I mean after that I would love to do other stuff. Like I want to do every corny old-lady part that exists. [She laughs.] But I’ll wait for that. This first.
I gotta give you credit here for thinking big because this seems to me like a huge project to take on.
You know what . . . [The new tour will be] exciting and different. It’s really bad to do something for twenty-something years and then be bored and say “I don’t know what to do,” so I’m really grateful that I even thought of it.
Most creative people get bored, and that isn’t such a bad thing. It forces you to get off your ass and try something you probably wouldn’t have had the guts to try when you were humming along.
Yeah. Enough is enough! You need a challenge.
How did you prepare for this show?
I did a summer conservatory at Yale, for drama. It was great. Seriously I didn’t know it was going to be as much work as it was because it was about 14 hours of classes a day, five days a week. It was as much work as Celebrity Apprentice was but there was a bigger payoff because I actually learned something and didn’t have to work with anybody stupid.
Did you see the James Franco Roast?
I loved it!
As someone who got famous for doing roasts you’re the perfect judge I think. What did you think was so good about it?
I don’t know. Me and Jimmy [Cannizzaro, her husband] watched it and we were like “why do we like this so much better?” It all harkened back to the Dean Martin roast where everybody was friends. That was how a roast should feel. So I thought it was ridiculously fun to watch.
You kind of had a breakout moment at a roast.
Oh yeah, the roasts were definitely the thing that put me on the map. And those are great but I don’t know if I really want to do them anymore but it doesn’t really matter.
You did the Trump roast and you really let the bastard have it.
Yeah I did Trump before Celebrity Apprentice so whether you like him or you don’t like him I think he showed a lot of balls by putting me on the show after I made fun of him.
What was the first roast you did when you were the totally unknown person on the lineup?
Chevy Chase was the first one. And that’s the best part of it. When nobody knows who you are nobody makes fun of you. I wasn’t even on the internet. That was my one free pass.
As an unknown talent how did you even get on the bill at the Chevy Chase roast?
I was a member of the Friar’s Club and they really pushed it. The Friar’s Club was the producer of the roasts back then. And they pushed Comedy Central to have me do it. And if it wasn’t for the Friar’s Club, trust me, I wouldn’t have been on that roast because Comedy Central was like “who is this?” and the Friar’s Club said “you have to do us one favor.” So luckily it went really well and I’ve been on most of them since then.
So the Friar’s Club believed in you.
Yes, and they still do because they ask me to do enough free shit for them now. I’m paying for it for the rest of my life.
Like A Boss
When you do your stand-up, how much of your show is scripted in advance and how much of it is just made up stuff up on the spot?
Well most of it starts onstage. I’ll record the show and listen to it after and punch it up if I hear a bit I like—but I would say about 90 percent of it starts on stage.
90 percent? That’s a lot!
Yup. I know, but it’s more fun for me.
That sounds a little scary to a guy like me who has never tried stand-up comedy before.
I guess, but I think if you’re confident and funny and they’re your fans they let you kind of develop stuff. It’s always going to end up funny. I mean, funny people hardly ever say anything and don’t know how to close it so I don’t really feel like it’s that much of a risk because those people are there to see you.
So after all you’ve accomplished in the last few years, what does Lisa Lampanelli still want to do?
Well this whole thing at Yale this summer inspired me to do some real acting so I talked to my director and after Broadway and the tour I’m doing to do some plays—some straight up drama—some Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller—something like that.
Do you ever see yourself directing something?
You never know! I love bossing people around!
Lisa Lampanelli at the Pechanga Resort and Casino, 45000 Pechanga Pkwy., Temecula, (877) 711-2946; www.pechanga.com. Fri, Oct. 18. 8pm. Tickets $35-$60.