You may know Lisa Lampanelli from her standup routine, from her bold-and-brazen presence at Comedy Central Roasts, or from her roles in quite a few blockbuster comedies. Her comedy is tough, unapologetic, and doesn’t pull any punches — but what else would you expect from comedy’s self-proclaimed "Lovable Queen of Mean"?
Lisa, however, has now entered a new realm of art and writing: Off-Broadway theater. In her play, Stuffed, she takes on issues of food, body image, identity, and gender, incorporating her no-holds-barred approach when delving into the depths of what it is to be a woman with food and body image issue in America today.
We had the privilege of interviewing Lisa, where we talked about her play, being a woman in comedy, being a woman in the world, and what she believes are the limits to comedy and art.
Tell me about Stuffed. How did this project come about, and what was sort of the journey you took to write and produce it?
I was interested in doing a theater piece, and at first it was a one-person show for those first few years, and I found it didn’t say enough about what I was interested in — which was the relationship with women and food. I decided to make it into a four-actress play that focuses on women with four different types of eating problems.
This is a play that deals with body image, body dysmorphia and food issues — what was that like to write about?
I’ve had a weight struggle from the time I was eighteen and I went away to college. It was the first time I started using food emotionally; I was lonely and I just felt like I really didn’t have anything other than food.
When I turned 50 I decided to have gastric sleeve surgery. I was like, “I’m just settling this once and for all, and I’m going to then work on the emotions that made me eat.”
That whole struggle seemed to me something that a lot of women have, and a lot of men have. I thought I was the only one struggling, and here is everybody struggling, and it makes people feel like they’re less alone.
So, I know that at least one of the play’s four characters is based on and played by you. So to what extent, going into this, did you intend it to by autobiographical?
My character is 100% me. Every word that’s said about me is true. I literally went into the costume designer and I said, “this is what I wear every day, this is the kind of clothes I wear, this is how I do my hair.” The other three girls I based on interviews I did. I picked three types of people: anorexic/bulimic is one; thin girl, who can’t gain weight no matter what she does; and a content big girl, a very confident overweight woman. She is based on a very real friend of mine, and I have met in my entire life maybe two people who really have that inner confidence that made them like themselves however much they weigh.
How does comedy play into a piece like this? I know that this is a very serious topic and it’s parsing through some very difficult things, but to what extent is that involved?
Well, I would say the show is about 65/35 comedy. You cannot preach at people — you can’t be up there and make people feel like your doing a speech or a platitude. Humor just comes out in a whole lot of people. My character is a funny character, the anorexic girl says really funny things, the big girl who likes herself is funny. But you can’t force the humor in something like this. You write the play from a serious angle and you trust that the funniness and humor will come out when you’re doing rewrites. Because if you try to make the play funny it’s not gonna be funny — it’s just gonna look forced.
There are lot of people who say that comedy is more inherently political now and a lot of people who say that social media has affected comedy. What do you think of the culture that is critical of “non-PC" jokes”?
Well, I mean I don’t usually pay attention to anybody’s rules but mine, because I just don’t answer to anybody — but I’m lucky enough that I don’t work on TV where I can’t be fired. I don’t usually pay attention to any of it, honestly. I don’t care. I don’t give it another thought. It doesn’t effect me in the least, and you know if it doesn’t effect me then I’m like not gonna worry about any of this. Let people do what they need to do, but those are my rules that I adhere to: that I only answer to myself.
I know you are called the "Queen of Mean," I don’t know if you like that label.
Being a comedian, you have to distinguish yourself in some way, and I was always an insult comic, but I put out a comedy album titled Lovable Queen of Mean because no one ever really got mad at me. It’s more where people come away saying, “we’re all on the same page, we’re all on the same playing field because she made fun of all of us.”
What is the relationship between being a female comedian, particularly one who is criticized for her body, and being an insult comic?
Well, there’s a story in my play that kind of kicks off my character’s arc [that] is about a heckle that I received that turned me into an insult comic. When you start as a comic, you never know where you’re going to end up. This heckle result[ed] in me being prepared to call people on that, to tell people off if they attack me.
Is it fun to get heckled and get called terrible things? Is it fun to see on social media people saying nasty things? No. But guess what — it’s meant to build your character. It builds who you are and makes you more human to say “wow that hurt my feelings.” To see how those things do and don’t hurt your feelings, so you can use those rules with other people when you’re doing this type of comedy. So I am kind of grateful for every experience. Now I’m like, “Oh yeah. I’m glad that guy did that to me or else I wouldn’t be here today able to go on stage.”
So I was wondering if you could talk about to what extent you think misogyny affects the comedy community. You talk a lot about body image and women being put down for their bodies in comedy, and I was wondering what you thought about that?
I don’t think I’ve ever been a victim of people judging me as a woman as a comic. I think I’ve done better than a lot of men comics because I stand out more because I’m a female who does male comedy. So, like any woman who is criticized for how they look - address it. Talk about it. Just freakin’ don’t complain about it. Go out there and do a joke about it. Do a song about it.
I feel bad for any woman who was yelled at or called names, or made to feel bad about themselves and I hope they can handle it. Because it’s a reality, and we gotta live with it and hopefully make it better by not doing it to each other. Because, by the way, women, why don’t you stop calling people fat on the street. When you’re giggling about some girl’s ass on the street — how ‘bout that gal?
So then — is there any group and/or person that you wouldn’t make a joke about? And if so, why?
I make jokes about everybody. Comics are meant to make jokes about everything and have no line. I can make fun of a person with special needs, I can make fun of a person who is any race, creed, or color. I don’t think anybody’s necessarily above anything. And I think it makes people feel included, and if they don’t get that then that’s fine. You know I never get mad at people who don’t like my comedy, I just go “well that’s okay — there’s plenty of other people to go see.” I think that’s how we have to live life — it’s that we’re not, you know, gonna be everybody’s cup of tea, so we can’t expect just everybody to love us unconditionally — you have parents for that.
You can see Stuffed at the Woman’s Project Theater in New York City, where its run has been extended through November 13th. Buy tickets here.
Image Credit: Lisa Lampanelli's Facebook
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I'm a recent Bard grad livin large and in charge! I write and perform comedy (articles, standup, all that jazz). I'm writing a tv pilot right now about a cardiologist who is unlucky in affairs of the heart it's called "How to Get Away with Murmur."