Lizz Winstead Talks Politics, Catholic Roots and Michele Bachmann’s Minnesotan Congeniality

by Will O’Bryan
Monday Jun 4, 2012

Maybe you’ve heard the story about Lizz Winstead, as a budding comic, getting yanked off her feet by a bit of theater machinery as she prepared to introduce the acts at a bitchin’ air-guitar contest in her native Minneapolis.

The mechanical roller that lifted young Winstead, dressed to a sort of 1984 punk-glam hilt, off the stage did quite a bit more to her dress. With stars perfectly aligned, the venue’s air conditioner was also busted, forcing her to take special measures to get some air flow under the vintage wedding dress. You know where this is going.

’’I was in panic mode. I knew I only had a split second to do something to turn this around. So I went with my instinct. I kept talking. But with my big ’80s vagina the club’s immediate focal point, I had to get people to listen to what I was saying, so it had better be fucking funny - funny like I had never been funny before and maybe never would be again. This was about survival.’’

Just how did Lizz Winstead wiggle her way out of that wacky predicament? To find out, you’ll either have to buy the book, Lizz Free or Die, or look for one of the reviews that cites the passage. It’s getting lots of attention.

While Winstead is refreshingly unafraid to give her vagina its due, that’s not the heart of this book, a collection of nonfiction essays. Rather, it’s the observations of an unconventional all-American girl, adolescent and woman.

Many are already familiar with Winstead, co-founder of The Daily Show, Planned Parenthood super booster and comic. She also helped found Air America Radio and pops up on MSNBC. At 50, she’s had a place - not a raging spotlight, mind you, at least not since 1984 - in American culture for decades. Should she ever become a U.S. ambassador, Winstead is the type of person who would remind the world that Americans can be rebellious, idealistic, crass, funny and so endearingly friendly.

She’s also, to put it lightly, political. Winstead’s progressive politics have recently been put to use in her native Minnesota and adopted New York, raising money for Minnesotans United for All Families, the group leading the fight against a measure to add a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

It’s not all house parties, though. Lizz Winstead has a book to promote. To that end, she lands in D.C. mid-June for a night at the National Press Club, followed by two more at The Forum at Sydney Harman Hall.

’’It’s a three-fer,’’ Winstead promises from Los Angeles, a stop on the tour. ’’It’s going to be incredibly fun, because it’s some standup and some book reading and some signing. I’m doing it in the Forum, only like 160 seats. Normally I do bigger venues, so I’m really excited about the intimacy and all of that. I’m so excited.’’

It shows. And after you’ve been hung up naked in front of an audience, why hide it?

METRO WEEKLY: Starting June 14, you’ve got five events planned for D.C. Compared to the rest of the tour, that’s huge.

LIZZ WINSTEAD: I love D.C. I love it. I have so many friends that live there.

It’s unending. It starts with a bunch of pals throwing a party for me Wednesday night, and I don’t leave till Sunday night. I’m at Harman Hall doing four shows, which will be really fun. National Press Club? I’m not sure what happens there, but it’s exciting.

MW: Speaking of D.C., have you been following Rep. Trent Franks’s (R-Ariz.) attempt to use congressional authority to limit access to abortion services in D.C? He wouldn’t let Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) testify. He’s been nicknamed ’’Mayor Franks’’ for this interest in the District, with residents pestering his office for services.

WINSTEAD: And he’s from Arizona, to top it all off. If he’s so concerned with D.C., he should get in there. Looking at why Trent Franks decided to take on D.C., I think it’s because Arizona has successfully removed all civil liberties from all residents, so he needed to find a new place. I don’t think a woman can even exfoliate in Arizona at this point. It’s truly remarkable.

MW: There could be viable DNA in that skin you’re sloughing off. With cloning technology, those cells might have a future.

WINSTEAD: That’s what I’m saying. We must be careful at every turn. Women are obviously careless. We are careless whores that need to be regulated at all costs. Even when you’re doing the Lord’s work, like the nuns. Clearly, prioritizing poverty over stopping people wanting to be happy and married and go to PTA meetings, the muscle’s got to come down.

MW: It was sort of gratifying to read about the nuns standing their ground.

WINSTEAD: [Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, an organization of American nuns] is awesome. I just love that she was like, ’’You can’t define what our church is. Our church, for us, is fighting poverty and for social justice. And if you’re actually saying to us, ’We think you’re not spending enough time on abortion and gay marriage, and need to lay off the poverty,’ we will fight back.’’ She’s awesome.

The bottom line is she’s not afraid to say, ’’Bring it. We welcome you to publicly act out what you’re trying to do.’’ Now the Vatican wants to bring in bishops to sort of monitor the activities of these women. I hope there are cameras every step of the way to show these women working in soup kitchens, trying to get health care for folks who are poor. I want to see that. I’m not sure it’s a real good PR move on the part of the Big V, the Vatican.

MW: Like you, I was raised Catholic. I left the church, and I’m always surprised that more people in conflict with the Vatican don’t. There are lots of alternative denominations.

