Lisa Lampanelli

Lisa Lampanelli needs no introduction to readers who attended February’s Concert Industry Awards in Los Angeles – she skewered many of them from the podium as host. But she admits, even months later, that the gig made her nervous.

“It’s like when we made that movie, ‘The Aristocrats.’ They said it’s so hard to make people laugh in a regular audience at the ‘Aristocrats’ joke, because it’s such an inside joke,” Lampanelli told Pollstar. And this was a whole evening of inside jokes, with people who have seen it all.

“I know I do a different type of humor with the insults. So I was a little nervous with that, but you know what? I’m usually, because of my style, pretty confident that it’s going to be OK.”

Lampanelli is more than Don Rickles on a hormone rampage. Her brand of insult comedy takes no prisoners but also never cuts so deep as to get personal.

“I think generally, people like to get singled out and busted on because it shows that you like them,” she said. “You don’t pick on people you hate, you pick on people you like!”

She doesn’t worry much about whether she’ll offend her audience to the point that it turns on her.

“If you think in any way, shape or form, that anyone who is a thinking person has ever hated Don Rickles, or me, or Lewis Black or Howard Stern, that’s their problem,” she explained. “Your audience is your audience. Nobody pays $50 a ticket to somebody they’ve never heard of.

“When you’re starting out and feeling your way through, yeah, you might get some people who don’t know you in the club going, ‘Who the fuck is she to say that,’ but it’s rare. I’ve pissed off, visibly, maybe, a handful of people in 16 years and to me that’s so rare.”

Agent Nick Nuciforo of Creative Artists Agency was bowled over by Lampanelli the first time he saw her doing her act on television. He later went to New York City to catch a show.

“I fancied myself to be in the know about all the comedians out there and here was this unknown woman who was killing,” Nuciforo told Pollstar. “I had seen quite a few acts and knew most of the people out there, so it was a very pleasant surprise.

“I was in New York taking some meetings, covering some shows, and saw that she was doing a midnight show. I was absolutely blown away and told her I had to sign her.

Lisa Lampanelli

“And she was doing all of these things to self-promote; she was a real hustler and that impressed me as much as her stage act. It was right after 9/11, because she was signing autographs and had T-shirts she was selling for a campaign she was doing at the time: Hummers for Heroes.” Nuciforo signed her, and convinced her to move outside of the New York club circuit where she’d been making money doing a few shows a day in order to build a fan base by hitting the road.

“When she did, it was electric,” Nuciforo said. “I called up 12 owners and managers and told them to take a chance on her because she’s special. It’s just so old school, by the book, building her this way. She was making peanuts but everybody fell in love with her.

“I was getting reports back that waitresses on their days off were bringing all their friends to the show. Very quickly, her crowd started doubling with this great grassroots, word-of-mouth. The magic has been in that anyone who comes to see her comes back and brings two friends. It’s been a great build.”

Lampanelli has become a fixture on Comedy Central’s roasts, doing sendups of Pamela Anderson and William Shatner, among others. But the one that she probably remembers most fondly is her first: a 2002 Friar’s Club roast of Chevy Chase that resulted in getting not only Nuciforo’s attention, but that of manager Maggie Houlehan of Parallel Entertainment.

“Everybody tells me I’m the only comic they ever talk to who has no complaints about their management,” Lampanelli said. “None. It’s like finding that husband or wife that’s meant to be. It really kind of pisses me off, because I got nothing to complain about. I have to make drama in the rest of my life so I have something to bitch about!”

In addition to the Comedy Central appearances, specials, and roasts, Lampanelli’s had roles in several films, and has a “South Park”-style animated series in the works. But her love is the live show. And she’s on the road constantly, including a current tour.

“Honestly, if you told me tomorrow you could sell 5,000 seats a night and never do TV or film again, I’d be saying, ‘sign me up.’ It’s all about the live thing,” Lampanelli insists. “But these other things are necessary evils to get popular. It helps to sell the tickets.

“I want to do comedy, man. I want to get out there; that’s fun. Ask any comic; it’s the only way we’re really alive. When I was watching Larry [the Cable Guy] on ‘60 Minutes’ recently, I was thinking, ‘That’s going to be me in three years.’

“I don’t know what tells me that, because I know I’m good, but I also know there’s a place for the first female to ever sell out Madison Square Garden. I don’t know anything else but that.”