Lisa Lampanelli On “Stuffed,” Celibacy, And Never Going To That Lesbian Place

And: "Saturday Night at the Baths" doesn't take us into those private rooms.

Renowned insult comic Lisa Lampanelli stretched last year with her play Stuffed, a funny and insightful look at the way women grapple with various eating issues. As the play prepares to start previews at its new home, New York’s Westside Theatre, I talked to Lisa about a feast of titillating topics.

Hi, Lisa. Congrats on the play moving. How has it changed since I saw it last year?

When you actually have a budget and it’s not a non-profit theater, you can do some magical things. There was a thing where we all came out of the refrigerator at one point. I wanted to focus on it being a fantasy, more of a theatrical show that still has the heart, but we put in more what I call “refrigerator moments” because people responded to that so heavily and I said, “Let’s put in more fantasy.” We put in a game show element, a debate element, because of the political climate. The election happened during the last run. Maybe a debate between an orange traffic cone and a woman? It ends up being more fun and fantastical. When the girls have their bottom emotional moments at the end, it hits so much harder. I like the show so much better. And there are costumes and moving sets!

You still have four women in the show?

Yes. It’s me playing myself. No one can play me like I can, except possibly Amy Schumer, and she’s busy. Nikki Blonsky from the Hairspray movie is playing the big girl who accepts herself and has confidence. There’s Marsha Stephanie Blake from Orange is the New Black and Eden Malyn from House of Lies and Orange is the New Black. When you have a budget, it goes up for casting a little.

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But I loved Ann Harada.

Can I tell you why she’s not in the show? First of all, she’s busy. Secondly, she’s not a big girl. When we cast her, she’s just a great actress, but Nikki is known as being the confident big girl actress, and it makes a statement. There are very large women who can come see this play who can relate, and Nikki’s that poster child. She was in the Times as one of those people who has body positivity. Ann’s a great actress, but a bigger girl is where we went. Too bad Ann wouldn’t gain 300 pounds. [laughs]

She wouldn’t do a Shelley Winters.

Or a DeNiro. I don’t think Stuffed had the pull.

Has the theater community embraced you? They can be snooty sometimes.

You know what’s weird? They like me because they know I’m not trying to be something I’m not. I haven’t read Shakespeare. I don’t even know who she is. They know I’m not trying to fit in and be hoity toity. Nobody’s been mean or vicious. Maybe theater people are smart enough to talk behind my back. That’s fine with me, as long as it doesn’t hurt my feelings. If I can’t hear it, say it. I feel like theater’s a little nicer than comedy is. Comics look at other people and say, “You’re starting as a comic and going into theater? Quit, bitch. You’re not tough enough.”

Comedy is rough, huh?

If you’re not willing to sleep in your car on the way to Florida because you can’t afford the $18 hotel room, you’re not supposed to be a real comic.

What has been your relationship with the LGBT community?

You know me. I’ve had gay friends as long as I can remember. Now it’s stepped up a notch because in the political climate, I started doing a whole bunch more in my act about gay marriage, quote unquote the enemy, and people who want to change rights. I’ve identified with the underdog my whole life—anyone who feels like they don’t fit in. Yes, I’m white. I never will know the struggle of being a minority and gay until I come out of the closet at 72 and finally face it. You’re breaking the story that I’m a snatch licking dyke. Your lips to god’s ears. Anyway, I supported them during Celebrity Apprentice. I won over 130 grand for them. I fought the Westboro Baptist Church. And now I’m doing standup and the play.

You joke about being a dyke, but have you ever tried women?

I have not, and not even that one time in college where you’re supposed to. I went to Syracuse University, which is predominantly Jewish, and Jewish women won’t go down on anything. They won’t suck a dick unless you hit the lottery. And I got cock blocked by all my boyfriends my whole life. My next play will be Screwed, about codependency. So how could I screw around with anybody if they were standing around?

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Sounds like you were twat blocked, too.

I’ve been celibate for four and a half years. I’m the happiest person I ever was because I don’t have a relationship. It was so codependent. I cleaned up the food stuff and now I cleaned up the men’s stuff, and if I decide to date in the next two years, who knows, all bets are off. I might snuggle up with some old butch dyke, you never know.

So that would be the last resort? Gee, thanks for the support! [laughs]

I already got the haircut.

You mentioned the new material in your standup act. Give me a sample.

“Trumpcare is so bad for women that Caitlyn calls her doctor and asks for her penis back.”

Would trans people get mad over a joke like that?

Oh, no, it’s a total compliment. Caitlyn’s smart to say, “Hey mutherfucker, I‘m getting my penis. Does this come with a suction cup anyway?” Look, I can’t say, “I’m Lisa Lampanelli. Thank you, goodnight.” My whole act is skewering every race, creed, gender, sexuality.
With the Trump jokes, Trump probably thinks, “Well, she’s kidding.” Guess what? I’m not kidding, little bitch.

Your thoughts on the Kathy Griffin controversy?

I’ve always said that if she had a really great punchline, she would have only pissed off people who disliked her already. Her fans would have been like, “Dude, we love it.” But Kathy is fine. She has money and a career and she’s gonna be fine, and in fact will probably come back even stronger. I think it’s brave that she didn’t wear makeup in her apology. We should all wear bags over our head, we’re all disgusting. Please, everyone keep your makeup on, including myself. We’re not pretty!

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What could her punchline have been? “Trump gives great head”?

