Awesome People: Hangin' With Lizz Winstead, Co-Creator Of The Daily Show


Originally Appeared at Rhode Island's Future in July, 2010

Everyone remembers that one person who helped set them on their career path. Maybe it was a teacher, a coach, a relative or some kind of mentor. For Lizz Winstead, the credit goes to a douchebag.

About two decades ago, Winstead was having drinks on a blind date in New York City when everybody’s eyes turned to the bar’s television. It was right at the onset of the Gulf War and Winstead recalls being taken aback by the pageantry of the events taking place – the graphics, the reporting, the way violence was being sold to the public. She says it made her sick.

Her date’s response? “Wow. This is so cool.”

In that very moment, Winstead, who had been a standup comedian since the early ‘80s, says her act changed. She hated the way hypocrites in the media were packaging the war and decided to start focusing on politics and current events. Within a few years, Winstead began working with Comedy Central to create an everyday show that would respond to what was happening in the world, with the media as a central character. The Daily Show was born.

Winstead has become a leading voice among progressives around the country, co-founding Air America Radio, where she also hosted a show with Rachel Maddow and Chuck D. Last month, she served as a keynote speaker and panelist at Netroots Nation, where she called the progressive movement the voice of sanity in our country.

Winstead is in Rhode Island this weekend to perform her latest solo project, called My State of The Union. The Mixed Magic Theater in Pawtucket is hosting her for a pair of shows this evening at 7:00 and 9:00 and another two at the same time tomorrow night. Tickets are still available.

I caught up with her Wednesday before she spoke to a large crowd at Drinking Liberally at the Wild Colonial. Aside from learning that she orders her steak rare (Paragon may have dropped the ball on that one) I found her to be as insightful as she is hilarious. We talked a lot about women in comedy and she said she believes that a female will have a late night show on a major network within ten years.

Unfortunately, thanks in part to the internet and 24/7 media, she thinks the Letterman’s and Leno’s of the world (she doesn’t put The Daily Show in this class) have started to lose their relevance. In her opinion, radio is a great way to connect with an audience. She said she loves how listeners can keep the host honest and how they’re the ones dictate how the show goes.

Winstead said she feels the right still owns talk radio because the goal of conservatives is simply to “scare the shit” out of the audience. She thinks people like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are willing to shovel dishonesty down their listeners’ throats because they are the most opportunistic people in the world and given the state of the country, it’s easy to take advantage of the public.

She said progressives need to roll up their sleeves and find a way to be heard. She pointed to all the brilliant people on the left who are well-known (Bill Maher, Jon Stewart) but said the next success probably won’t come from television because there isn’t any syndication money out there. She said she wishes MSNBC “had the balls” to put a real progressive show on its network.

Her key message to progressives, however, is to bring the internet to real life.

“A lot of times, we only get together two or three times a year,” Winstead said. “Progressives need to meet up for social occasions – have BBQ’s and rallies, start attending school board meetings and city council meetings. Infiltration is fun. “

Someone ought to find that douchebag.

And thank him.


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