A chat with ‘The Daily Show’ creator Lizz Winstead
Lizz Winstead can’t help but be funny. The Brooklyn resident was the co-creator of The Daily Show, and served as its head writer for years. But before that she was a tireless standup comedian. But her comedy turned her into a kind of media visionary: in addition to helping to create The Daily Show, she co-founded Air America. And you can credit her with hiring Stephen Colbert. She’ll be at Kuumbwa Jazz Center Friday on behalf of the Santa Cruz County Democratic Party.
The following day, she’ll conduct a workshop on writing political satire. The workshop, which will be at NextSpace in Santa Cruz, is co-sponsored by Bookshop Santa Cruz. “I love doing the workshops,” she says by phone from Atlanta. “I tell people ‘I can’t make you funny,’ but the one thing I can do is help unlock the demons that fester inside people who want to write.”
While she was in Atlanta, she took a few minutes to talk to Good Times.
GOOD TIMES: What is it about The Daily Show’s humor that works so well when so much other political commentary falls so flat?
LIZZ WINSTEAD: What makes The Daily Show so successful is that it picks its targets wisely, lays out hypocrisy before your eyes and avoids a cheap shot.
Are you simply funny or are you funny about politics?
I hope both. I like to infuse humor into everything and [hope] that I’m funny and have a tad of insight. I always had been a bit interested in politics. Eventually I started to infuse politics into my humor more and started paying more attention to media. I soon found out that information from most media outlets wasn’t worth my while. It was either blondes in peril or untruthful stories about weapons of mass destruction. I watched how the media was giving out information and saw that they were failing.
GT: Is there anything you don’t find funny?
I have a hard time finding anything funny in attacking the little guy. How many hypocrites are poor? You get hypocrisy from the powerful.
GT: Is it harder to be funny now that George W. Bush is out of power?
It could be argued that George W. Bush’s peeps are still players. Whether it’s Tim Geithner who’s still around and handling the financial industry or the Supreme Court or people who benefited from his policy. Even Barack Obama comes from a system that is deeply flawed. I’ve had some real success without Bush. John Boehner is comedy gold. And we have a Democratic party that forgot it’s in power.
GT: Is Barack Obama funny?
Barack is plenty funny. I like to analyze his negotiating skills that he’s a little confused about. Normally you go into negotiations asking for everything you want and then giving up a little. He goes into negotiations already giving up things and then he gives up more.
What do you think of first—your outrage or humor?
There’s an old theory in comedy that tragedy plus time equals humor. I think that’s true. And that outrage plus a little bit of reflection equal humor. If you take a moment with some outrage and find some perspective you can bring humor to it. It takes a little bit of a process to inject humor into outrage.
What makes you laugh?
When you see somebody caught in a lie—you should laugh. My conservative parents make me laugh. Fox News makes me laugh. Any group of cute young animals make me laugh.
What makes you cry?
When people feel they’ve lost all hope. If we can still laugh we still have hope. When we’re talking about a hopeless situation I can’t find a glimmer of humor in that situation.
Is there a liberal press?
Yeah. It’s called The Guardian and it’s in England. Or maybe The Nation here in the United States. Liberal bias? I never really understood what they’re talking about. People love to call NPR liberal and it’s just maddening. So, no. There’s no liberal press. If there were, would 80 percent of the Republicans believe that Obama is a Muslim?
Who pisses you off?
Oh my God. That’s endless. Anyone who voted for the Citizens’ United ruling on the Supreme Court. Anyone who votes against curbing money in politics. Any loudmouth who gets information from just one source. Sometimes our president pisses me off. Anyone who uses power as a tool to win personal gain.
Lizz Winstead will be speaking at a gala sponsored by the Santa Cruz Democratic Party at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 20 at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center. For information about last minute tickets, call 423-2356. Tickets are $75.