I am sitting in the bar of a lovely, understated hotel in Los Angeles, two minutes into a meeting with famous comic Lisa Lampanelli. I’ve decided to break the ice by coughing for five minutes (it could have been less or more, it felt like an hour so I’m rounding down.) I’ve gotten over a nasty cold, but I can’t stop my lungs from freaking out. I had not planned on broaching the subject ( because “nice to meet you, I swear I’m not contagious” isn’t the smoothest of greetings) but this is happening in real time, so that cat’s out of the bag. Lisa is being incredibly kind, which will become a theme of our meeting.
When I saw the tweet from Lisa asking me to message her, my first thought was “are my trolls effing with me?” But I checked it out and it turns out it was the real Lisa Lampanelli. She was going to be in town for a few days so we arranged to meet to discuss “Stuffed,” a play she is debuting around women’s relationships with food and body image. I’ve been hearing about this play for a while and I was super excited to meet with her – obviously this topic is really important to me, she has a big platform to talk about it, and I was glad that she was talking to fat acceptance folks.
I also wasn’t completely sure what to expect. Lisa is famous for being an insult comic. As a feminist and total stand up comedy nerd I have tremendous admiration for her because I’m aware of how difficult it is for women to get traction in the stand up world. And I know the history and artistry of insult comedy, how it can actually be considered a form social justice comedy because it shows stereotypes and prejudices for how ridiculous they are. In my pre-meeting research I found a review of her by BET.com that explained:
Lisa is known for her vicious comedy, but seeing a full show versus a Comedy Central Roast, Lampanelli is not as offensive as she is portrayed by her critics. She is obviously commentating on the absurdities of race, sexuality, gender and class. The comedian creatively unravels stereotypes, pulls back the creepy layers, turns the mirror on the audience and rages, “Now do you how see how stupid these stereotypes are?
I get that, I get that there are people who don’t agree with that, and either way I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it sometimes makes me uncomfortable. I was hoping that was where she was coming from, because if not I was worried that I was going to be in a situation where I had to say “I admire many things about you, but I can’t support what you’re doing.” I’ve been there before, and it sucks a lot. And I was equally, if not more, worried that after hearing more about my work, she would say the same thing to me. I’ve been there before too, and it also sucks a lot.
I needn’t have worried. We’re now over an hour into the meeting and she is warm, and kind, and hilarious, and she is asking me serious questions about Fat Acceptance and Health at Every Size and she is listening, really listening, to my answers (I talk when I’m nervous so it’s a borderline babblefest and she’s just taking it in stride.) She’s also being honest and vulnerable – sharing her personal journey with food and body image, weight loss surgery that didn’t solve those issues, and the ways that she wants to evolve her work and use her fame to change the conversation around food, weight, and health to make a serious difference in the world. She gets it, and it’s always super cool when someone famous turns out to be awesome in real life.
Three and a half hours after we started I’m leaving the hotel, and I’m smiling. We talked about Fat Acceptance, Health at Every Size, the “reality” in reality TV, racism, ableism, dealing with body hatred, and more. I’m super excited about the play and even more excited about the possibilities for an insult comic/playwright and a fat activist to do some very cool things together.
THE FAT ACTIVISM CONFERENCE:
TOOLS FOR THE REVOLUTION!
This year we have a kick ass line up of speakers talking about everything from “Re-Imagining Fashion from an Inclusive Framework” to “Activism for the Introverted and Anxious” to “Building Fat Patient Power While Accessing Healthcare” and more. This is a virtual conference so you can listen by phone or computer wherever you are, and you’ll receive recordings and transcripts of each talk so that you can listen/read on your own schedule. We also offer a pay what you can afford option to make the conference accessible to everyone. The Conference will be held September 23-25, 2016
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