Earlier this week I had the chance to interview Lisa Lampanelli, currently in town for tonight’s Planned Parenthood comedy benefit show “Planned Parenthood, I’m Here For You,’ which features, among others, Lampanelli, The Daily Show co-creator and co-founder of Air America Radio Lizz Winstead and Sandra Bernhard. In between my barely coherent interview questions, Lampanelli opened up about her upcoming stage show, the evolution of her comedy career and her advice for comics just getting started. Spoiler alert: that title pretty much sums it up.
So, what made you interested in doing the Planned Parenthood fundraiser tonight?
I always felt really comfortable going there for advice. Even after I started making decent money and I could afford to go [somewhere else], they charge on a sliding scale. I had a doctor there who I really loved, and everyone was always so open; there’s a lot of heart and a lot of warmth to the place. I just remember when I didn’t have any money when I was a struggling comic, I went there for, you know, just your regular yearly checkups and things like that. And when Lizz Winstead mentioned to me that she’s doing the benefit, you know, it’s such a great place to inform people. They sit down with you and talk with you about every single thing, every choice you have. I just felt that this is something we have to keep going and it’s the least I can do after the guidance they gave me.
Yeah, personally I took a job without health insurance too, and I feel like Planned Parenthood is one of those things people take for granted until they need it. Then it’s like, oh right, that’s why this service exists in the first place.
A: It’s so funny, people are like, ‘They’re so horrible because they promote abortion!” and it’s like, no, they are giving you information to make your own informed decision. Every time I went there it’s because, you know, I didn’t have enough money to save up to go to an actual doctor. They do more than a good job, and you’re surrounded by women who just get it.
When I was preparing questions, I was re-reading about how you donated money to Gay Men’s Health Crisis after the Westboro Baptist Church picketed your show in Topeka, Kansas. Do you think doing things like publicly supporting the causes you believe in is a deliberate choice, or is it like comedy, in as much as you wouldn’t be able to not say or do something?
I think you eventually have to do these kinds of things. If you’re a successful person, I know this sounds so cliche, but you have to give back. For us, that’s through comedy. We’re not going to go and put on some serious show, where it’s focused on the subject matter. It’s a funny show to raise money for a good cause. For the GMHC, I just felt like these hateful people of the Westboro Baptist Church are just so evil that I had to counteract the hate with something. You can’t just sit there for the rest of your life. Comics are so bad with how self-centered we are, we have to do something.
I also wanted to ask about your upcoming one-person show. Do you think doing a show like this is how you see your comedy evolving, or do you mainly see it as a new format for the voice you already have?
I think it’s a little of both. In December, I got really bored. I was like, you know, I’ve been doing the same thing for a while, there’s not much more I can do in comedy that I ever had as a goal. I had an HBO special, three other specials, and the roasts, and Howard Stern, which I love. There’s not much more once you start selling out Radio City, so you think, what’s a bigger venue? I wasn’t challenged anymore. So I really wanted to do something that makes people see a different side of me. At the same time, I did a show on the radio, a really long hour-long show on Sirius [Unmasked with Ron Bennington] about how our minds work and how comics really are, and people were like, ‘Oh, I wasn’t a fan before, but now I really get you.’ I thought, oh, just by showing who you are, people are going to understand you more and not resist it. I felt like the time was right, and it was just fun, as opposed to ‘Ugh, just another day of the same thing, over and over.’
Yeah, I feel like recently, say with Maron Maron and WTF (Lisa’s episode aired Monday), people are very interested in how comedians see their craft. So it’s a good example of saying, this is the next step in your evolution, because the alternative is just becoming bored with it.
I know, I know. Even Marc, that podcast is such an outlet for him. My episode that started airing yesterday, on Twitter people have been saying, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you had that side to you,’ because I talk about different insecurities. I think people want to know. There are always going to be those hard-core people who are like, ‘Dude, are you getting soft on us?’ And you know…we don’t have any choice whether we’re going to be funny. We’re going to be funny no matter what. The one-person show is going to be hilarious, but it will have moments where people will say, ‘Well, I didn’t know that. That’s really cool.’ We’re being careful not to be too self-serious. Have the moment, then move on and be funny.
Do you think your relationship with comedy has changed over time, or do still feel like you get the same things out of it that you did before? Do you think the reason you do comedy has changed? I know that’s a vague question.
I feel like, I set out to be a comic, not get a TV show. That was never the goal. I know a lot of people just want to be in entertainment, or think,’Hey, stand-up is a great way to get my character out there and someone will develop a show around it.’ While we did pursue TV shows, I get now why it didn’t happen, because it wasn’t the right thing. But when I started, I just wanted to do just [stand-up] and I always thought it was enough. After 21 years, my next step is this stage show. I still get out of it what I got out of it years ago. It’s almost like now it’s a really, really fun day job, and the Broadway show is my little dream. Which seems to be coming true.
Finally, do you have any suggestions for comedians who are coming up now? Anything you wish someone had said to you?
A: Yeah. Actually, I did this because I’m a hard worker anyway, but comics now are such freaking babies. Stop being a baby. If they call you on a Wednesday and say, can you come to Florida for $1,000 for five shows, you say yes and you get in the car. You say, yeah, I could do eight shows and get a little bit of money for gas. It seems like everyone now is a baby who wants a show right away. They want to be performing in the clubs in New York right away. It’s really hard. You should be driving those long-distances and sleeping in your car. You should be running around to eight spots in the city in a night. People have got to know that it’s a lot of hard work. Don’t sign up for it unless you’re willing to do it.