Lisa Lampanelli likes what she sees in the mirror these days. The self-described Queen of Mean still wields her trademark insults during her standup act, but off stage she’s become a kindler, gentler gal.
“My whole life’s changed,” Lampanelli told me during a recent phone interview. “It just feels like I’m doing it all for a second time but with the knowledge of an old broad.”
Lampanelli has shed 107 pounds since having gastric sleeve surgery in 2012 and has worked hard to keep the weight off for three years. She also had her hair cut and dyed platinum blonde.
The changes aren’t just physical. In the past year, the now 53-year-old comic suffered the loss of her father and finalized an amicable divorce from Jimmy Cannizzaro. She admits she wasn’t a great wife and blames her anger issues as part of the problem.
The “exhausting” year inspired her to work harder in therapy to overcome anger problems, emotional eating and even self-hatred, she said, and now she is happier than she has been in a long time.
“It honestly feels like I’m 19. I have not felt this kind of energy in a long time,” she said. “Because 100-something pounds is a lot to drag around. And also I just dragged around so much self-hate and so much distain for how I looked and felt that I couldn’t really get past it. That’s a heaviness that kind of settles in emotionally.
“So luckily I’m working on the emotional stuff to lift that heaviness, and the weight had to go first in my case.”
Lampanelli makes light of her issues onstage during her current tour and in her new standup special, “Back to the Drawing Board,” reairing at 10:30 p.m. July 31 on EPIX. (Click here for Lisa Lampanelli tour dates.)
She got personal in our discussion as well, talking about her divorce, her dad and how her new haircut was the result of a “classic bitch move.”
Tell me a little bit about getting more personal in your act. What made you decide to do that?
I don’t think it was even a real conscious decision; just so much had gone on in the past few years. I have had people tweeting me questions about my life for the past three years about the divorce and the surgery and about my weight struggles over all these years because, you know, I’ve been up and down for 32 years since I went to college.
I’m like, you know what, there’s nothing wrong with telling the truth. The more I try to hide anything it just makes me feel bad about myself. It feels so good to just tell the stories and have fun with it and laugh at myself and my own faults and my bad habits that I just figured, “Hey, I got no choice, just talk to the people”
And I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but I don’t think so,that the minute I started doing that I started getting standing ovations again and I go I think that’s the sign from the universe that I’m doing the right thing because people jump up when you start really being real and it felt great. Again, I’m not using them for therapy, I’m writing bits with punch lines about myself but I just think they sense that I’m telling them the truth and it feels really good.
Are you a kinder and gentler Lisa now?
You saw the special! I would say not. Oh my gosh that’s the problem, it’s like I save all my anger and craziness for when I’m on stage, but I would say in real life I definitely have a better handle on my temper. Thank God or I would be banned from every hotel.
I have a better handle on my emotionality, meaning I cry when I need to and I don’t cry when I shouldn’t.Yeah, it really feels like in my personal life it feels much more even keel on a daily basis, but on stage, I’m sorry just two times a week I can’t help but go insane.
You have to have an outlet, right?
You know what, I think as long as I’m getting paid for it, it seems like a healthy outlet.
You don’t want to be walking down the streets of New York kicking people’s dogs or anything.
Oh, are you kidding? That was my life. Welcome to my world in the past. Now it’s just like, “Oh hi everybody.”
You’ve always dealt with the issues of race, sexuality and sex, why do you think it’s important to bring those conversations into comedy?
I always just had fun with it because I always go, “Anything somebody tells me I can’t talk about I’m going to [talk about].” Like you tell me not to say a certain word I’m going to say it. I think that goes to what a lot of edgy comics do, which is you take subjects that are kind of painful for people, like rape or AIDS or cancer or death, and …you shine a little light on it and see that it’s not that bad after all. And if it is that bad, which a lot of these things are, at least we can lighten up, laugh and forget for a minute how bad the world is.
So I think that’s kind of our job as comics. We’re not meant to sit there and give a sermon about it, we’re not meant to moan it, were meant to make people sort of lighten up a little.
Do you feel that the political correctness movement has sort of ruined standup?
