One of the country’s most highly regarded political satirists talks about her career, her comedy and her fight for women’s rights.
The Milwaukee Comedy Festival celebrates its 13th year in the Cream City, Aug. 1-5. And its lineup is looking particularly strong, in large part because Lizz Winstead – co-creator of “The Daily Show” and founder of Lady Parts Justice League – will be one of the headliners.
Performing as part of her cross-country Vagical Mystery Tour, Winstead will be joined on stage by Jackie Kashian, Aida Rodriguez (“Last Comic Standing”), Gina Yashere (“The Daily Show with Trevor Noah”) and Milwaukee native Jackie Kashian (“Two Dope Queens”).
We spoke with her about what she’s been up to lately, and what local audiences can expect from her Milwaukee performance.
Tell me a bit about Lady Parts Justice League. Why did you want to found a comedy-driven reproductive rights organization?
I myself had an abortion, when I was 17. And in the process of trying to find one I ended up in a fake clinic … their advertising was very misleading. A woman literally dressed up in a lab coat gave me a pregnancy test and told me my options were either “mommy or murder” – it was the worst experience of my life. There are over 4,000 of those clinics in the country, and only about 800 clinics that provide abortions.
I wanted to keep information about reproductive health front and center. So I started reaching out to other women, other comedian friends, and told them I wanted to use comedy as a platform to talk about reproductive rights… Access to reductive care means access to someone’s full humanity. And that’s something everyone should care about.
Are you concerned that Roe v. Wade could be overturned?
Depending on what happens with [Supreme Court nominee Brett] Kavanaugh, yeah, I’m very worried. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, four states will immediately abolish any and all abortion in their states… But I do have hope, because there’s a citizen-fueled movement for justice.
Has your comedy changed much since Donald Trump took office?
No, I’ve been responding to the news and politics since 1992. I think what’s changed is the amount of overwhelming insanity to work with. Before, the people I was making fun of had a political ideology that I would then poke holes in. Now I’m dealing with a president and an administration that’s like the policy version of spin art, you know? There’s no “there” there.
You got your start as a standup comic, but you’re also an accomplished writer, producer and political activist. Do you identify with one of those roles more than the others?
I think it all ties together. And that’s one of the things I like about Lady Parts Justice League – it allows me to do all of those things at the same time.
I think that many fans of “The Daily Show” are unaware that you and Madeleine Smithberg created the program, whereas shows like “Saturday Night Live” are closely associated with their male creators. Do you ever feel like your involvement was downplayed because you were women?
I think the better question is: Why isn’t the fact that this show was creative by two women more celebrated? I have no problem talking about my work, I’m proud of my work.
You grew up in Minneapolis. Do you think there’s anything uniquely Midwestern about your comedic sensibilities?
When people talk about everyone needing to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and take responsibility for themselves, I always say “yeah, and sometimes people also need help.” And when I see people being demonized because they’re being judged by someone who hasn’t walked in their shoes, I think it’s the Midwesterner in me who says “don’t beat up on that person. Stop that.” I think a lot of my life philosophy actually comes from living somewhere where it takes a village to push a car out of a snow bank.
What can Milwaukee audiences expect from your show?
They can expect a night of hilarious, righteous comedy featuring women whose perspectives you don’t normally see in a standup show.
And they can hear incredible information about what’s happening in Wisconsin. The only independent abortion provider left in Wisconsin is going to be there, and we’re organizing a workshop through the comedy festival.
The above interview has been edited for length and clarity.