If you’re only familiar with Lisa Lampanelli from watching her survive the onslaught of idiocy on the fifth season of The Celebrity Apprentice, you’re the target market for Equal Opportunity Offender. And isn’t it convenient how the timing has worked out, with Lampanelli remaining as one of the last five contestants and this newbie-oriented compilation available just now, near the end of the competition?
Equal Opportunity comes on the heels of last year’s Tough Love, the insult comic’s fourth proper album, and offers 14 tracks of the same affectionately racist, homophobic sentiment upon which Lampanelli has built her career. But it’s still a greatest-hits release, and therefore immune to the usual live album considerations. Does it work as a cohesive, hour-plus set? Was the crowd into it? Does it sound like it was recorded in a grain silo? All moot. Greatest-hits albums are problematic, and not just for casual fans. Now that we can sample and buy individual tracks online, what’s the point of listening to a compilation someone else has chosen for us? Furthermore, you might enjoy the pacing and rhythm within distinct bits, but you never get a sense of where comics are at in their careers. Sure, traditional live albums are edited to sound like a single set, but they at least present the illusion of a seamless, lengthy performance. Maybe the redeeming quality of a greatest-hits collection is that if the bits hang together well enough – whether through thematic cohesion or sheer force of personality – you’ve got your Desert Island Masterpiece for that artist.
If you already own the stuff from which this Frankenstein’s monster was assembled, the good news it that most of it is worth revisiting. The album’s title nods not only to Lampanelli’s justifications for her humor, but the entire tradition of insult comedy itself, from Don Rickles to Neil Hamburger. And as bawdy as Lampanelli can be with her words, Equal Opportunity is about as traditional as it gets. It opens with “The Fag Whisperer,” a broad (and broadly written) overview of her Kathy Griffin-like appeal among gay male audiences, including such potshots as, “Thank you, homos, for skipping a night of watching Bravo TV!” and “This big queen right here, he is so gay he jerks off to Antiques Roadshow.” Not exactly Andy Kaufman. On the similarly-flavored “Homos Are My Favorite People,” from her 2009 HBO special Long Live the Queen, Lampanelli runs down her “new list of gay terminologies,” including such alliterated gems as “Gerbil Jouster” and “Purple Pickle Porthole Pirate.” She cracks herself up a few times during the recitation and follows with disjointed jabs at blacks that culminate in a Blazing Saddles-derived punchline: “Niggers smell much worse than farts.”
The juvenile simplicity and knock-knock joke intimacy is contrasted with the topical, occasionally political humor that has made her a favorite on The Howard Stern Show, though both share the same puns, pop-culture references and obsession with sex. “Men Are Good And Women Are Beautiful” offers a view into Lampanelli’s mid-2000s club material, when she had to try a bit harder to win over crowds – though, let’s be honest, not that hard given the lowest-common-denominator subject matter. Lampanelli singles out black, Hispanic, gay and gender stereotypes with the zeal and precision of a young fighter pilot, and thanks to her constant crowd work, she’s always got fresh targets.
While no stand up can really be performed in a vacuum, it’s still hard to imagine Lampanelli having much to talk about outside of her audience. On later-career material you can hear how she’s trained them to respond the way her on-stage persona might, garnering groans of disbelief at one point for saying she met “a Hispanic man with a job and no kids… I have located the unicorn!” or having one part of the crowd cheer unselfconsciously when referred to as the “whites only” section.
The problem with insult comedy is that the “What will she say next?” thrill tends to fade after the 100th racial epithet or profanity, and few things other than unfailing cleverness (as with Joan Rivers) or generalized ridiculousness (as with Andrew Dice Clay) can preserve the entertainment value. Fortunately Equal Opportunity benefits from its chronological puddle-jumping as well as its track selection, loading up on some longer, more narrative bits near the end to defer the fatigue and allow Lampanelli to wade a bit further into her subjects. The nearly eight-minute “Stereotypes” ping-pongs so quickly between deflating and trading in them that anyone with a preconceived notion of Lampanelli’s intentions is left wondering if it’s all in fun, or does she really mean it in some deep part of her psyche? Is she a relic of our unenlightened past or the harbinger of our sleazy, hateful future?
Either way: The Queen of Mean is dead. Long live the Queen!