Not in my case because obviously I do what I do. The good thing about me is I’m not fireable. Like I’m self-employed. I kind of go from city to city, work theaters and no one has banned me for my material yet. In 25 years I’ve never been banned because of my material. So no, it hasn’t hurt my career.
Has any backlash that you’ve faced has ever altered anything for you?
It hasn’t altered it, but it’s hurt my feelings definitely. Because I always felt like my intentions were always to bring people together and connect people to each other and me connect to the audience, and then I’m like, “Oh my God you misunderstood or you kind of took me seriously?”
I didn’t know we took comedy seriously and some people do. I just have to ignore those people because if I let it hurt my feelings then I would be sad at least half the time because there’s always somebody who doesn’t get it. … I know my intention is to bring people together and we all just have to hug it out at the end and if they don’t get it that’s fine. They can go see somebody else.
I liked in the special when you talked about how there’s always the one guy at every show who has his arms crossed and simply won’t laugh.
Oh my God. That used to be true more years ago because men always thought women weren’t funny, but now thank God that there have been really good women comics coming up like Whitney Cummings and Amy Schumer and there’s always been classics like Joan Rivers, Kathy Griffin, people like that, Sarah Silverman, now men are starting to get on board and go, “These bitches is funny too.”
Years ago, man, guys used to just go, “Oh my wife dragged me here.” Now with my show it’s more the men drag their wives to see me because I’m of more kind of a guy comic. So yeah, it’s pretty funny the difference over the years.
Do you think sometimes men are threatened by just the stuff you talk about and how honestly you talk about it?
Maybe, but those are wimps anyway and you don’t want to kind of be friends with those wimpy guys anyway. But I know for a fact straight guys, I definitely have a strong gay following thankfully, but straight guys really seem to come out a lot for me and I like that because wow, that’s very rare for a woman comic to attract a straight male audience and it feels good.
Do you use your shows as a dating service?
No, not anymore. Now that I’m 53 nobody wants to take a look at me. I’m getting kind of pissed off. It’s like I lose 107 pounds and I’m sitting here going, “Really, no dates? Really is that what we’re doing?” But at least I make people laugh so I can live alone with my little dog and it’s OK.
What do you do to get some me time these days?
I have tons of me time because I refuse to do anything I don’t want to do anymore. I used to go to different events and go to casting meetings and things like that, even though I never wanted to be famous and be at events and I never wanted to be photographed on a red carpet, I never wanted to be an actor.
I used to do things because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do in the career. And once I decided I really just wanted to do standup, write this play I’m writing and do my thing and have a life, I started saying no to tons of stuff and it was kind of freeing that I honestly have so much free time and I love it.
Michael Ian Black, the famous comedian said, “You are living a dream, only you are living someone else’s dream.”… He was right. I was going on these calls and these things that I didn’t want. So now basically, other than press all week I’m with family or friends or hanging out and just doing kind of Lisa stuff.
I go on a lot of spiritual retreats and I work on myself and I read a ton. But I do nothing. Friday and Saturday is the only time I work. I love it.
What word would you use to describe say the last year of your life?
Exhausting, inspiring and life changing. The day my father died everything just changed, like my entire life changed because I had been able to keep him in his home and I had caretakers for him and I brought him every single meal. But when he died May of 2014 I really missed the idea of doing service for people because I just loved feeling useful.
So I shifted the comedy to service of the audience instead of service for myself and that was the beginning of the standing Os—when I started feeling like I’m here for you; you’re not here for me. So even though it was exhausting to go through something like that, it definitely was the most inspiring year of my life.
Was that part of the inspiration for the title of the special, “Back to the Drawing Board?”
Exactly. It’s back to basis. I weigh less than what I did in high school; I’m single once again, by the grace of God with an amicable divorce where we’re still very good friends and I’m like a new person. … So yeah, we’re back to the basics but hey we can do it better this time around.
You say in the special you’re not really good in bed. That shocks me after all the years of hearing you talk about your love for black men.
I know! And it was all such exaggerations; I guess the roasts we exaggerate everything. I’ll give you the big scoop, I had one black boyfriend for three-and-a-half years. His name was Darrell and he’s a nice guy and we broke up and I won’t say why because it was definitely both of our faults, although I didn’t cheat, but I wasn’t exactly emotionally available.
