Lizz Winstead is a wee bit tired. She’s been traveling since June 14 with her “Planned Parenthood, I’m Here For You!” Comedy Tour, which has spanned 12 cities and 10 states. Plus she’s been working on her upcoming book, out in June of 2012. All this activity “does energize me, but I’m exhausted,” she told us from her homebase in New York City when we spoke to her by phone recently. At that point the book was 500 words from completion, not that finishing it means time off for Winstead. A major moment in the comedy tour, which benefits Planned Parenthood, will happen in New York City this Thursday, September 22: Winstead will perform at the Gramercy Theatre alongside comediennes and friends Sandra Bernhard and Lisa Lampanelli, Salon.com’s Joan Walsh, and singer-songwriter Ambrosia Parsley.
We caught the Daily Show co-creator/Air America co-founder/political satirist/all-around funny lady in a rare moment of down time to ask her some questions about the cause she’s embraced, her upcoming New York City event, and what she thinks the 2012 election has in store for us.
Tell us how this tour began. You came up with the idea?
I’ve always done benefits for Planned Parenthood and I’ve always been involved in reproductive health activism, but I’d noticed when asked to do events that they were always these fund-raising galas, costing $500 a plate, for people who could afford to go such things. I wanted to figure out how to get the second wave involved.
I’d gone to Minnesota to finish my book in late November, and was going to just hunker down. I’d been steadily watching the news, and the GOP started right in on Planned Parenthood and the EPA. I thought it was just ridiculous that that was a priority — the ugliness, the lies, and the craziness — I just thought, this was really insane. When it didn’t pass and I saw the state legislatures take it up, I thought, What if I were to drive back to New York and do fund-raisers along the way?
I called up Planned Parenthood national with my idea to drive across the country by myself, and they were like, What? I had to get a bodyguard, and my friend Matt flew in to drive with me — we’re going to make a documentary of the trip. June 14 was the first event, in Minnesota. We hit the road on July 6. By the third one, the crowds were incredible.
How many people?
We’re getting 300 to 400 people a night, and we’ve brought the average age down and the first-time donors up — it’s 65 to 80 percent first-timers, and the same percentage of people under 30. It was really cool. The other Planned Parenthood affiliates started hearing about it and asking, Can we jump on board? We said, bring it.
It’s really fun for me, it’s rewarding, and I can do it, so why not? This should not be extraordinary thing that i’m doing. What I’d love would be if people started going in and taking up this kind of movement to help unions, fight poverty, for environmental causes, etc.
This cause is of also of personal importance to you…
In my book, I have an essay about getting pregnant in high school. I read it at the end of my show. That experience has played an important part of my life. This is to encourage women who’ve used Planned Parenthood to start saying to others, “We’re here for you. We’re faces. We’re on it.” My goal is to make Planned Parenthood like LensCrafters. What I mean is that people should be able to speak about Planned Parenthood in the sense of, the way people go to LensCrafters — they have it on their list of things to do, they wouldn’t be ashamed to tell anyone it was on their list. For Planned Parenthood to be part of the vernacular the way LensCrafters is. That was the most awesome thing that Michele Bachmann ever said, I mean, this is actually the goal of anyone with a brain.
One of the most rewarding things is having people come up after the show, telling me their stories after I told them mine. If that encourages them, I’m thrilled. If women feel ashamed about going to Planned Parenthood, that means the right will win. We shouldn’t be ashamed about sex.
Have you had protestors, angry crowds, that sort of thing?
We had about 200 protestors in Michigan; we were greeted by a mob. In Frederick, Maryland, there were about 30 protestors. People have been writing about it a lot. Google “Lizz Winstead is Michael Vick,” you will read the most astounding piece…
As I say often, I try to listen to people when they talk about their beliefs, but when you say you want to reduce abortion and the way you plan to do that is to remove access to birth control, your agenda is something else — you’re about controlling women.
You’ve been on the road since July! You must be tired.
