On July 9, Daily Show creator, former Air America host, and comedian Lizz Winstead hit the road for a stand-up tour benefitting Planned Parenthood. She took a break from the show and finishing work on her forthcoming memoir to talk to me about what she’s learned about support for reproductive rights from her audiences; why conservative comedians aren’t very funny; how we can back up Planned Parenthood workers; and her dream television show in the post-Bridesmaids boom for women in comedy. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
How’s the tour gone so far? Are there things you’ve learned from your audiences along the way?
Really great! We did this sort of first leg, and I’m taking almost all of August off except for the 19th of August because I have to finish my book. It’s no longer a joke and nobody thinks it’s cute it’s not finished…[I've learned that] it’s still taboo to tell your story. I don’t know if taboo is the right word. There’s still fear…People have come up to me, at least 20 after every show, and said ‘I feel like I can tell my story.’ It’s sort of the Harvey Milk story…Once someone puts a face on a subject it makes it that much harder to demonize it. It changes the conversation a lot. I’m glad that it gives people some pause to think about what they’re doing with their own story and their relationship to Planned Parenthood.
The other thing that’s equally awesome and equally heartbreaking is how generally overwhelmed with thanks that the staff is. Because it makes me feel like more people need to be stepping up and helping them fight the fight. Those people are in their doing their basic job every day. That should be their job, not to be tortured every single day by these terrible people who protest in front of their clinics and terrify them.
In terms of telling more stories about abortion, what do you think accounts for our pop culture squeamishness about abortion and reproductive health more generally?
I think it comes down to advertising dollars. It’s still such a taboo subject. The extremists will boycott and they’ll rally and they’ll do that kind of stuff. When you go to a local market, [it's a struggle] for the local press to write about the show. We’ve had to rely heavily on people like you, people like the progressive blogosphere. You have a wider reach, and you don’t care if they attack you. It’s really interesting how people shy away from it. You’re marked. You have to make a decision. I turned 50 on Friday, and I’ve had a really nice, fun half of my career, and what am I going to do? If I can’t use the voice I have to get people to pay attention to the news, than what am I doing? That’s kind of given me a clear path to other things that I want to do in the second half of my career.
It seemed to me as someone who had been watching the progression of anti-women and anti-women’s health care legislation, watching the complete escalation of it with this new Congress made me feel like I can’t sit there and let this happen. I have a voice, and I have a show that people like, they pay money to come see it. To be able to share this personal story, that it encourages other people to say so. It seems that humor, here’s a a completely obvious statement, has become a real driving force for conversations about the issues in the world.