Interview: It's nice to be the 'Queen of Mean'

Lisa Lampanelli

Comedian Lisa Lampanelli attends the Henri Bendel holiday window unveiling at Henri Bendel on Nov. 15, 2012 in New York City (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)

We haven’t seen the last of Lisa Lampanelli on the Comedy Central Roasts, not according to the “Queen of Mean” herself.

Lampanelli, the 51-year-old insult comic who performs Saturday at the Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet, said she simply skipped the last two Comedy Central Roasts (which “honored” Charlie Sheen in 2011 and Roseanne Barr in 2012) because she has become more selective about who she skewers. She insisted she would return for the right honoree.

“It’s a lot of work,” Lampanelli said over the phone Monday. “I kind of have a gut feeling which ones will be widely viewed and which ones won’t. The Roseanne one wasn’t good or very well-liked. I didn’t do the Charlie Sheen one because part of me felt like I would be making fun of someone who is unstable, like Gary Busey on ‘The Apprentice’ — someone who is not all there. That wasn’t for me.”

Some would argue Flavor Flav fits the same description, but that didn’t stop Lampanelli from participating in the 2007 roast of the diminutive Public Enemy hype man and joking, “If Flavor Flav was any smaller and darker, Brad and Angelina would try to adopt him” and “Dude, enough with the clock. You can take it off. You haven’t had to be anywhere in 13 years.”

Still, after years of show-stealing performances, Lampanelli has earned the right to pick and choose her targets. And it’s not like she completely turned her back on the genre. She did take part in the Friars Club’s roast of Betty White in 2012, which wasn’t televised. She’s well aware of the benefits of a memorable performance and credits the roasts for giving her career a boost, much like they did, more recently, for comedians Whitney Cummings and Amy Schumer.

“Ticket sales will get higher the day after roasts,” Lampanelli said. “I remember after the Pamela Anderson roast being told ‘You’re sold out — you can add two more shows.’ My (shows) never sold out. The roasts definitely gave me a huge bump, as did appearing on ‘Howard Stern.’”

Lampanelli also saw her profile rise thanks to her appearance on NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” where she feuded with fellow contestant and former Miss Universe Dayana Mendoza, among others. Saturday’s audience in Joliet can expect to hear about her experience on the Donald Trump-hosted reality show (and her dramatic weight loss thanks to gastric sleeve surgery).

Just don’t expect Lampanelli to rave about reality TV.

She said she used to watch but is now sick of it, in part because she now knows what goes on behind the scenes. Lampanelli and her husband filmed a pilot for a reality show of their own for the Logo TV network that opened her eyes to just how staged the genre can be. The pilot wasn’t picked up.

“Thank God,” Lampanelli said. “It exposes you too much. I’m not a private person, I like hanging out and talking to fans. But my life isn’t so interesting that you want to see the inside of it. I don’t think it was right for us. We don’t fight enough. They tried to create drama. A producer said, ‘You’ve got to pretend to be more angry at him.’ ‘But I’m not.’ It might have disrupted a decent relationship.”

If you’re wondering why an LGBT-focused TV network wanted a reality show about a straight couple, it’s because Lampanelli has a decent following in that community. When the controversial Westboro Baptist Church threatened to protest her show in Topeka, Kan., in 2011 because of her support for gay rights, Lampanelli said she would donate $1,000 to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis organization in the church’s name for each protester who showed up (she ended up donating $50,000).

“I guess it’s because I do a lot of charity work for the gay community,” Lampanelli said about her gay following, which she guessed makes up about 20 percent of her audience. “Or maybe they think I’m a drag queen. I don’t know, but I’ll take their money.”

lgomez@tribune.com

Lisa Lampanelli
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Rialto Square Theatre, 102 N. Chicago Street, Joliet
Tickets: $39.75, ticketmaster.com

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