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John Lamb, Published January 06 2013

Lisa Lampanelli on roasts, weight loss and laughing through it all

FARGO – Lisa Lampanelli may own the nickname “Queen of Mean,” but the abrasive stand-up comic has a definite soft side.

While best known for trading barbs with other comics on Comedy Central’s celebrity roasts (most of which can’t be reprinted in a family newspaper), Lampanelli plays the Fargo Theatre on Friday night. The show is sponsored by SheSays and The Forum.

Infamous for her off-color jokes (minority stereotypes are a favorite subject), she took her act to the boardroom in last year’s “Celebrity Apprentice.” She was eventually fired by Donald Trump, but not before raising $130,000 for Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the nation’s oldest HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care services provider. It was the same charity that she donated $50,000 to in 2011 – $1,000 for every member of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church who picketed one of her shows.

Borrowing from the title of her friend Jeffrey Ross’ book, Lampanelli says she only roasts the ones she loves and the jokes are in good fun.

On Friday she talked about what the holidays are like for the “Queen of Mean,” her recent gastric sleeve procedure that removed much of her stomach to keep her from overeating and what it’s like to feel the heat on those celebrity roasts.

How are the holidays for the Queen of Mean? What do you give to an insult comic?

That’s what’s so crazy, right? That people are full of enough self-hate to do that. Don’t you love it?

You were on an HGTV “Celebrity Holiday Homes” show?

I think I was misled, I thought I got to keep all of the decorations. But they came in October, so it would look a little queer if you kept your stuff up for two months.

Do you get a lot of gag gifts?

Never. I used to and I told audience members, ‘Don’t do it anymore. I hate it.’ These idiots at shows would give me things they thought were funny like freakin’ sex toys or whatever. I told them, ‘First of all, I’m 51, so stop it with the sex toys. That ship has sailed. … If you want to give me something, just send me flowers, damn it.’

Are people reluctant to heckle you?

They don’t dare. And if they do, they get shut down really fast.

People know you most from the Comedy Central roasts. On those, do comics shy away from you too, or do they give as good as they get?

Oh no, we go after each other hard. The thing is, when you really like someone, you can do jokes about them. Like me and Jeff Ross like each other a lot, so you know it’s all in good fun. If someone is a mean guy, it’s not fun to do a roast with him.

Do you ever take a joke seriously about yourself?

Only if it’s not funny. If the jokes are good, you don’t mind them. Artie Lange had the funniest joke ever about me. When he was at his fattest, ugliest, most horrible, heroin-induced weight, he said, ‘If I had a nickel for every time someone said, “Hey, aren’t you Lisa Lampanelli?” ’ How can you get mad about a funny joke? It’s the unfunny ones that are offensive.

Talking about your weight, you’ve lost a lot of weight over the past year after your surgery.

Oh yeah, 98.8 pounds at this point and that was a couple of weeks ago, so it’s probably 100 now.

It’s got to be a stressful life being a comic. Was food a stress-reliever?

Food was definitely my way of medicating, like alcohol would be for someone who drinks. Now you have to get used to feeling your feelings. Now you can’t physically eat if you’re not hungry. You end up being a lot more irritable or you cry. You do what you’ve got to do. It’s definitely a whole new way of life.

Does this come out in your comedy?

I talk about the past year, the weight loss and the stress and everything, but I’m more irritated now because I can’t get out of feeling it by eating. So a lot more comes out on stage. I like that better. It’s a nice little change.

Does being an insult comic carry this implication that you’re antisocial?

No, because I think the nicer you are as a person, and I’m thinking of (Don) Rickles or Howard Stern, the less hate you have for people, the more you can make fun. It’s a blend that’s rare and a combination you need to get away with more hardcore stuff.

You started off in journalism? Did that start you off on the road as an insult comic, these mean views of people?

Probably not. All I did was interview celebrities and write about it. I loved doing it, but it ran its course. I was working at Rolling Stone, and I said to one of the guys, ‘You know, I keep having a thought that I wanted to try stand-up.’ He said, ‘Stand-up is the worst. It’s so self-centered and egotistical.’ I’m like, that’s perfect for me. If I can have all of the attention for myself, that’s the way to go.

You’re kind of joking a little there because you’ve been very giving.

Oh, but that has nothing to do with always wanting to be the center of attention. Are you kidding? Do you think I can stop bragging about being generous? Every night I’m on stage saying ‘I won $130,000 for my charity on “The Apprentice.” I gave $50,000 to the Gay Men‘s Health Crisis because of Westboro Baptist Church.’ No. I’ll always want to be the center of attention.

So, if you were the guest of honor/victim of a celebrity roast, who would you want to roast you?

Oh, all of my heroes. Like get Don Rickles out of the grave, because he’s half in. I would love Howard Stern. I would love to roast Howard Stern, because you only roast the ones you love. And you know, you’d have to have Jeff Ross, because what else is he doing?

If you go

What: Lisa Lampanelli, with Joe Bartnick opening

When: Show times at 7 and 10 p.m., Friday

Where: Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway

Info: Tickets are $49.50. (866) 300-8300. www.jadepresents.com.

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533