BY JOHN DAAVETTILA
Daily Arts Writer
Published September 3, 2008
In the last 10 or so years, a collective decision was made by the American public at large to reject stereotype comedy. To poke fun of someone based on outward appearances now seems boorish, uncalled-for and offensive. It seems America has been caught in a constricting vice of hypersensitivity, and Ann Arbor is far from an exception.
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But there remains one voice of reason — and vehemently insulting jokes: Lisa Lampanelli. The 47-year-old comedienne’s stand-up specials on “Comedy Central” have earned her the title “Queen of Mean,” and with good justification. Not your typical “female comic,” Lampanelli has used this newfound theme of political correctness to her advantage by shocking audiences around the United States, including Ann Arbor last fall at the Michigan Theater.
Lampanelli’s act is nothing if not interactive, as she spends up to two hours heckling and talking to the audience. Stereotypes aren’t shunned or tabooed, but embraced and used in a way that allows the audience to relate to whatever she says. Her quick, brash style keeps everyone on their toes, whether it’s a gerbil joke aimed at an effeminate man or the word “whores” assigned to a couple of busty blondes in the front row. And yet there are no gasps of shock — only laughter. There’s no group left out, no stone left unturned or not ridiculed. One feels a sense of unity after leaving a Lampanelli performance — a sensation felt only after accepting quirks about yourself, instead of hiding them.
The attraction of Lampanelli’s work is its intense severity, which is over the top and impossible to take seriously. When confronted with such awful insults and jabs, the only thing to do is laugh it off and wait for your turn to end.
A regular on “The Howard Stern Show,” Lampanelli’s real fame took off with the addition of the “Comedy Central” roasts, which ranged from William Shatner to Pamela Anderson. Her roasting skills became so popular she was forced to become the powerhouse caboose of every roast.
“I have to close it every time now because everybody bitches that they have to follow Lisa Lampanelli. Pussies,” she told Penn Jillette on his radio show. Being the closer means creating more fresh material, but she handles it with ease and has the crowd helpless with laughter in a matter of seconds.
We live in a culture of fear; treading on eggshells and avoiding being misinterpreted has become the social norm. But when entering a Lisa Lampanelli performance, all thoughts of being labeled a prejudiced ignoramus vanish, and everyone shares in the traits of others. Instead of waiting to jump at the first offense, audiences learn to accept their flaws in a way that both humbles and frees. Lisa Lampanelli deserves recognition for speaking her mind and bringing viewers together with the common bond of well-known stereotypes.
While she may only be known for her cutthroat style, one visit from the Queen of Mean will cement her as the comic who taught you to loosen up. Ann Arbor won’t be honored with a performance this year (although she is planning on an appearance in Joilet, Illinois later on), but college students around would be wise to watch and enjoy this fiery comedienne when they have the chance.