I would say I just kind of spun that into like a big joke and all this, but they are hot. I will admit they’re really sexy. But no, I’m not good [in bed] because I really find it very threatening and hard to be really intimate and vulnerable with someone for real. Is that something I’ll work on for future relationships? Yeah if I can. But I’m working on so much now as far as work on myself that that’s down the road. Maybe when I’m 70 I’ll find the man of my dreams and be able to do that. I can still get it on at 70. The Golden Girls did.
That’s right. Don’t you think though that the more you work on yourself and work on your self-esteem issues you’ll beable to open up to other people?
Absolutely. That’s why it’s all going to be in a row. It can’t be hey get in a relationship and then open up, it has to be open up to me; work on me; like me enough to let you like me. So that’s sort of how it’s going to have to go.
I think I finally have it in the right order—Jimmy didn’t stand a chance because I didn’t like me enough to be open to him. That’s why it takes two people to have a failed marriage and I definitely was 50 percent of that.
Happy haircut, by the way. Love it. What made you change it so drastically?
Oh my God, classic bitch move. About six months before I told Jimmy I wanted out I knew he hated short hair so I go, “Oh that will make him want to get a divorce and he’ll bring it up.”
So you know women, we try to get men to like to do things [they don’t like] and break up with us so we don’t have to be brave. So I got the hair all chopped off and I went home thinking he’d be like, “Oh that’s the last straw. Your hair sucks.” And he’s like, “Oh my God it looks so cute. I love it.” And I’m like, “God dammit. Now I have to be honest and actually not be a little bitch about it.”
So it was basically a dick move on my part. But I ended up loving it because it’s easy and it makes me feel a little younger and it’s definitely a good punch line for some material, too.
Is it difficult to keep all that weight off for you?
Yes, because emotional eating is difficult for most people who have had weight issues. Most of it’s like you don’t gain weight because you love food, you gain weight because you eat out of feelings. So every day I sort of think, “Girl OK, am I physically hungry or emotionally hungry?”
I only try to eat when it’s a physical need. I doubt I would gain the weight back very quickly but if I really wanted to sabotage myself I could. So yeah it’s a daily process. I think it will be for the rest of my life, but I think that’s one of my little burdens. Everybody has their little cross to bear and if I can keep this one under control like I have for three years I’ll just be happy.
I love that you talk about going to yoga and going to the retreats and everything and then you turn around and just make fun of everything about them.
Well, that’s what’s funny is, I’ve grown so much from going to those. After the first time I went my head was spinning like, “What the hell is this crap?”
I actually went to my first one just to get away. I was like, “Oh this will be great. It will be like a spa. I’ll watch TV. I’ll relax. I’ll get a massage.”
It was this hard-core yoga joint where honestly that’s all they did. There was nothing else to do. So after my first one I go, “OK, maybe you got to get with the program.”
But I do love poking fun at that spirituality movement because even though I’m so into it and I’ve gone to a retreat every month for the last year, there’s a lot of fodder in there. There’s a lot that those people can be made to laugh at. It’s good.
Your tour goes through to next year but what will be seeing next from the new and improved you?
Well, I’m writing a play based on my one person show and it’s called “Fat Girls Interrupted” and it’s four women, sort of a “Vagina Monologues” style show where they have four different women talking about themselves and their issues, but the issue we’ll focus on are weight, body image, anything to do with physical appearance.
I love that idea because I would venture to say 99 percent of the people I’ve met have some self-hate about their physicality. And it’s not just gay men and women who feel that way. I know a lot of straight men who have manarexia, who have body dysmorphia, who have body problems and don’t see themselves clearly.
I’m writing that and we’re hopefully going to have that off-Broadway in 2016. So I’m like really psyched for that because it will have some meaning to it. I think it will help some people but also make them laugh their ass off about a heavy issue because those issues are big, but we have to lighten up about them.
I think you’re right that most people have some kind of issue that they hate about themselves.
It never ends, but at least I’ll bring it into the light. I was so ashamed of [my issues] and I’m like, I’m not ashamed [anymore]. Who cares? What do I got to lose? I’m 53, I might as well come out with it all now.