A few weeks ago I went to see my feminist political comedian hero (and the most reliably funny person on Twitter), Lizz Winstead, at the Sidney Harman Hall in our lovely Baloney Chinatown. On tour for her book Lizz Free or Die, Winstead did a little reading and comedy bit combo. For some reason I was expecting this to be a show in a big auditorium with people hootin’ and hollerin’ like on an HBO comedy special. Instead, it was in a small room in the basement with maybe 40 or so women and gay men. And old people! This was my kind of show.
Lizz does the show with her notes on music stands, which makes me feel so much better about my terrible memory problems. Her commentary on all of the recent War on Women Baloney was hysterical, but unfortunately I can’t remember much of it. I should have taken notes. I do remember her making fun of Ann and Mitt Romney a lot, and the other Republican presidential contenders. Trust me, it was funny. The gays loved her!
The book is a series of essays that span from her childhood to the present. Growing up in a seriously Catholic family in Minnesota, Lizz felt a little out of place when she started to shape her own more liberal social and political views. Her chapter on getting knocked up at 17 and tricked into going to one of those “crisis pregnancy centers” is priceless and ought to be required reading for all teenage girls out there. And her reminiscences of 1980s Minneapolis are a great reminder of how wonderful midwestern cities are: cheap, supportive of artists and full of opportunities for smart young people to cut their teeth (not to mention the plethora of awesome bands there at the time). Seriously, why do I live on the east coast again? Everyone in their 20s and maybe 30s too should be grabbing the next bus ticket to the heartland. Even Patti Smith agrees!
Most people are going to read the book for the chapters on Winstead’s birthing of the Daily Show and Air America Radio. What really stood out to me is the exhaustion that must come from working on these kinds of shows. To us at home, every show is packaged nicely and looks like is must have been easy to put together. Not that she’s complaining as she seems to have loved every second of it, but she recounts the never-ending work schedule, anxiety about being constantly funny and disagreements with those that control the purse strings and worries about where the next job will come from. Seriously, check out the chapter where she shamefully admits to being involved with the MTV show Burned, titled “I Should Have Been Sent to Feminist Gitmo.” Shudder.
Most memoirs by famous people have that patronizing “I was just a Joe Schmoe but I worked hard and you can too” schtick that is obvious BS. Winstead makes it clear that she had plenty of fumbles and major embarrassment on the way to her success, and that she owes a lot of friends and family who helped her along the way. The heart of the book is Winstead’s relationship with her fabulously cranky, conservative and hilarious dad, Wilbur, who made appearances on the early days of the Daily Show. His influence threads throughout every chapter. It seems pretty clear that without him to spar with, Lizz would never have been so hungry to break out into the comedy scene and never would have had such strong, insightful opinions, either. Thanks Wilbur!