Comedian Lisa Lampanelli gets honest about beauty with us. (Photo: Getty)
Funny lady Lisa Lampanelli has roasted everyone – from William Shatner to Donald Trump, to Pamela Anderson. And she’s said some not-so-nice things…Hey, the 53-year-old didn’t earn her “Queen of Mean” title by praising others. But in real life Lisa is warm, funny, and open. Mean, not at all. She’s written a memoir, served as a contestant on The Celebrity Apprentice, is working on a play, and has a special, Lisa Lampanelli: Back to the Drawing Board, premiering June 26 on EPIX.
Though she’s happy at her current size, after a radical weight loss (formerly weighing 248 pounds), Lampanelli doesn’t fancy the word ‘beautiful in her vocabulary. She does know that stacking herself next to others isn’t productive and being self-assured is a personal thing. “When it comes to confidence, I think the term is ‘compare and despair.’ If you compare yourself to someone who you think is better than you, you’re going to always feel like a loser. If you compare yourself to someone who you perceive is worse than you, you’re going to feel a false sense of one-upmanship,” says Lampanelli. Her advice: “Stop it. Say, ‘I’m in the place I’m supposed to be. That builds confidence. That lack of comparison helps you succeed and feel good about yourself on your own terms.”
On June 22, Lampanelli will take the stage at the 92Y in New York City to discuss losing 107 pounds on her own terms, and finding a new life purpose and career in the process.
Yahoo Beauty: What has changed for you, over the past few years?
Lisa Lampanelli: I had gastric sleeve surgery in 2012, and it started this big chain reaction of me changing my whole life over. I turned back the clock. I’m reliving my life. I lost about 90 pounds in 9 months, and lost about 107 total. I just felt like I was 19 again and could do things over.
What kind of things did you re-do?
I went back to school. I went to Yale drama summer school, and I just started doing things differently. I ended up getting a divorce, because the marriage just wasn’t working for either one of us. It resulted in this pretty major transformation spiritually, and emotionally too.
Where has that taken you to today?
I’m kind of shifting the focus of my career from hardcore standup to more of humorous comedy with a message of acceptance in it.
How did this journey begin?
I never was overweight as a kid. I went away to college at 18, and I was lonely. I probably shouldn’t have gone away to college. I just didn’t feel ready. I felt younger than everybody else, even though I wasn’t. That’s when I started emotionally eating and using food as medication, just like other people use alcohol or drugs or pot or shopping or anything else. I gained weight, and that started a 32-year struggle with weight and exercise and body image problems. I didn’t have a handle on it, at all.
Lisa Lampanelli in 2012. (Photo: Getty Images)
What made you decide to have the procedure?
When I hit 50, a friend of mine had had the surgery. He said his doctor was a really warm, great guy. I figured I’d meet with him once. My husband, at the time, and I went in. We met with this doctor in New Jersey. We loved his energy and his vibe. He said, “How many people do you see at 70 years old who are as overweight as you guys are?” We each had 100 pounds to lose. I was like, “Wow, am I going to cut my life short for food and emotional eating? Forget it.” We signed up that day. We were like, “We’re doing this. This is ridiculous.”
You’ve changed your life, your lifestyle and your eating habits. Is there anything you gave up on the spot and haven’t eaten since surgery?
Everybody focuses on a simple fix. Weight loss surgery is a tool but it’s not an easy, simple fix. It’s about the emotions. It’s not a trick. It’s not about willpower. It’s about every time you’re hungry: is it about emotional hunger or physical hunger. This is not a sound bite way of life, it’s an every day, every meal, wondering if you’re eating your feelings or if you’re eating for nutrition. It’s not, “Give up a certain food and you’ll lose weight.” I gave up sugar, but it has nothing to do with the weight loss.
If not for dropping pounds, why did you axe sugar from your diet?
I started going to a lot of yoga retreats, and I attended a lecture where they talked about how sugar really feeds disease. My dad had just died of cancer. If sugar is contributing in any way to something like that, I’m not going to do it. Every overweight person out there is not fat because they “love food.” They’re overweight because they don’t want to deal with what’s going on inside.
How are you dealing with food and emotions now?
Every day, I wake up and ask, “Am I hungry?” If I’m physically hungry, I eat something that’s hopefully good for me, and then do it again in a few hours. If I get a phone call I don’t like, I’ll say to myself, “Is that the reason I want to eat something?” If it is, I try not to do it. It’s literally a lifestyle.
Were there monumental upsets that triggered your overeating?
It’s always big things. Little things can trigger you to grab something that’s not great for you, to comfort you and make you feel better, but there’s always something about food or alcohol, or co-dependency, or men, or dating, or sex, or shopping, that you think you can fill the hole with it. There’s always sort of a hole inside that most people have. They look to a substance to fill [it] because they don’t want to look internally with that thing.
