Lisa Lampanelli And Her “N***a”: How a Comedian Became a Cliché (Participation)

Self-proclaimed comedian Lisa Lampanelli has once again proven her fondness for back-door racism by referring to creator of the hit HBO series Girls, Lena Dunham, as her “n***a” on Twitter. That in and of itself is nothing spectacular, but her pathetic, self-serving attempts at justifying her vocabulary choice have probably been her funniest — unintentional — jokes to date.

And I don’t mean funny ha-ha; I mean funny as in she sounds like a damn idiot.

Undeniably, calling a woman b***h as an endearment is another problematic conversation worth having; but today, let’s deal with the most combustible issue. From The Huffington Post to XOJane, Lampanelli has recycled the same tired, misguided rhetoric that some black people use to justify re-purposing plantation language as a show of camaraderie — namely, that the use of an “a” instead of an “er” makes the word acceptable. She told The Huffington Post:

“The N-word ending in ‘er’ is far different context from the word ending in ‘a.’ Ask any person who knows the urban dictionary, it means ‘friend,'” she said. “And by the way, if I had put the word ending in ‘er,’ that would have been a very derogatory thing about Lena meaning she is less than me, and I view her as very above me. ‘A’ on the end means ‘my friend.'””I’ve played every comedy club and every theatre across the country for the last 25 years and seen a lot of audience members from different ethnic persuasions,” she continued. “I have been using these words since I started in comedy and guess what, people? I won’t stop anytime soon, just because your ass is up on Twitter. I have always used in my act every racial slur there is for Asians, blacks, gays, and Hispanics. To me, it’s acceptable if the joke is funny and if it is said in a context of no hate. It’s about taking the hate out of the word.”

You may be asking yourselves right now, “Did she really refer to the Urban Dictionary to get a more comprehensive grasp of “n****r” etiquette?” Why, yes; yes, she did.

Then in an interview dripping with White privilege, she told Pia Glenn that she doesn’t plan on censoring herself because that would water down the art:

“… because I have, I think, over 800 likes of it on Instagram, I forget the number, I have to look it up. But here’s the thing, I’m not being pejorative, I’m not being dismissive, but I have to say I don’t care. And you wanna know why I don’t care? ‘Cause the minute a comic starts caring about every single person’s opinion, they become watered down, and horrible, and have no sense of relevance whatsoever.”

So, Lampanelli doesn’t care about feedback when it’s negative, but when it’s positive, she presents it as Exhibit A to prove that she can’t be racist because Instagram followers “liked” her photo?

Got it.

Apparently, she never once considering that those 800-plus followers may very well be as simple –minded and thirsty for attention as she is. And while it should have been easy to just shake my head and keep it moving past another lost, white woman so in love with the idea of “all black everything” that she refers to her friends as “n****s” (Hi, Gwyneth), I realized that I just couldn’t indulge her delusional fantasies of bold, groundbreaking humor. Spouting the word “n***a” on social media — or any of the other racist language that she loves — then claiming that she was in character and would never say it in her day-to-day life, doesn’t make Lampanelli a fearless comic — it makes her a coward. In real time, she is trying to figure out whether it’s best for publicity to spin her use of the word as endearing or risque, when all she really needs to do is have a nice, tall glass of shut-up.

For many black people, myself included, the word “n***a” is not an endearment, but a word riddled with hypocrisy and internalized hatred. White women don’t get to sit in their Ivory Towers and tell black people how we should feel about bastardized language historically spewed to demean us; they certainly don’t get to browse through the Urban Dictionary and educate us on how we should collectively feel when, emboldened through its acceptance into pop culture, they grant themselves permission to fling it around at will. For better or worse, that is our debate. As a community, black people continue to struggle with the rules and regulations created to harness the ugly power of the word. We are still trying to build a foundation of cultural pride within our youth strong enough to withstand the commercialized hip-hop industry that tells them they are n****s every, single day — and not as in friend, but as in pen…itentiary.

