Lisa Lampanelli is “Stuffed” at Bay Street Theater

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Lisa Lapenelli - Bay Street
Lisa Lapenelli.
Lisa Lapenelli - Bay Street
Lisa Lapenelli

By Michelle Trauring

Lisa Lampanelli is not one to keep her mouth shut. The stand-up comedian has a lot to say. So, naturally, the two weeks after her weight loss surgery felt like an absolute eternity.

Considering she wasn’t allowed to tell anyone.

“Oh, I couldn’t wait, but I had to in case there were operational difficulties, which I didn’t have,” she explained during a recent telephone interview. “But I would have tweeted it from the operating room because I think it’s so important to tell the truth and take ownership.”

That is exactly what she had done with “Stuffed,” a play about “food, fat and fearlessness” that will make its off-Broadway world premiere this fall, but not before it stages as a reading on Saturday night at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor.

There may not be costumes or big fancy sets yet, Ms. Lampanelli said, but there is heart and a healthy dose of reality about body image, weight and eating disorders. Through the lenses of four diametrically opposed women—a compulsive eater, a bulimic, a confidently overweight girl and a chronically thin girl—they find common ground within issues that are still taboo in many circles, she said, and shouldn’t be.

“I don’t think it’s the media or society, I think it’s all our upbringing. We’re sensitive to comments from family and friends and teachers in class. You can’t only blame the billboards,” according to Ms. Lampanelli, who also stars in the play and identifies with the compulsive eater. “It’s about the internal. We’re struggling with self-hate and, for some reason, we focus it on our looks because it’s the ‘easiest’ thing to put it on.

“No one’s fat because they like food,” she continued. “You’re fat because you hate yourself. I know—I’ve been there. It’s very hard to like who you are all the time.”

By age 30, Ms. Lampanelli had worked in journalism, publishing and was absolutely miserable. The idea of comedy had been floating in the back of her mind since her early 20s, but the natural-born introvert shied away from spotlight.

Until, one night, she forced herself on stage for an open mic night in New Haven, Connecticut.

“I’ll never forget it,” she said. “There were these two guys and they high-fived at my punch line, and I said, ‘Oh, this is it. Oh, I’m totally a comedian. I’m a comedian. That’s it.’ I called in sick the next day and I said, ‘How can I get laid off so I can get some damn stage time?’”

It was a careful cocktail of misbehaving—showing up late, tons of personal calls and loud, inappropriate jokes, she said—that did the trick. “I never did anything really effed up,” she said, laughing mischievously.

The time off allowed her to find her voice as a comedian, she said, and her career gained steam when she landed a spot on Comedy Central’s roast of Chevy Chase at the Friars Club in Manhattan.

“Everything happened because of that,” she said, referencing her transformation from a road comic to a theater comic, as well as recurring appearances on The Howard Stern Show and her participation in the fifth season of NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” where she advanced to the final four, raising $130,000 for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

“When I finished ‘Celebrity Apprentice,’ I was really, really exhausted and I knew a lot of the tiredness was the whole merry-go-round of dieting, never losing weight, never exercising and low self-esteem that I had for 32 years,” she recalled. “I said, ‘This is not getting solved. No matter what I try, I screw it up.’ So I went to see a weight-loss surgeon and he said, ‘You’re 50 already. How many people that you know are alive at 70 and weigh what you weigh?’

“This was very upsetting. I had so many things left to do as a human being, not even as a performer.”

It was a wake-up call, she said—one that has kept off 107 pounds, and counting, for the last four years. One that gave her a new lease on life. One that gave her new purpose. She took control of her creativity, her career and her body in a way she never had, which, not for nothing, also included a drastic new do.

“I was like, ‘You know what? It would be super fun to get a little Justin Bieber haircut,’ and then I did,” she said. “I was dying it all these crazy colors. What honestly happens is, you feel like you turned back the clock so much because of your weight loss. You take chances like you’re a 19 year old. It just feels good.”

A reading of “Stuffed” will stage on Saturday, June 25, at 8 p.m. at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor. Tickets range from $69.25 to $125. For more information, call (631) 725-9500, or visit baystreet.org.

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