4:08 pm Jul. 25, 2012
A couple of biographical details follow writer and comedian Lizz Winstead wherever she goes.
These items follow her even though both took place more than a decade ago: that she helped found "The Daily Show" in 1996, and that, two years later, left after a dispute with—and a rather oafish remark from—then-host Craig Kilborn. And like clockwork, those talking points were there last night at Winstead's appearance at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Books Under the Bridge reading series.
“Why I left 'The Daily Show' is a Google-able thing,” Winstead said. “I struggled with it when I wrote the book: do I write about that or not? And I chose [not to] only because it wasn’t the most important part of my 'Daily Show' experience."
The book in question is her new memoir, Lizz Free or Die. At the event, presented by the Powerhouse Arena (which took place inside a tent on Pier One near Brooklyn Bridge Park because of inclement weather), Winstead was more than happy to discuss the other aspects of her role in "The Daily Show" and in show business since then. How she helped, through the show, the careers of Stephen Colbert, Lewis Black, and Brian Unger, or how, in 2003, she plucked Rachel Maddow from a Northampton, Mass. morning show and gave her a national audience co-hosting a show on Air America with Chuck D.
"What was really cool was that’s the place that I landed a job that was my very first TV job where I was the creator and head writer of a show. And I had no idea how to do it, and I had to learn it while I did it, and I made all these mistakes. Walking through that process is more interesting. If you work in this industry and you have a feud with someone in this industry, that’s not news, that’s a Tuesday. And if I’m taking about [Kilborn], I’m not talking about me anymore, and I wrote a book about me.”
And indeed both the book, which Winstead read from later, is more autobiography than showbiz tell-all. She began the event by giving the audience some background, specifically on her parents who, she said, were not only god-fearing Catholics but also staunch conservatives, in stark contrast to her outspoken liberalism.
“My father is from Philadelphia, Mississippi. For those of you who are not historically familiar with Philadelphia, Mississippi, it’s where the James Chaney murder happened, the Mississippi Burning murders. So my dad is about as tolerant as you’d expect from someone [who grew] up in Philadelphia, Mississippi,” Winstead said.
As a burgeoning liberal teen, Winstead butted heads with her parents constantly, but the most fraught occasion was when she chose to have an abortion.
“I got pregnant the first time I ever had sex," she said. "Which was helpful, really helpful for me in the eyes of Christ…. They knew I went through the 'incident' and if they had it their way it would be a private family matter never to be spoken of again, an endless source of self-evaluation that solidified my devotion to Catholicism.”
But it didn't work out that way. Winstead has always loudly discussed her abortion and proclaimed her pro-choice beliefs, lending her voice to fundraisers and rallies. Last year she toured the country performing stand-up routines in support of Planned Parenthood.
"Every time I spoke out on the subject of abortion I knew my parents died a little inside," she said. In a portion of the book that Winstead read, she recounts a typical exchange with her mother over publicizing her progressiveness:
“Why do you have to advertise your deal?” Winstead said, mimicking her mother’s voice, sounding like a cross between Frances McDormand in Fargo and an old shrew.
“You know—your deal.”
“You mean the pro-choice event?“
“Yeah. The deal.”
“Well, so we can raise money.”
“No, for ways to torture you. And whatever is left over we’ll use for abortion.”
The book is full of funny anecdotes about her parents, both of whom she calls "just crazy."
“My mom is half deaf and watched Fox News which means she gets half [of] half the truth. And then she starts fighting with you, so she would call me and say, ‘Can black people get citrus-cell anemia? And I’m like 'Citrus-cell anemia is not a thing,'"
Winstead semi-eulogizes her father (who passed away in 2006), displaying how differences certainly didn’t offset her desire for his approval.
“[My father] loves 'Def Comedy Jam,'" she read. "I mean, he loves Def Comedy Jam. And I finally asked, ‘Dad, what is it about "Def Comedy Jam" that makes you laugh harder than anything I ever heard?’ And he was like ‘There is nothing funnier than a black guy looking for pussy.' Now, I’m going to be honest: what bugged me most about that comment wasn’t the weird racism behind it, but by the fact that I will never be a black guy looking for pussy. So in his eyes my comedy will always be inferior to anything on 'Def Comedy Jam.'”
In the Q&A after the talk, someone asked Winstead if she finds it difficult to joke about abortion.
“Umm, I would say finding humor in hard things usually requires some hindsight, if it’s personal," she said. “The lies and shaming that were thrust upon me were so profound that terminating the pregnancy was something I knew that I wanted, because I knew from a very young age that motherhood and children, that was just not my path.”
A gentleman then raised his hand to ask another question: “It seems like people in my generation…” he began.
“How old are you?” Winstead interjected.
“Oh, I could have terminated you. See! An abortion joke!”
More by this author:
- For Charles Clough, a solo show that raises the question: What was the 'Pictures Generation' really?
- Steven Soderbergh describes his last good shot