Lisa Lampanelli is to comedy what the Tea Party is to patriotism. And for her to think that she has the right to progress a racial dialogue that has never affected her in any way, shape or form — other than a few extra Twitter mentions and a spin around the news cycle — solidifies her position as one of the most ridiculous people on the planet. She needs to understand that she is not knocking down any walls nor shattering any ceilings by frivolously parroting the word “n***a;” in fact, by doing so, she accomplishes just the opposite, rendering herself nothing more than a walking cliché. In her haste to appear fearless and post-racial, she merely becomes another white person who feels that minimizing the emotional heft that the term “n***a/er” carries grants her inclusion into a circle that she would otherwise not be allowed into — no matter how many times she mentions that she played the Apollo Theater or had sex with black men.

Using the word “n***a” to refer to Lena Dunham (who has her own black people issues as discussed in an insightful, thoughtful piece by Rebecca Carroll) doesn’t make her bold or funny or shocking or different; in this hipster America, it makes her basic and typical and boring. To then pat herself on the back for standing up to black people and their “f**king phony semantics bullsh*t” like she’s Mitt Romney threatening to repeal Obamacare at the NAACP convention, makes her her own funniest punchline to date.

As Paul Mooney said, “Everybody wants to be a n***a, but don’t nobody wanna be a n***a.”

The dismissive, condescending tone of “I’m white, so I can say whatever the hell I want and you will deal” while simultaneously trying to fold into black culture is not groundbreaking — it’s sad and embarrassingly unoriginal. Hopefully Lampanelli has some real friends (not 800-plus Instagram followers) who will tell her that — and soon — before she becomes more of a joke than she already is.
An earlier version of this article appeared on


4 thoughts on “Lisa Lampanelli And Her “N***a”: How a Comedian Became a Cliché (Participation)

  1. This article is interesting to me because, as a person who enjoys standup comedy, I don’t see the wrong in Lisa Lampenelli’s act as much as the person who wrote this article. I have seen her perform and I think she is absolutely hilarious. Yes, her content is extremely racist and she absolutely no censorship but that’s what makes Lisa Lampenelli… Lisa Lampenelli. I completely agree with Kirsten when she talks about what she says being downright mean and insulting to almost anyone and using those 800 likes on Twitter does not condone what she says. But here’s the deal, this is not Kirsten’s problem. This country is based on freedom and being able to express yourself however you want. I know this falls away from the concept of talking about race will help, but seriously, Kirsten, you don’t have to watch her comedy. You can completely ignore Lampenelli and that’s the great thing about comedy is that if you don’t want to follow or know what someone has to say, you don’t have to. To me, listening to the person with intent of totally ripping them apart is just as vicious and ridiculous as their jokes. I realize I am straying away from the topic of racism and as far as Lisa’s jokes go, I agree, she needs to censor herself and try not to burn down minorities with harmful words. She doesn’t care, and it seems like “haters” like Kirsten West won’t change her mind so why waste the time writing “Mean Girl-esque” blog articles about her. This kind of talking isn’t making progress; it’s just funny to read.

    Thanks for reading!
    JT Cook

  2. I agree with JT, I have watched multiple Lisa Lampanelli stand up routines and have always thought of her jokes as more of her poking fun at an already well known stereotype. While it’s clear to anyone she is well known for this, she has often said after her bits that she is not that kind of person away from stage, kinda like she has an on stage persona. And many performers have on stage personas that some may not agree with, and the writer of this article seems to take what she is doing personally and really rips her. This ripping goes beyond what most critics would do, it seems like this writer might have been someone who has been put in to this stereotype and is mad she is, so she takes that anger out on someone she sees as the reason for her pain. Overall I dont see the major problem, most people know if you listen to Lisa Lampanelli your going to get alot of race jokes, so if you dont like it just dont watch her show! Just dont think she is aiming her hate at the right person or area.
    Justin Rice

  3. I know that the “N****” can be an offensive word, but if DJLWSU is this offended about the comedian act than there should also be articles written about every music artist that uses the word and also actions taken against kids that say it everyday when walking down the hall. Yeah, Lisa is white and most of the people that say the word are black but when it is used as frequently as it is it becomes common to hear the word. Then it’s hard to tell if it really does offend people as much as it is proclaimed too. I don’t think that it is right that she uses all the slang that she does, but as long as it is still said frequently by multiple people I don’t see how he can specifically target her for saying it.

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