Whatever we’re most afraid to talk about, that’s where comedy should go, says famously outrageous (and outrageously funny) comedienne Lisa Lampanelli. We’re spending way too much time tiptoeing around each other for fear of causing offense, and it’s driving people and communities apart. Whatever makes us laugh brings us closer together.
Lisa Lampanelli: I feel like a comic's job, at least in my opening what I like to do is take the worst subjects on the planet, you know, rape and sexism and racisms and homophobia and anything, I mean, AIDS, cancer, things that people are legitimately scared of, pedophilia, molestation, rape, and if you can sort of shine a light and make light of it a little bit, then you can legitimately help the people who have been a victim of this. What's funny is when people come up to me and it's a black person and they'll be like, "You didn't know enough black jokes." Jewish person, "Hey, where's all your Jewish jokes?" Because people know by making light of it that's how you include people and that's how you include your friends. We all have those friends who we love so much that we just insult when we see them: "Hey a-hole; hey douche bag." That means you're a close friend. If you kind of don't like somebody that much, you find you're not really joking around with them that much. That's what I include everybody on the planet. I don't do that many French jokes because I'm not crazy about them, but everybody else is fair game.
To me there's nothing in comedy that's off-limits. What's off-limits only for me is things I can't make funny. If it's something that I just don't have the skill set for I just kind of leave it to the masters. I remember September 12, 2001, there were already comedians who were highly skilled making jokes about September 11th, and this was in New York City at the Comedy Cellar. I mean there were guys like Colin Quinn, Nick DiPaolo, guys who really felt that they could bring humor to the table with that devastating incident and they could. And I was like I do not have the skills for that. You know what, leave it to them. So that's probably been the one subject area I haven't found a way to make funny yet or shed light on, but some people do. So that's why there can be no line in comedy other than if you can't make it funny. I also was doing crowd work once with a guy and I just kept calling him all the different gay slurs because he was very handsome and I always call a guy gay if he looks like he won't have sex with me. So I was calling him gay this and that. Well, he comes up to me after the show because he had been laughing so hard and he goes, "Well, I think you're kind of a coward because why didn't you make fun of this instead about me?" And he points down that he's in a wheelchair, which I didn't see and it wasn't my fault because the club was dark and his wheels weren't shiny. So he said he goes, "You know what, figure out that as a comic you can make fun of all of us even me." He goes, "Even my disability is something you can make fun of." So I was like man this guy is really open and cool. So that's why I really kind of have no boundaries with crowd work because I go if that guy can take it, everybody can.
To me audience members are paying for punch lines not for prose. They're not paying to see us do therapy for ourselves; they're paying to hear us make light of subjects. So if I can't make it funny, I'm not going to make them sit through it. If comedians would start taking seriously the political correctness that's been rampant for the last 20 years, and it took Seinfeld to bring it to light in the last year or so, then comedy kind of would disappear. I mean look at Louis C.K.; look at Jim Norton; look at myself; look at people who just bring horrible things to light and learn how to make light of it through comedy. If we don't shine a light on it, who's going to? But I think it to somebody like Seinfeld, who's a clean guy for him to say, "Enough; are you kidding me?" So Jerry welcome to my world. That's what I've been dealing with for 25 years. What's funny about college students is it's not the college students that are sensitive; it seems that it's the administration and people afraid to offend the college minorities. I have an audience full of every age group. I have eight nieces and nephews aged 14 to 25 and when they were in college I did some benefits after their colleges, the older ones, and they never seemed really ruffled by any of the stuff I did because I refused to edit. So I don't remember anyone in that age group ever coming up to me and saying, "How dare you?" I think it's the administrations who's scared to offend anyone and I kind of get that. It's like a network being afraid to ruffle any feathers or viewers, but it's just all fear-based. If they only saw that inclusion is better than exclusion, if I include you and if other comics include you, that's a compliment.