This Saturday, as Glenn Beck followers gather in Alaska to hear the crazed Fox News commentator speak, stand-up comedian and The Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead will round up her own patriots in Portland for an evening of political satire. WW had a chance to speak to Winstead via phone before her Saturday show.
WW: How has The Daily Show changed the way people watch, read and interpret the news?
Lizz Winstead:We used to rely on the media to be the watchdog of people in power, whether they have corporate power or political power. And now that we can’t do that, what The Daily Show has done is to be sort of the watchdog of the watchdogs.... If journalism was the fourth estate, I think The Daily Show and Bill Maher and [Stephen] Colbert are now the fifth estate, which is people watching the watchdogs. It’s very meta.
How else has the media changed in your lifetime?
When there was just newspapers and your three networks, basically you had to focus on the stories that were important… And I think when you have this sort of onslaught of 24-hour news, you have so much time to fill that I think they lose their way prioritizing. They become more like McDonald’s than they do, let’s say, a fine sushi house…. As we watch less and less journalists hosting shows and more and more ex-politicians, or ex-beauty queens, or ex-governors or ex-whomevers—people who basically weren’t good at the jobs they initially started to do—who end up being commentators on cable news, there’s far less news anymore and way more commentary.
And what about the Internet, which allows everyone to be a commentator?
What’s great is...if you hear something that’s factually inaccurate, there’s always someone in social media posting a fact or a link to a clip to the true story.... But everyone is a commentator, you’re exactly right, so when you have a person on TV hosting a television show who is giving you information and then she says, “Twitter me and tell me what you think!” it’s like, I don’t care what that person thinks. I’d like to know real information—not what, you know, joechickenfoot47 thinks.
What do you think about people who say they only get their news from The Daily Show?
I often wonder about that, because I don’t know if you’d like The Daily Show if you didn’t have a working knowledge of the news. But I do think if you did get your news from [us] you’d be getting a pretty accurate account with a healthy dose of skepticism about the information you’re being told, which I think is a really good place to be. I think people should always feel skeptical about information.
You’ve done TV, radio and an off-
Broadway show satirizing morning shows, and you’re currently writing a book of essays and doing more stand-up. Can you talk about the different outlets you use for political satire?
I think they all strike people in a different way. Some people love to hear the information through stand-up, but you can get a little more meaty when you’re writing things…. And then with Twitter it’s very interesting how you have to be so judicious about how you say things…. As far as writing for my stand-up it’s really helped me with brevity…and it’s sort of an instant feedback machine. If I get somebody who retweets it, it’s going in the act.
Have you been to Portland?
I have. I was just there in April for the comedy festival. I went to Mother’s, which I loved…I ate at this amazing Thai restaurant that was near the Bagdad. Powell’s is amazing—who leaves that off their list?
What’s your secret to being funny?
You know, it’s definitely genetic. I come from a family of very funny people for sure, but…there’s a discipline behind taking a thing that you’re naturally gifted at and turning it into a piece of art or satire or whatever. It just comes from really working at it and honing it and doing it.
What is your favorite joke?
What did the Zen Buddhist say to the hot-dog vendor?
I don’t know. What did the Zen Buddhist say to the hot-dog vendor?
Make me one with everything.
GO: Lizz Winstead performs My State of the Union at the Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta St., 719-6055. 8 pm Saturday, Sept. 11. $25. Tickets at albertarosetheatre.com. Winstead’s writing workshop, “Crafting a Joke and Using Political Satire to Be Heard,” will be at Curious Comedy Theater, 5225 NE Martin Luther King Blvd., 477-9477. 10 am-1 pm Sunday, Sept. 12. Tickets $45 at hulahub.com/event?id=113265.