It does energize me, but I’m exhausted. I’m 500 words away from having my book done. It’s partly exhausting because I’m traveling with the dogs, and there’s all this stuff in the back of your mind that you have to take care of — but when you get there and see people and they’re so excited…the good and the sad news is, it’s amazing how appreciative the clinic workers are that you are willing to stand with them. Planned Parenthood is not like the American Lung Association. it’s a hot-button issue that can stigmatize you.
How did the other ladies get involved with the New York City show?
Sandra was reading my updates and saying on Twitter, I will help you in any way I can. Roseanne Cash and Sarah Silverman have done videos; I reached out to them, since I was in the wheelhouse in Planned Parenthood. No one has said no. All the women — it’s all these women that I love — are really strong and happy to do it. It’s so rare to have all of us together, which is what makes it doubly great.
Has the tour made it into your book?
The tour isn’t in the book at all. The book is a series of essays following this touchstone moment of growing up in the ’60s, finding my voice, and doing political standup, which lead to the Daily Show and Air America. It’s not really a memoir so much as stories in a chronology.
How long will the tour go on?
The good and bad of it is that we’ve been having such good luck with it, I’ve added 10 days! As of now, I’ve said I will do it as long as I’m available. The last date on the books is December 6 in Lincoln, Nebraska, but in spring of 2012 there’s talk of Austin, there’s talk of other things.
I think from here to forth, I’ll leave the dogs at home. I’m going on a mini-run to Alaska and then two days in Washington state, then I’ll come back, do Vermont and New Hampshire; Eugene, Oregon; Nebraska. I’ll try to go in clusters.
Tell me what else is going on. Do you have time for anything else?
With finishing the book, and this tour, I haven’t been able to do much of anything else. Writing a book is a fulltime job, which I discovered, and then being out on the road, doing standup… I have to figure out a plan for when I’m done with the book. I’ve got to do the book tour, and I’m probably going to be buried in election year live shows. It’s going to be really intense! And then I’ll figure out 2013.
Speaking of which…how are you feeling about the election?
What’s good for comedy is bad for the nation. It’s a cornucopia of gold nuggets…more than I’ve ever seen. I never thought it would get weirder than 2010, but this emergence of complete incompetence, it’s like, Really 2010, that’s all you got? Fuck you! That’s kind of where we’re at.
When Obama got elected, I had all these moronic reporters saying “What are you gonna talk about when Bush is gone?” I was like, everything?
It does get crazier and crazier. Forget about everything else: The Supreme Court ruled that corporations were people. How corporations have responded to that, that would be enough to live on for a year. Or take the fact that the most rational person on the Republican side is a guy who believes his underwear is magic and that Jesus is coming back to Missouri.
I try to look at the hypocrisy and not the gravity.
What does this mean for comedy to come?
I’m guessing I’ll talk quite a bit about the contenders as they’re weeded down. Coming out of 9/11, I’ll certainly be talking about where America has come. The new congressional session will be in. I’m sure I’ll talk about Obama getting his new job act going — I’m sure I’ll talk about the state of reproductive rights. I have a lot of jokes on how ludicrous the conversation has become.
What did you think about Obama’s recent jobs speech?
My takeaway: Watching the debate the night before and what they prioritized and then watching Obama talk about jobs and doing this bitch-slap to congress, kind of like, This is dire mo-fos, it felt like the people from the night before were sideshow acts and morality barkers, not leaders.
When I watched that debate, and Rick Perry said death penalty, and it got a standing ovation like he had a jobs program, it made my heart sink. If the public looks at that and says, we like this philosophy, I don’t know. I don’t see general election winners in this group. Rick Perry is a weird cowboy clown.
It will be interesting to see how Obama reinvents his language — he didn’t use words like NAFTA, etc., in his speech — and if he can heighten his emotional talking points and then come up with some jobs.
Back to Planned Parenthood for a moment…what do you hope comes out of this tour effort?
Powerful women come from being able to have control of their lives, and Planned Parenthood is an organization that wants to make sure they can have control of their lives. 97 percent of what they do is helping people stay healthy — I don’t know why you’d fight against that.