Lizz Winstead: ‘Feminists need to be vocal and present’
Comedian and writer Lizz Winstead is no stranger to political drama and the media. She is one of the lead political comedians of our time. Co-creating Comedy Central’s hit “The Daily Show”’ Winstead shattered the idea that women can’t have a voice in politics. She is a huge woman’s rights activist and driving force behind Lady Parts Justice. A group that uses comedy and culture to get important political information out. Shining a light on the horrible things lawmakers are doing to our reproductive rights and safety. The group has many top feminist supporters including Lena Dunham, Sarah Silverman, and Amy Schumer.
Winstead has taken to our digitally driven world and created an app that uses Tinder like layouts to send information out about your local politics (Hinder). She’s always trying to find a fresh way to get her important message out.
How did you end up in comedy?
I think the easiest way to answer that would be to say I was a curious kid who had a bunch of unconventional interests. So, through the course of being a little girl who thought she might have wanted to be an older boy, I tried to do what I wanted rather than what people expected of me. Also, being the youngest of five children, I had to fight just to complete a sentence. So I loved the idea of being on stage and having the time to express myself. I knew for at least five minutes I could speak without being interrupted.
So, your family was supportive?
I was always tireless and driven so my parents didn’t really have a choice. But they did forget to tell me it was a bad idea. They shot so many other things down but never said “you shouldn’t do it because you aren’t talented.” My mother never understood why any of her kids would take this road. She loved being a housewife and a mother, so she couldn’t understand why we didn’t that route. Feeling it was so fulfilling. The idea of finding a dude to be with for the rest of my life sounds way harder than getting up on stage.
As feminists, what can we do to stop the violation of our rights?
We can’t be passive, we have to be vocal and present. You can’t just give money clinic, you have to show up as support. Stand up and tell our stories. Talk about what it’s like trying to raise a family on a wage lower than a man’s. We matter and we have to act like it. I think inclusive is a great qualifier to be paired with feminist.
You’re the co-creator of “The Daily Show.” How did the show come about?
I was doing political comedy, doing a couple “one woman” shows about the media and their lack of….anything. It caught the attention of a few folks and lead to a few Comedy Central political specials. At this time, I was writing my third one woman show and moved into a building where the woman who was producing Jon Stewart’s late night talk show, Madeleine Smithberg lived. This was before The Daily Show. She knew I had worked with Jon before and asked if I would be interested in this segment producing job. So I did that while still writing my show. When Jon’s show got cancelled our bosses took over Comedy Central. They asked Madeleine and I if we wanted to create a show that airs everyday and responds to what’s happening in the world. I had just come off being such an observer of media, I was like “of course.” I wanted there to be this character though. Play it totally straight, expose them by becoming them. And they went for it. I hasn’t even sure what I had said to them. They allowed us to put a show on the air with no pilot, let it grow for a year and it grew for 18. And it’s still growing.
Did you have a hard time as a woman in this field?
You know, it’s always difficult for women because men feel they can do your job better. At that time there weren’t a whole lot of women writing political satire or using media to expose hypocrisy. On some levels it was hard. What was interesting, when we were staffing the show we received 150 applications and only two were from women. Unfortunately, those two women didn’t get our tone or the shows satire. So, it was myself and six dudes. If had to say no to a joke, I made sure I could explain why. Or if I liked a joke, I would fight for it. I think the staff trusted me because I care about getting the best material on the air.
Tell us about Lady Parts Justice.
The one thing I learned working in commercial media is that it isn’t your job to call for action. My job was to make people laugh but if I made them think at the same time, that was allowed. I realized I could make them think while laughing and maybe get them to act on the issues. So, I formed Lady Parts Justice. What we try to do is elevate people who are politicians or powerful influencers that are trying erode access to reproductive and and abortions in all 50 states. We travel around the country and set up sort of a part USO show part Habitat for Humanity, working with clinics to help boost morale and get things that they need. We will be going to Texas to help build a fence in a few month. And we do the comedy shows as a reminder to those who think women can’t be funny. When you gather people to see smart women doing very funny material, you start building a community. Hopefully some of the people that come out to our shows will get involved with helping their local clinics. It’s such an important issue. The information needs to get out there. It’s sad that people still say this is a “woman’s issue” and that people don’t prioritize the fact that human rights are being violated. Especially poor women and women of color. Everyone deserves a shot at the American dream and an unintended pregnancy in vulnerable communities can shut that down in a heartbeat. We just want everyone to have a fighting chance.
You also created an app called Hinder. What is Hinder?
In our quest to constantly get people engaged with the politicians that are trying to ruin their lives. As we were talking, we really tried to think of a way to reach people who are necessarily politically engaged. What are people looking at constantly? Tinder. What if we created an app where you can look at your own state, see who’s on there. You just swipe to see each person and lists of the things they have done to women in the laws the proposed. We wanted to create something fun and familiar.
Do you have any advice on how to succeed?
It’s always smart to surround yourself with strong and weak everything. Your life should be rich and full of people who don’t look like you and have different life experiences than you do. And when you’re making decisions, use an organic thought process.
This never-released before full length interview with Lizz Winstead was featured in Inspirer’s Fall issue.