What were your internal holes and struggles?
First it was food and dating, and having a boyfriend or a husband. The second part of my life I thought it could be filled with fame or money or TV credits – things like that. It really has shifted since my dad died. It’s shifted to service. The only thing I find healthy to fill the hole with now is service to other people: either by making them laugh or by sharing these experiences. If I’m doing service, I always find, “Wow. I didn’t even think about food.”
Triggers are everywhere. What was the last thing that set off emotional eating?
One last night! Emotionally eating doesn’t disappear because your stomach’s really small. I was at dinner. I’m writing a play called Fat Girls Interrupted, about food and eating and body image. I met with a huge, multi-TONY winning producer. I was just meeting with him for advice. [He showed interest in the project.] The minute the stakes got a little high, I got sort of nervous and uncomfortable. I haven’t eaten sugar in 6-7 months. There were two cookies on the table. I slowly ate them. [I knew] this is a trigger to my uncomfortable-ness to his niceness, and I was uncomfortable knowing I have to deliver a script to a huge guy like that.
You’re approaching things differently career-wise, but you’re known as “The Queen of Mean”, are you cutting back on being as mean?
The only reason I was allowed to have a career for a quarter century as an insult comic is because it’s all in jest and all for fun. Audiences knows the message is, “I’m poking fun of everybody, including myself” to show we’re all the same. It was never from a mean point of view. I’m cutting out a little just because acts aren’t the same they were years ago – you kind of grow as a person and a performer. I still do the same kind of comedy, but underneath, there are more true stories – more of a message of “I’m still working on myself and you guys can, too.”
How does this change your approach at the mic?
I want to eventually do humorous motivational speaking. Now that I’m doing regular stand up and viewing it as a service to other people who might have lost a parent or might be struggling with their weight, just by telling my story – by being real in a funny way – I think that’s sort of the direction it seems to be going in.
Did you notice a difference from the audience?
It’s weird. The minute I started doing shows and tweaked internally like that, I started getting standing Os again. I stopped getting standing ovations at the end of 2013. I think it’s because I felt stagnant and stuck. The minute I started opening up more about real things that go on in my life – in a funny way – people started jumping up at the end of the show. I said, “This is definitely the direction I should go in.” It’s a minor difference, but people seem to respond so much better.
While you were losing the weight, and after, did you ever feel uncomfortable in your new body?
Never, no. I’ve never been uncomfortable. I think that’s because I probably grew up without a weight problem for 18 years. I had muscle memory remembering, “Wow. This is who I’m supposed to be.” That other stuff was who I wasn’t supposed to be. It was like coming home – being me. I love it. I was so lucky and grateful that I did the surgery, because it opened me up to working on everything else.
What advice do you have for women who are beginning a similar weight loss journey or looking to have the same surgery performed?
If you have tried everything that you wanted to try for weight loss and have a clear conscience about every angle and every diet and every exercise program that you think is necessary for you to experiment with before – and you can really look at yourself in the mirror and go, “I can’t stop the self hate and the eating without getting the weight off first, and then I’ll tackle the emotional issues” – then get it done. Don’t get it done if you think the surgery ends the problem. Many, many people have the surgery and gain it back because they’re just too uncomfortable in their own skin, and they don’t work on the underlying feelings for the reasons they eat. The weight is just the tip of the iceberg. Then you have to work on the real you. If you don’t mind doing the hard work and the long haul once this weight is off, then they should get it. Don’t be scared.
What makes you feel beautiful?
I don’t know if I’ve ever said the word ‘beautiful’ when it comes to me, and I’m still really uncomfortable with the word, because I’m not some great beauty. I’m accessible. I’m attractive enough to always have some cute or fun outfit on, and feel good on stage. I have more of an inner beauty that comes through on stage – in the past year especially, due to this spiritual transformation. I don’t have the word ‘beautiful’ in my language for myself physically, except for the neck down. In clothes, I look great, but I even know I’m quirky, and I get borderline cute sometimes, or fun. The word beautiful and sexy is very difficult for me. If I could die at 95 still thinking I’m cute and adorable in certain outfits, then I’m lucky to have that vs. three years ago: the words were ‘horrible’, ‘heinous’, and ‘ugly’. It’s an upgrade.
What is your definition of the word beautiful?
My standards of beauty are so enormously high that it’s ridiculous. Not for other people – I could see a woman who’s 800 pounds carrying herself
with confidence and say, “Wow she’s beautiful.” My standards for me are
terrible. They’re Grace Kelly. Audrey Hepburn. I’ll never hit those because
it’s perfectionism. Perfectionism never works, because you can
never be perfect. I now look at myself as my standard, and that’s who I compare myself with. I’m on the right track.