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“If someone’s still laughing, they still have hope.”
That’s the mantra of Lizz Winstead, co-creator of The Daily Show and founder of Lady Parts Justice League, a nonprofit made up of creative activists working to demystify abortion and bring awareness to legislative attacks against reproductive rights through the power of comedy.
The moment I offer up the typical greeting pleasantry – “How are you?” – over the phone, she lets out a deep, infectious laugh, followed by what’s occupying all of her time at the moment:
“Never-ending tour planning to try to save people’s ability to have health care.”
There’s power in the simplicity of that statement, given that abortion is so stigmatized in American society that it often isn’t talked about as a normal part of medical care.
This summer, Lizz and the Lady Parts Justice League embarking on a 8 week 15 city Vagical Mystery Tour. Aptly named in an altered nod to the Beatles’ 1967 Magical Mystery Tour album, the tour is taking comedy shows on the road to support local abortion clinics in states where access is most threatened.
The team of comedians, writers, and other artists has a clear agenda for each stop: To let local abortion clinics know they are valued and not demonized by the local community and to provide people with the resources they need to put themselves in the fight for reproductive justice.
To be clear, Lizz has no intention of changing the minds of people who are fundamentally against abortion. She’s looking to mobilize those who consider themselves pro-choice but haven’t yet prioritized the issue.
“We want to re-introduce people and re-energize them and re-focus them on this issue because you would be surprised how many people are unfamiliar with how bad the assault [on abortion access] is,” she says.
If you aren’t already tuned in, Texas is a dark state for anyone seeking an abortion.
Although the 2013 HB 2 law that closed down over half of the state’s clinics was declared unconstitutional last year in the Supreme Court, the re-opening of clinics has been slow and difficult. With the Republican-led national administration emboldening conservative state legislators, the path forward is uncertain at best and downhill at worst.
But the resistance of red state activism is alive and thriving. As Lizz puts it, Texas is filled with a bunch of “really awesome people who have terrible politicians like every other state.” She draws a lot of inspiration from Southern feminists spearheading on the ground resistance, like Whole Woman Health’s Amy Hagstrom Miller, which is why she’s teaming up with Texas pro-choice organizations in Fort Worth this month to put on a “Don’t Mess With Access” comedy show and host a mural painting competition to support the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in the area.
I knew about the Fort Worth event before getting on the call, but the way Lizz talks about it convinces me that I must make the four-hour road trip from Austin to Fort Worth to be there.
Our conversation goes from ranting about how ridiculous it is that pregnancy crisis centers (fake abortion clinics that lie to women about the physical and mental effects of the procedure) receive state funding to talking about how dipping out of the world for a few hours to follow a Netflix narrative is a great method of self-care.
She’s honest about the experience that made reproductive rights a part of the “toolkit of things” she’s always cared about in her career: Finding herself in a toxic relationship and pregnant after the first time she ever had sex at age 16, she was lucky enough to be able to have an abortion in her home state of Minnesota without her parents finding out.
That decision gave her a sense of relentless responsibility to guarantee that others have that choice.
“You can’t check out,” she says. “If you got to have an abortion and you’re no longer fighting for other people to have one, then you’re kind of a part of the problem.”
Lizz mentions that she wants people to know how strong “the other side” (pro-choice activists) is, despite the seemingly hopeless political landscape. She believes that smart humor is an outlet from the tension and anxiety that the news hits us with every day.
“If you’re trying to control a person, I question your morality… These people that live in some world where there’s abstinence and unicorns should be people we never listen to because it’s bullshit,” she says. “Your imaginary world that you wish it was is not the way you can legislate stuff.”
We’re laughing through most of our phone call, which I should have expected going into an interview with a comedian. There are hints of desperation in it, at least for me. You know that conflicting feeling you get when you’re watching The Daily Show and you can sense that your laughter could almost turn into crying at any moment because we live in such an absurd world? But rather than just being a form of escapism or a more digestible way of consuming news, the work of LPJL is acting as a catalyst for change.
That gives me hope.
Our laughter represents self-preservation and the common acknowledgment that yeah, it’s all bullshit. We smell it, and we’re not the only ones.
Looking to get involved and find out who’s doing what in your community in the fight for abortion access?
Come out to LPJL’s “Don’t Mess with Access” show in Fort Worth, Texas on Thursday, 7 pm to 9:30 pm on May 18 at the Ridglea Theater for a night of laughs, drinks and a talk-back featuring local reproductive rights activists from Whole Woman’s Health.
As co-creator and former head writer of The Daily Show and co founder of Air America Radio, Lizz Winstead has helped changed the very landscape of how people get their news.
Winstead also 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 Chuck D and Rachel Maddow.
Known as as one of the top political satirists in America, Winstead has been recognized by all the major media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post and as Entertainment Weekly’s 100 most Creative People.
Winstead’s first book, Lizz Free Or Die, Essays, was released in 2012 to incredible reviews, with Ms. Magazine saying, “Lizz Winstead is a sharp-witted truth-teller, and Lizz Free or Die will inspire anyone who has ever talked back to the television or wished they could come up with satire as insightful as The Daily Show.”
Lizz continues doing stand-up, is working on a second book but spends most of her time at the helm of Lady Parts Justice League, a reproductive rights organization that uses humor and outrage to expose anti choice zealots and mobilizes people to take action in all 50 states.
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This story was printed in the DAWN issue.
Secure your copy here.