Photograph by Mindy Tucker
Comedian and political satirist Lizz Winstead
For most people, co-creating The Daily Show might be their career zenith. For Minneapolis native Lizz Winstead, it was just the beginning. The comedian and political satirist (and sister of longtime Bloomington mayor Gene Winstead) also wrote a book, Lizz Free or Die, founded reproductive rights messaging hub Lady Parts Justice, and, most importantly to the Twin Cities, began hosting an annual year-in-review New Year’s Eve show here. This year’s show, Controversy 2016, is a two-night, three-performance run at the Cedar, and it promises to be a romp through everything from the Olympics and the deaths of David Bowie and Prince to a bunch of the 2016 minutiae that you probably already forgot about.
Why do you keep coming back here to do your annual year-in-review show?
I thought it’d be fun to do an overview of the year and to pick out the highs and lows. I think a lot of times people take in information, and each year say, 'Ugh it can’t get worse.' And it gets worse! So I don’t know what people do who don’t have a job like mine. Where you can adjust it, respond to it with comedy, and reach out to people. I think it’s really nice to have a big, fun evening where we can all unload and have feelings together.
So why do you make it a point to do this show right here, in your hometown of Minneapolis?
I do it because my life is so busy and not being able to come back to Minneapolis, like I used to be able to...so this is a way that combines everything I do best, which is responding to the world. So to be able to, at the end of the year, culminate that with people who I know care, because the Twin Cities is really meant to be this person that’s political...so it’s really nice to do this show for a community of people who literally encourage me to be this person.
People know you most for co-creating The Daily Show, but you’ve accomplished so much since, from writing a book, to founding Lady Parts Justice. What has your career been like since?
I really stayed in the satirizing, the comical hypocrites genre. From The Daily Show, I did a show on Oxygen. Then I launched Air America Radio and co-starred with Rachel Maddow and was a programmer there. I wrote my book and I did a little off-Broadway show that was satirizing the Today Show. Then everything came to a halt. While I still believed that I wanted to use humor as a sled to impart information, I couldn’t give a call to action when I was in a traditional media space. I have been in the corner for pro-choice, but I haven’t been out about it. So I went on tour to raise money for Planned Parenthood and learned there were independent clinics that needed help and some of the advocate organizations. I couldn’t do it by myself, and I realized that I could gather some friends who were great writers, comedians, actors, graphic designers, and filmmakers. The plan was to go on the road and do comedy shows, but also provide aide and comfort to the clinics. I get to combine use of comedy to expose hypocrisy to talk about issues that affect women. So Lady Parts Justice was born, and I feel like it’s a combination of all the things I love, while I kind of get to do something on my own terms.
Just looking at your tweets, they’re obviously going to be subject to some criticism. How does someone coming from the “Minnesota nice” background withstand that and stand up to the trolls?
Right? I mean, part of it was having 20 years of comedy under my belt. Dealing with hecklers was a real big muscle building exercise for me. I taught myself to look at these attacks, look at these people’s Twitter feeds, see that they literally are showing hate at hundreds of people and it’s not personal. I’m glad you asked that because one of the things we’ve been talking about at Lady Parts Justice, in the wake of this ascension of Trump, is that he has emboldened and legitimized sexism and racism in a way I’ve never seen in my lifetime. So what we want to do as an organization as we move forward is to really say to all of the people who are young, trying to find their voice online, being intimidated online by these people that we need to organize and we need to look at the information, assess it, and then really understand where it’s coming from. I have more obligations to help create a more protective space and give people the tools, especially women, to fight back, adjust the information. Give it its proper place and feel stronger to be able to fight back with it.
What are some topics your attendees of your show can look forward to?
You know, the funny thing about the show sometimes is the stuff that you forgot happened in the year. For example, we all know I’m going to talk about the accession of Trump, Mike Pence, Hillary, and Bernie. And of course our hero Prince leaving Minnesota way too soon. But you also forget those morons who took over that national park and then didn’t bring enough snacks. That happened last year. All of the sexism that surrounded the Olympic coverage, that will be coming into play for sure. But I’m going to figure out how to cover the election and Trump in a way that the whole show is not about Trump. Because a lot of stuff happened this year that just faded into the background because of Trump.
And what is it like when you come back every year? What are the must-do things when you’re back in Minnesota?
I think one thing I’m definitely going to do is go to Paisley Park Museum. But I always do my certain rounds. I love to go to brunch at Ike’s and have a Bloody Mary, and for the interest of disclosure, my brother owns it. But I love Ike’s and I go there because it’s the best Bloody Mary on the planet. I like to go to Convention Grill and have a plaza burger. I always pop in at the Grand to have dinner. My agenda mostly surrounds where I will be eating and who’s ever at First Avenue; I’ll probably see somebody there. And I’ll probably see John Eller Piano Bar at the Driftwood. It will be a lot of getting together with friends and family. We have a really close family, and we spend a lot of time together.
Speaking of family, ironically your brother, Gene Winstead, is the mayor of Bloomington and Republican. How does that make for holiday get-togethers?
He’s definitely more conservative than I am. He’s also a super delightful, rational human being. Basically, our dinner conversations revolve around me saying something completely radical on television or Twitter. And him getting a flood of emails at his job, calling me, and saying, 'What did you say? I don’t even want to open these emails.' It’s funny because my dad was really conservative. And my dad said, 'I raised you kids to have an opinion, and I forgot to tell you it was supposed to be mine.' The thing I really love about my family is in all of our conversations, disagreements, and arguments, we’re still respectful because all of us know that our feelings and beliefs come from a place that researched; it’s not knee-jerked. My brother may be a little bit more conservative than I, but that comes from a fiscal, policy state. There’s no party allegiance, and that’s the thing that I really do like about my brother. He’s a really good dude. And he’s raised really good daughters. He and his wife, I should say. Because Deb is the best, and I don’t want to leave her out.
Dec. 30–31. Cedar Cultural Center, 416 Cedar Ave. S., Mpls., 612-338-2674, thecedar.org