Profile in Comedy: Lizz Winstead
As a co-creator and former head writer of Comedy Central's The Daily Show and co-founder of Air America Radio, Lizz Winstead has emerged as a critically acclaimed political writer and producer. As a performer, Winstead brought her political wit to The Daily Show as a correspondent and later to the radio waves co-hosting Unfiltered, Air America Radio's mid-morning show with citizen of the world and hip hop legend Chuck D and political big brain Rachel Maddow.
Lizz's comedic talents have been recognized in Entertainment Weekly's 100 Most Creative People issue and she was nominated Best Female Club Performer by The American Comedy Awards. She has appeared in HBO's Women of the Night, The U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Comedy Central Presents, and too many basic cable stand-up shows and VH-1 50 Greatest This and 100 Greatest That lists to count.
Lizz is currently writing, producing, and starring in Wake Up World, a live theater and web show in New York that satirizes all of our beloved morning shows. For details go to
When did you first realize that you were uniquely funny?
I think it was seventh grade in Catholic school, when they redid the uniform policy. Boys no longer had to wear them yet girls still had to don the hideous wool grey plaid jumper. I decided to respond by shredding it like a hula skirt. It was not received well.
Who do you think were your influences?
The Church and anyone who said no to me. As far as actual comics, Carlin, Nichols and May, Laugh-In.
Do you remember your first original joke?
Ugh. I think it was “They make a product called Correctol, the women's gentle laxative. As opposed to the less popular Ravage, the women's not-so-gentle laxative.”
When did you realize that comedy was something you had to do for a living?
I have no other skills, so very early on.
What was your first job in comedy writing or performance?
My first comedy writing job was on a Comedy Central show called Women Aloud, hosted by Mo Gaffney. First performance was at Dudley Riggs Brave New Workshop in Minneapolis. December 18, 1983. Twenty-five years ago!
As a woman, was it difficult when you got started? Are things easier now for up-and-coming women comics?
I had a hard time because comedy was hard; I didn't do a lot of women-centric material so I was making both genders laugh.
Politically speaking, what is the responsibility of the comedian?
It's always the responsibility of the comedian to make people laugh. My own criteria for myself is to always target those who have power and use it unwisely or abuse it.
What are the differences between writing for yourself and writing for others?
Writing for yourself, you get to craft your own voice and opinions. Writing for others requires listening and learning the voice and the ideals of that person, helping them develop their best voice.
What do you find exciting about comedy right now?
The Internet, because it opens up the creative field in a whole new way.
Where do you think the future of comedy is headed?
The Internet. It is no longer the networks' game; it is the creatives' game, and if you utilize that box called the computer you can create your own destiny.
As audiences are becoming more specific and more segmented, is that making your job easier or more difficult?
It requires you to devote more time to finding like-minded audience members and through social networking you can do that. But a comic now is not only a performer but a publicist and a producer. It is not for the lazy!
What is the best thing about being a comedy writer?
Having your thoughts and ideas heard and validated through laughter.
Do you have any advice for up-and-coming comedy writers?
Write what you love and believe in. Never present something you haven't thought through. It's the only control you have in this business.