Lisa Lampanelli has built a reputation as one of the sharpest-tongued comics in America, using a mix of shocking racially and sexually charged humor and insults to become known as the “Queen of Mean.”
Yet she has also revealed a softer side since losing more than 100 pounds via gastric bypass surgery in 2012. Now, she’s exploring issues of female body image and weight loss in an upcoming off-Broadway play she co-wrote and stars in called “Stuffed: A Big-Boned, Skinny-Ass, All-You-Can-Laugh New Play” and a new podcast called “Get Stuffed with Lisa Lampanelli,” which launches Sept. 13 on iTunes.
Her fans need not worry, however, as Lampanelli believes her new projects have enabled her to get even wilder in her standup act, which she will be bringing to The Rose nightclub in Pasadena on Saturday.
“I think the whole key is balance, because the nicer I am offstage, the meaner I can be onstage and people basically know it’s an act,” says Lampanelli. “I can be 100 percent myself and use the 10 percent of my personality that gets the anger out onstage so that I don’t have to be a mental patient off it. It’s made me sharper since I’m having fun up there and not taking it out on people in my real life.”
Lampanelli, 56, grew up attending Catholic schools in Connecticut before studying journalism at Boston College and Syracuse University. She originally covered the rock music world for magazines including “Spy” and “Rolling Stone,” but shifted to standup in the early 1990s.
Her breakthrough came in 2002, when she delivered a devastating comedic takedown of Chevy Chase at his New York Friars’ Club roast. She quickly became a star on Comedy Central roasts of other celebrities ranging from rapper Flavor Flav to Donald Trump, whom she gained insights about while competing on his reality show “The Apprentice” in 2005.
“I got calls from tons of newspapers and online sites asking if he had been inappropriate with women or said untoward things on ‘The Apprentice,’ but he didn’t,” she recalls. “He did like complimenting other women, but I was off his radar because I was still overweight and the fact I was over his preferred age range. To him, I was just one of the guys.”
Lampanelli has managed to survive the political correctness movement that has caused other comics to struggle by avoiding the college and corporate comedy markets because they would be “inappropriate for my style.” She also believes that she has the same kind of innate likeability that enabled the king of insult comedy, Don Rickles, to thrive.
The decision to pursue bypass surgery came after a friend found success with the procedure. Lampanelli and her then-husband asked to visit the surgeon, who offered them a question that changed their lives.
“He asked how many people at 70 years old weigh as much as we weighed, and that’s hard to hear at 50 because you realize you might not even have 20 years left,” says Lampanelli. “I always had a fantasy of living to 90 to accomplish more, be a better person and enjoy life. It was a sentence I had to hear at the time, so I had the surgery and worked on myself emotionally so I don’t gain it back. It’s a struggle, but hopefully I’ll have the kind of life I’m hoping for.”
Lisa Lampanelli performs at 9 p.m. Saturday at the Rose, 245 E. Green St., Pasadena. Tickets are $48 to $88 plus fees. Call (888) 645-5006 or visit wheremusicmeetsthesoul.com.