20 Questions: Lizz Winstead

Political humor is everywhere these days — “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report” have attained cult status on Capitol Hill. This week 20Questions profiles Lizz Winstead, co-founder and former head writer of “The Daily Show.” She performs at the Arlington Cinema N Drafthouse from May 31 to June 2.

Could you please explain why your name has a double “z”?
When I was in college, I lived in the sorority house and there were two or three Liz W’s, and so in order to get phone messages, one was Liz, one was Liz W. and I added a “z” and I just kept it.

What is your association with “The Daily Show”?

I created it and worked on it for the first three years, so up until Jon Stewart took over. [Stewart replaced host Craig Kilborn in 1999.]

And did you get a chance to work with Stewart?
I worked with Jon on his talk show before that show and interestingly enough, when he took over he asked me to come back.

And?
I was figuring Jon was going to do an excellent job on his own and I was going to try to do more shows similar to that, and I wanted to have more good things on the airwaves.

What do you mean by “good things”?
I was hoping not to have as many shows where desperate women are on television looking for a husband — maybe narrow that down to, oh, 30.

Politicians’ dalliances make for good political humor, but I can’t even ask about some of the things you have said — this is a family newspaper. How do you handle such subjects?
I didn’t really care about whatever Bill Clinton did with his personal life. In my routines, I didn’t really go there that much. I said, the interesting thing about the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal is they tried to get her a job at Revlon, a company that makes cover-up and concealer.

Do you like political comedy?
I love doing political comedy. What I love about it the most is that, done right, you can really take on the powerful. Done wrong, you become nothing more than a hack that does sex jokes.

When you come to the D.C. area, what political things will you talk about?
I’m constantly struggling with the timeliness of material. I’ll definitely be talking about Bush’s change in tone about what victory means in Iraq, I’ll definitely be talking about the D.C. Madam. A term I like very much is “anticipointment.”

What does that mean?
What it means is when you watch a news show or one of those “Extra” shows and they give you a giant headline at the top of the show and then when you get to the story it is incredibly disappointing. I think this is what the Madam [story] is — these random guys who no one has ever heard of.

Will you do anything on the presidential elections?
I’ll probably do things on the debate. I do a lot about the Medicare prescription plan. My mother is 86 and I walked her through the whole thing. I do this thing about walking my mother through the Internet to pick the drug plan that is right for her.  

Do you think society or culture has gotten out of hand with regard to what you can or can’t say?

I don’t think you have to be careful about what you say, but you have to be a good person to get away with talking about satire, issues of race, gender, all that stuff. Good satire is done when you pick on the powerful. If you’re bad at it then you should go.

Who are your favorite political satirists?
I love Sarah Silverman, Stephen Colbert; I love, love, love Lewis Black. I love Jon [Stewart]. Don Imus is not funny. He’s crabby and irritable.

What are your political views?
I’m a big fan of science, so I enjoy people who are experts on the field of science and bring their science into the realm of legislation, as opposed to the Bible, which is not a scientific book as far as I know.

What religion are you?
I was brought up Catholic, but now I am sort of a wandering Christian.
President Bush talks a lot about his faith. It’s often the messengers of faith who are so incredibly frightening that it’s no wonder people lash out.

Are you a Democrat or a Republican?
I am certainly not a Republican. I am a registered Democrat, but I am not an apologist for the party.

The presidential candidates who are the most fun to pick on?  
Hillary obviously is really fun; I think Romney is going to be really fun. The big thing about it, when you watch the Republicans in the debate you know Giuliani, you know McCain and now you sort of know Romney. It’s hard until the public gets [what] these people are about. I’m trying to stay away from making jokes about Tommy Thompson because no one knows who he is. Until they become fodder it’s really, really hard. My comedy is only as good as Americans know these people.

Where did you grow up?
Minneapolis.

Were you funny as a kid?

I’m not certain I was funny. I was always rebellious. My mother will tell you my audacity started when I became an altar boy. So I petitioned the archdiocese and my mother was mortified. The good thing is there are now altar girls.

Really?
Yeah, there are altar girls now. I would like to think I had some sort of hand in that.

To recommend a political personality for 20 Questions, call Betsy Rothstein at (202)628-8516 or email at betsyr@thehill.com