A co-creator of both The Daily Show and Air America, comedian Lizz Winstead has always mixed comedy and politics. She's become more of an activist in recent years, cofounding the organization Lady Parts Justice, a reproductive rights advocacy group.
In response to a change.org petition initiated by a men's rights group seeking to have feminists labeled terrorists, she recently released a video from her "feminist sleeper cell," in which she addresses the overheated claims of feminism's reign of terror. As silly as the petition is, she notes that the group A Voice for Men raised more than $30,000 in less than 24 hours to pay for extra security at its convention in Detroit.
"I don't know what men's rights they're fighting for, because the websites I've gone to are all about how women are trying to manipulate them," Winstead says via phone from her New York home. "It's not about defending men as much as saying, 'Don't trust women; they're trying to screw you. They're faking rape, they're faking how much money they make. They're faking paternity tests.' ... Everything is about how horrible women are. I don't see the problem. Men seem to have some rights."
Winstead will speak Saturday at a New Orleans fundraiser for the Independent Women's Organization, a Democratic Party-aligned political group.
Helping launch Lady Parts Justice ("Kicking politicians out of vaginas since 2012") is part of her increasing activism. She's also performed at 41 fundraisers for Planned Parenthood in the last two years.
"The 111th Congress' first act — when the tea party majority took over in the U.S. House of Representatives — the first thing the House of Representatives did — instead of working on jobs or TARP — was to defund Planned Parenthood," she says. "Then we saw so many bills pop up. In 2014, we've seen 734 bills (restricting reproductive rights) proposed in state legislatures across the country. I said, 'I can do something about that.'"
Ladypartsjustice.com relaunches an expanded site July 15, and it will have a Facebook page for each state with information about legislation affecting reproductive rights. Currently the website's "Wake Up Wednesday" posts information about current news (on June 11 it noted, "26 states have a waiting period to have an abortion. 11 states have a waiting period to buy a gun.").
Winstead keeps up with state initiatives.
"[Gov.] Bobby Jindal has a bill sitting on his desk right now that says if a woman is brain-dead and pregnant she will be forced to be hooked up to life support," she says. "Wait a minute: You can't even have autonomy when you're not even alive. That's insane."
None of Winstead's feminism or politics have anything to do with opposing men. In fact, she produced the pilot of The Man Show, in which Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla hung out in a clubhouselike set, drank beer and talked about women and manly things.
"We did a bit about ending women's suffrage," Winstead says. "They set up a table and told people that women were 'suffraging' and we needed to end that."
The pilot also featured products she thought men would find desirable, including a bucket of fried chicken skin — no meat, just skin — and a substitution for the piece of plastic that holds a six-pack of beer together. She proposed making those rings out of beef jerky.
While she liked Kimmel and Carolla, she didn't want to do comedy that didn't engage politics.
"I do comedy," she says. "Working on issues that I care about politically — I just fold into my life like my yoga practice and walking with my dogs. I do standup twice a week in New York. And I work with organizations that I care about."
Her comedy isn't simply partisan.
"My jokes hopefully bring out an awareness about an issue or a statistic," Winstead says. "I don't care if someone is ugly or if John Boehner is orange. What does that tell me about John Boehner?"
She also defends women regardless of politics.
"I often find myself defending women who I don't particularly like, because people will attack Ann Coulter or Sarah Palin for what they look like and just be sexist and awful," she says. "I don't need that. If you want to tell me about what they wrote or how it's biased or racist or whatever, feel free. But I am not interested in ad hominem attacks."
Her Twitter feed is full of feisty exchanges and political sparring, but it's also a playground. She regularly watches the Comedy Central show @Midnight and tweets her entries for its #hashtag wars, in which the show's panel of comedians respond to prompts such as "redneck a song" (Winstead tweeted "Daisy Duke of Earl," "Jenny from Up on Blocks" and other spins on song titles). She also uses Twitter to develop her new material.
"If I get 25 retweets in a minute, I favorite it and I build on it," she says. "I don't care if my spelling is wrong or punctuation is wrong. A gut laugh to me is 25 retweets in a minute."