Lizz Winstead

Lizz Winstead

On this date in 1961, humorist and women’s health advocate Lizz Winstead was born in Minneapolis to “Reagan Republicans” Ginny and Wilbur Winstead, the youngest by six years of their five children. On her website she describes herself as “Comedian. Writer. Producer. Troublemaker.” On X (formerly Twitter) she’s Lizz “Insufferable Wench” Winstead.

Her mother was devoutly Catholic, and when Winstead was 12 she decided she wanted to assist her parish priest, Fr. Hansen, during Mass, mainly as a way to get cash tips from families at weddings and funerals so she didn’t have to baby-sit to make money. She told Hansen how she had practiced the tasks required, later remembering how he turned pale and turned down her request. Only boys could serve Mass, he said, “Because it’s called altar boy, not altar girl.” He told her to write the archbishop, which she did but never heard back.

Pregnant as a high school senior at 17, she ended up at a “crisis” pregnancy center masquerading as a women’s health clinic. “I asked about abortion and what they said to me [was] ‘Abortion is not an option; your only options are mommy or murder.’ … I realized that those people weren’t out to help me, they were out to control me.” (“Freethought Matters,” May 18, 2023) About her eventual abortion, she said, “It didn’t traumatize me. I was just happy I could have one and move on.”

After high school she enrolled at the University of Minnesota but dropped out before graduating, instead embarking on what turned out to be a very successful career in comedy — doing stand-up and on radio and TV into her 20s. Her forte: outspoken, often satirical humor to expose hypocrisy, educate and effect social change. The Daily Beast website later termed her “the Queen of Calling Bullshit.”

With her foot in the door at Comedy Central in 1993, she produced “The Jon Stewart Show,” which led to her co-creating with Madeleine Smithberg “The Daily Show” hosted by Craig Kilborn. She left the show in 1998 after Kilborn made sexist remarks about her. In 2003 she co-founded Air America Radio with Al Franken and served as program director, also co-hosting “Unfiltered” With Rachel Maddow and rapper Chuck D.

Winstead left Air America in 2005 for various projects, including “Shoot the Messenger,” a live show with a comedy troupe. In addition to touring, she continues to make numerous TV appearances and commentary on MSNBC, The Guardian, the Wall Street Journal and Huffington Post. Her memoir in essay form, “Lizz Free or Die,” was published in 2012.

In the summer of 2011, Winstead set out across America to raise awareness about what the Internet Movie Database called “the nation’s leading health provider for low-income women — Planned Parenthood of America.” The tour raised over $2 million to benefit Planned Parenthood and NARAL and was made into a 27-minute documentary film titled “Smear Campaign” that won Best Documentary Comedy Short at the Atlanta Documentary Film Festival.

As the founder in 2015 and chief creative officer of the Abortion Access Front, Winstead and her comedic team focus on destigmatizing abortion. She calls it “part Habitat for Humanity, part USO for abortion care.” It was originally named the Lady Parts Justice League after the male speaker of the Michigan House moved to eject a female House member from the floor for saying “vagina.” He suggested using something “less offensive” like “lady parts.”

No one should judge another for undergoing the procedure or say that no one is pro-abortion, contends Winstead. “Because I am pro-abortion. I don’t find anything morally wrong with abortion. … It’s like, why are you purporting that there are good abortions and there are bad abortions? There aren’t. There’s only the abortion someone needs.” (Crooked Media, Sept. 24, 2021)

While accepting FFRF’s Emperor Award in 2023 for “plain speaking” by public figures on religion’s shortcomings, Winstead mentioned the difficulty of maintaining activism during the pandemic. Idaho anti-vaxxers in Boise in July 2020 burned the city-provided free masks outside City Hall and picketed at Mayor Lauren McLean’s home because she and the council had mandated masks. One woman held a sign saying “I will not mask my unborn child.”

Winstead accepted her Emperor with a smile and with tongue firmly planted in cheek: “It’s thrilling to be given an award from people who believe in nothing. I really just want to thank you from the bottom of my believe-in-nothing heart.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation