On last night's Comedy Central roast of David Hasselhoff, Lisa Lampanelli, the "Queen of Mean," riffed on everything: the Gulf oil spill, Hasselhoff's "bloated liver," the Holocaust, Roger Ebert's cancer. And none of it, she maintains, crossed the line into tastelessness. We spoke with Lampanelli as she was prepping for the roast and brainstorming joke ideas, and she let us in on her roasting secrets, her so-called feud with Sandra Bernhard, and more. (Watch her set from last night after the jump.)
How far in advance do you finish your set?
It's usually in working stages right up to the last minute. This year, George Hamilton and Hulk Hogan are on it, and those are two prime targets. I'm like, Please God, don't let them back out. Usually at the last minute someone does — because I have all these awesome jokes about them, and sometimes they shit the bed.
Did you rent Baywatch for Hasselhoff research?
Baywatch sucks so bad. I didn't watch it the first time around, I'm sure not going to buy a DVD. But really, you just kind of find out the categories of what's most foolish about these people. With Hasselhoff, it's obviously the huge man-tits with chest hair, probably a lot about his crappy acting, obviously the hamburger video — that's huge. Wow, there's just so much with a guy like that. And I'm going first, thank God, so I won't have to be sweating too much.
That way you have the first go at topical stuff?
Yeah, if somebody makes a BP reference, if somebody makes a Kate Gosselin reference, anything that's of the moment, your joke, even if it's way different, it's just not going to be as funny. So you have to really hope you go soon so you don't have to kill yourself with rewriting when you're onstage, which is what I usually have to do. That sucks.
You mentioned the hamburger video, which is actually pretty sad. Is there stuff about Hasselhoff that's too tragic to joke about?
No, no. Who said it? I think it was Steve Allen who said, "Comedy is tragedy plus time." I think time has lapsed enough for us to make fun of the hamburger video. And Hoff is cool, man, because sometimes these roastees, they give you subjects that are off-limits. Like with Pam Anderson, when we roasted her, we weren't allowed to joke about the Hepatitis C thing. Joan Rivers, you weren't allowed to make fun of that dopey horse-faced daughter of hers. But Hasselhoff's like, nothing's off-limits, I can make fun of myself and that's cool.
You'd think people would probably have their kids be off-limits.
Joan Rivers just knows her daughter's a talentless twat, so I guess that's why she put her off-limits, 'cause the jokes abound. I mean, really, what's her talent? A dead father and a pain-in-the-ass mother. I guess that's a talent in itself.
Have you ever really offended someone?
I don't think so. Actually, I thought I had a feud going with Sandra Bernhard, because at one of the roasts she had given me the finger the whole time I was talking about her. I was saying really funny shit — 'cause she's a big old dyke. Richard Belzer was the emcee, so I was saying something about how his character's name is Mr. Munch, which is also Sandra Bernhard's nickname in high school. Also, like, "Wow, is she a big hairy dyke — but I won't make fun of her too much, 'cause she's the only one on the dais who can get chicks." Which is actually a compliment! So I thought I had a feud going with her, but then the other day on the "Howard Stern Show" she said that she finds me "lovely and talented," and she was just kind of uncomfortable with the roast format. So I guess I didn't really piss her off, I think she just didn't like sitting up there and getting made fun of. And who does?
So no one has gotten up during your set and left in a huff?
Not with me. I know Bea Arthur left the Pam Anderson roast really early, but it could have been because she was half dead, I don't know. I think she was pissed off because everyone was making jokes about how she had a dick. To me, I think that's a compliment, but what are you going to do?
So are you now a full-time celebrity skewerer?
Kind of, now that there's Twitter. Before, I didn't do celebrity stuff, 'cause Kathy Griffin did that, but now if you're going to make jokes on Twitter, you have to stay current. I'm obsessed with reality TV anyway — I use my knowledge of that stuff to make jokes on Twitter and Facebook to get more people to sign up to be fans.
Do you have dream roastees?
You'd think I'd be like, Oh, I'd love to roast someone that I hate, because so-and-so should see what it feels like. But the problem is that when you try to roast someone that you don't like, it comes off as mean. I'm an insult comic, but I only make fun of people that I like, and because it's so obvious there's no animosity, people can take a joke. But if you have me roast somebody like Rosie O'Donnell, or somebody who I think takes themselves too seriously, like Oprah, it would probably come off as too hateful. So I actually think friends are the best people to do.
How do you handle the last line of the roast?
What I do at the end is my patented fake sincere ending — it sounds like it's going to be sincere, but then you get one last jab in. For Gene Simmons, I said something like, "What do you call a man who's changed the face of music? What do you call a man who's written songs that rival most poetry? You call that man John Lennon, but he's dead, and all we have is this bloated fuck, Gene Simmons." You have to do something that makes them think you like them at the end, but you gotta jab them one last time, or else it comes off as so insincere.
But a lot of comedians chicken out, and end on an actual nice note.
I think they know they're going to have to look them in the eye at the after-party, so they think they have to end nicely. If they asked me to roast an enemy tomorrow, I'd probably say no. It's why I'm allowed to be an insult comic; just from my demeanor, you can tell I'm joking around.
How would you roast Mel Gibson?
Oh my God, that would actually be tough, because he's almost a parody of himself at this point. I'd do something like: First he pissed off the Jews, so he can't work in Hollywood. Then he said the N-word, so he can't even get a spot on BET. So he pretty much better bury his career next to where he wanted to bury his ex-girlfriend.