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Lizz Winstead: Political and present

Comedian Lizz Winstead combines her politics with punchy and probing observational humor to create her stage persona.
Image by Lizz Winstead
Comedian Lizz Winstead adds politically charged sass to her Minnesota nice.

A tired, half-bored Lizz Winstead sat in a bar on a blind date, watching the first Gulf War unfold on television.

Before entering the unremarkable New York City establishment, the comedian and future co-creator of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” had recently moved to the Big Apple. The Minneapolis native began her career in the Twin Cities and was in the process of reaching a larger audience while her date quickly lost steam.

Winstead was entranced by what was happening on the screen. She saw colorful graphics and attractive reporters and didn’t think she was getting the full story.

“I had to ask myself,” she said. “‘Are they trying to report on a war or trying to sell me a war?’”

Having worked as an observational comic who avoided political humor, she said this was the moment she knew it was time to focus her comedy on the democratic process.

“I’m very interested in, like, media and politics coming together and speaking truth to their power,” she said. “I like to expose people with their own words and make use of satire.”

Her twist on comedy is snappy and scathing, usually aiming jokes directly at the egos of politicians in the news. From war to the Affordable Care Act, Winstead picks apart quotes and uses the sound bites to reveal her take on a story.

Winstead turned this now-familiar method into a career that has spanned two decades. In addition to implementing the technique as a “Daily Show” head writer, she co-founded and directed programming for Air America Radio, starting in 2003. She said this niche is a way for her to reach out to the American public in a way she’s always wanted to.

“I just want people to be part of the political process, to be inquisitive,” she said.

She said she feels comedy is one of the only ways to speak candidly about political complexities around the globe.

“Comedy for critique has this opportunity to not talk down to people,” she said. “I think it’s crazy that comedians have to be the ones calling the bullshit, but it makes sense at the same time.”

Winstead will return to her hometown in a few days to headline MinnPost’s “MinnRoast,” which features local politicians and journalists in comedy sketches. She said she’s a little worried people are expecting her jokes to be mean, but she’s looking forward to the event.

“It’ll be lighthearted, with a little bit of ‘Ouch!’” she said.

Ultimately, Winstead wants her time as a comedian and writer to add up to something.

“I like that I can look in the mirror at my body of work and see that I’ve done something I’m proud of,” she said. “If you don’t define yourself, someone else will.”

What: “MinnRoast”
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: The State Theatre, 805 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
Cost: $35-200


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