WINSTEAD: That is the part I’ve always been sort of amazed with. The big warning sign for me is that organization seems to instill this gut-wrenching fear in people that they will do everything but leave. It’s like [presidential candidate Rep.] Ron Paul (D-Texas) people. ’’I really like his ’Pull the troops out.’’’ Yeah, but there are people who haven’t had racist newsletters who also have those stances. Holding up one piece of lovely platform that’s sort of lost in a sea of a lot of other oppressive stuff, why don’t you find a place that will nurture the larger narrative that you believe in?

The fact that these nuns stay, I think I can understand that. They look at those tenets and they know that if they leave there will be no social justice done at all in the Catholic Church. They want to stay and preserve that. There is a foundation steeped in that, that they can clearly have their own spiritual permission - and also the blessing of American Catholics - to say ’’F you’’ to the powers that be when they call them out, which I admire.

I left. There’s pretty much a big, fat, very low ceiling for women to thrive in the Catholic Church.

If you’re exacerbating poverty - because that’s what you’re doing by saying to people never use birth control - it is so whack. It’s insane. Not to mention, if you cared about poverty, you would be more for marriage equality, because a lot of people would get married and they would adopt children.

One of the funniest things my mom said - she would say things that were wildly inappropriate, but weirdly made sense - was, ’’One of the reasons I’m not for gay marriage is because if you were to let gay men have gay sex with each other and everybody was okay with it, nothing would ever get done. Can you imagine the lines at the Post Office?’’ [Laughs.] Basically, if men were left to their own devices they’d just be fucking constantly and therefore the lines would be longer at the Post Office.

MW: Do you have spiritual belief today? Do you believe in some sort of afterlife?

WINSTEAD: I kind of believe there is some bigger spiritual thing. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know how to define it. I also don’t put it above other things, like science. It’s called faith for a reason.

Hopefully, faith propels people to be good. But when it propels you to deny things that can be proven, I don’t understand that. I also don’t understand how some people of faith can say God says this and that. Well, God created scientists. And science. And facts. So why are you denying those things God created? It’s sort of weird that we live in a country where if you are a climate-science denier, you can be leader of the free world. If you’re somebody who says we need to prioritize science over religious beliefs, you can be banished for all eternity in big decision-making centers and be called a Muslim and a communist and a socialist and everything else. It’s so weird.

MW: You’re a big Planned Parenthood booster, so I want to take your mention of birth control a little further. Today, the debate isn’t just about abortion, but now we’re talking about contraception.

WINSTEAD: We used to be fighting this abortion battle. Now we are fighting a contraceptive battle, condom battle, moving into this very disturbing privacy realm. When [Sen.] Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) proposes a bill that says your boss can make moral judgments and deny you any kind of health care in your insurance plan if he deems that your behavior is somehow immoral, what kind of world is that? How is that even possible? This is the part where common sense goes off the rails.

When you say you’d like to reduce the number of abortions in this country and the way you plan to do that is to remove access to birth control? You shouldn’t even be allowed at the table, because it’s absurd. And it’s legitimized. These people are legitimized. When you can say that conception happens two weeks before fertilization, I don’t know what you’re talking about. What? You make a suggestion in law that women should have a transvaginal probe inserted in them when it’s not medically necessary and it’s against their will and they have to pay for it? And you just assume we’re going to sit there and go, ’’Okay.’’

MW: At first, being calm and reasonable, I sympathized with people not wanting their tax dollars used for something they found immoral. Then I remembered that my tax dollars helped fund the Iraq War.

WINSTEAD: We wouldn’t be able to conduct ourselves as a nation if everybody got to pick and choose what they deemed morally acceptable and designate their tax dollars. That’s impossible. That’s why we have government. We vote for people to make decisions. We live under a set of laws and things need to make sense. Don’t use those things if you’re morally opposed. But don’t put that on somebody else, because we all have the freedom to have sex. I hate to break it to you. As much as you’re trying to legislate the sexuality and the sexual practices of people, people are going to finally catch on. It feels to me that people who have crappy sex lives are trying to ruin the world for the rest of us.

MW: I look at marriage equality that way. If you’re opposed, belong to a religious body that won’t allow it, so it won’t happen in your church or synagogue or whatever. If you get the invitation to the wedding, decline it. If that’s not good enough, you probably need to see a therapist.

WINSTEAD: Not to mention, when you make the statement that two people of the same sex who live in a state you’re never going to, who are just trying to get married, have some kids and go to PTA meetings have the power to destroy your marriage, maybe you shouldn’t get married. Maybe you are so unstable that we need to legislate against you, because that seems crazy.

WINSTEAD: Not to mention, when you make the statement that two people of the same sex who live in a state you’re never going to, who are just trying to get married, have some kids and go to PTA meetings have the power to destroy your marriage, maybe you shouldn’t get married. Maybe you are so unstable that we need to legislate against you, because that seems crazy.


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