Known best for her scathing roasts and even dubbed "The Queen of Mean," Lisa Lampanelli has never been accused of being a nice person. Except by almost everyone she's ever worked with.
"I am absolutely aware that I am a softy offstage," Lampanelli said. "From what I heard, so is Rickles."
Lampanelli's comedy is anything but soft. In the tradition of Don Rickles, Lampanelli is a classic insult comic (her website is even insultcomic.com). Her act is brash, aggressive, and leaves no stone un-abused.
"It's no coincidence George Hamilton loves the sun. They were born in the same year," Lampanelli said during a roast. "The difference is the sun is actually a star."
Her "Queen of Mean" persona is how she landed on the Comedy Central Roasts, a huge boost for her career. The Friar's Club used to produce the roasts, and Lampanelli was known among its members for her insult comedy.
"The Friars pushed and pushed and Comedy Central finally agreed to put me on two weeks before the taping," Lampanelli said of the Chevy Chase roast, her TV debut. "It was the greatest thing that has ever happened to my career."
Even more amazing was that Lampanelli was at the Hugh Hefner roast the year before – as a member of the audience. Hard to imagine, since she's such a fixture on their dais now.
Her other big break was her association with the Howard Stern Show. Lampanelli's star has brightened by magnitudes due to her regular appearances with Stern, who's influence she's compared to that of Johnny Carson.
"Once Howard makes it known he likes you, his audience buys in and your popularity absolutely rises," Lampanelli said. "I have been the luckiest person ever since I have been associated with him."
My theory is that her warmth off-stage also has something to do with her success. It's why Howard Stern and the Friar's Club and so many others want to work with her, and encourage others to do the same.
In 2004, I ran into Lampanelli at the Hollywood Improv as a wide-eyed 25-year-old, overwhelmed by the glitz surrounding me during my first trip to LA. Though I'd only met her a few times before, Lampanelli immediately invited me over to her table and drove me from club to club the rest of the night, introducing me to everyone. Her kindness was infectious.
There was even a moment that night at the Comedy Store where a disheveled "comedian" approached Lampanelli, looking like he'd just gotten back from an audition for "Junkie #4." He introduced himself and asked if he could crash in her hotel room. Lampanelli wished him luck, encouraged him not to ask any other headliners the same question, and politely said no. She's nice, but she's not crazy.
The same altruism that led her to help me (and politely decline Junkie #4) also led her to one of the more inventive stands against the zealotous Westboro Baptist Church.
Known for their protests of military funerals and "God Hates Fags" signs, the WBC announced that they'd be picketing Lampanelli's show in Topeka, Kansas. Lampanelli promised to donate $1,000 to the Gay Men's Health Crisis for every protester that showed up. That night, the WBC inadvertently raised $50,000 for gay rights.
"We are more than one-dimensional," Lampanelli said of insult comics. "That was one of the most gratifying checks I've ever written."
What a softy.