[laughs] See! I laughed genuinely. Michael Musto has a new career. Kathy and I are going to hire him to write our material!

Billie Jean is Not My Lover

Rules of attraction populate Battle of the Sexes, which centers on ferocious tennis champ Billie Jean King’s triumph over misogynistic Bobby Riggs and the whole male tennis establishment in a 1973 challenge. In the process, it also deals with Billie Jean’s growing lesbian feelings and the war she faced between enlightenment and discretion. (SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!)

In the film, Billie Jean (Emma Stone) is married to fellow tennis pro Larry (Austin Stowell), who supports her on her quest to shatter stereotypes and succeed. But their dynamic shifts when Billie Jean gets flirted on by hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough), as expressed in a lovely, sensual scene full of dangerous possibility. Soon enough, Billie Jean—who’s only known intimacy with Larry all these years—finds herself getting jiggy with Marilyn, while a rival tennis player, Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee) fumes with homophobic disdain.

Larry figures out what’s going on and warns Marilyn not to get between Billie Jean and her game—back then, same-sex revelations could devastate a career like this—but later on, when Billie Jean’s not feeling well, Larry is so supportive he even offers to try and get Marilyn back by her side! Anything to get Billie Jean back on her feet so she can beat Riggs (Steve Carell), who vows to put the “show back in chauvinism.”

Jim Garrett/NY Daily News via Getty

The film ends with Billie Jean sobbingly looking out at her husband, then at Marilyn, wondering which path will lead to the greatest gratification. A couturier played by Alan Cumming assures her that things are changing (partly thanks to her) and someday everyone will be able to be themselves and love who they want—which sounds like a 2017 imprint planted on 1973 by a screenwriter. But though that’s added, something major is left out.

The titles at the end tell us that Billie Jean divorced Larry and found lasting love with Ilana Kloss, her current partner, and that’s wonderful. But they don’t mention that in 1981, Marilyn—by then a paraplegic after a fall—outed Billie Jean with an angry alimony suit that said they’d been together for seven years and Marilyn wanted serious payback. Billie Jean ended up losing endorsements, spending tons of money in court, and becoming traumatized. I guess in painting a story of growing personal enlightenment and victory, they wanted to omit the truly icky stuff that followed. Or maybe they’re saving it for the sequel, Battle of The Same-Sexes.

You Polite Up My Life

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“Don’t you feel like a whole new you? Instead of some ‘ho you knew?” says charm coach “Mama” Darleena Andrews after delivering one of her potent lessons in proper etiquette. Philip Dawkins’ play Charm has Darleena—a black, transgender woman based on the real life Gloria Allen—teaching Emily Post’s behavioral principles to a group of feisty young people (including trans, homeless, and straight) at a Chicago LGBT center. In teaching things like when to say “Excuse me” instead of “Sorry,” and how to give a proper introduction, Miss Darleena seems to be trying to make order out of the chaos around her, and also to help her pupils find solace through respect. At 67, she’s obviously used charm to help tame her own troubled memories, but this time she runs into opposition from a genderqueer official who feels Darleena is promoting snooty, unrealistic white behavior and is also clinging to hoary ideas of gender.

How that’s all resolved—including a surreal visit from Emily Post herself—may be a little pat (and reminiscent of misunderstood teacher stories like To Sir with Love and Up the Down Staircase), but the play has spunk and humor and is blessed with a fine cast who devour their roles, as directed by Will Davis. Sandra Caldwell is fierce as Darleena, who manages to uplift a prostitute with HIV, a garden variety twink in the headlights, and various other uneasy souls. Declaring herself “living history,” Darleena cuts through both external and internalized phobias, and when the cast breaks into seemingly impromptu dance pieces to physicalize their changing moods, you feel inspired enough to use the correct soup spoon when you get home.


Steaming Queens

LGBT issues are honestly discussed in the 1975 David Buckley-directed indie Saturday Night at the Baths, which proved to be a fascinating curio when it was revived at the Quad Cinema last week as part of their “Coming Out Again” monthly series, in this case a NewFest co-presentation.

The film has an ostensibly straight man who lands the job of pianist at the legendary Continental Baths and discovers that he’s, more accurately, bi. That trajectory is interesting, but even better are the glimpses of the real Continental, including a floor show featuring half naked men in a modern dance routine and drag queens imitating Shirley Bassey, Diana Ross, and (most hauntingly) Judy Garland. Cabaret singer Jane Olivor also appears as herself, trilling a tune about how she wishes she was pretty. She was one of the house entertainers after Bette Midler became a star there in ‘70.

It’s also a treat to learn that the provocative photos in the art gallery scene were done by famed lensman Bruce Weber. But while there are sex scenes (both opposite- and same-sex) and there’s even peen, the film doesn’t take us into the private rooms where so many of the hookups took place—it never gets that raunchy. After the movie, Robert Aberdeen—who played the pianist—said the film would have done better if it hadn’t opened the same day as the star-studded classic Nashville. He also remarked that Lee Daniels—who directed him in The Butler—admitted he always wanted to see this movie, but he gave up because couldn’t seem to get a copy. Aberdeen got one to him and at the premiere of The Butler, Daniels gushed to Aberdeen about what a terrific performance he’d given. Aberdeen assumed Daniels was referring to The Butler, but he later realized he meant Saturday Night at the Baths. And we’ve now come full circle from refrigerator moments to sauna ones.

Michael Musto is the long running, award-winning entertainment journalist and TV commentator.