Comedian Lizz Winstead co-founded Lady Parts Justice League in 2012; the organization is comprised of feminists who use comedy to raise awareness of reproductive rights issues. Winstead was inspired to form the Justice League in 2012 as she finished work on her book Lizz Free or Die and prepared to leave her native Minnesota for her adopted hometown of Brooklyn. She was struck by what she saw as a rolling back of reproductive rights and decided to work toward raising awareness of these issues through her unique brand of comedy.
“All of these state legislatures really started proposing laws, closing clinics right and left, placing incredible restrictions on people. When I finished my book, I needed to get back to Brooklyn,” she says. “I rented a van, poured my two dogs back into and started doing benefits for clinics along the way home. Each clinic that I went to, the people that worked there said, ‘A lot of people will come here and do benefits with a dinner, but no one comes to the clinic. No one ever comes. Thank you for coming.’ I was so moved by that that I thought, ‘It’s what I do.’ I go out and do shows. I wanted to be able to figure out a way to go out and make those shows and make my production work be of value to the movement. I got back to New York, I made two pots of chili, I invited a whole bunch of creatives over to my house and I said, ‘There’s an assault that’s happening, and these laws are being abandoned, and these laws are being passed really fast, and I don’t think that people know about it. So let’s make some videos to expose what’s going on in these states and then let’s go on tour.’”
The group affords Winstead, a co-creator of both The Daily Show and the left-leaning radio channel Air America, the opportunity to do something she could not do in either of those venues--marry her art with her activism.
“When I was at The Daily Show and Air America Radio we could lay out in a funny way and even a smart way the hypocrisy of a bill, a politician, a law, a corporate do-badder,” she says. “But we couldn’t say, ‘And here’s what you can do about it.’ That wasn’t my job. My job was to be funny first and then if I could put some truth into the funny, then that was kind of the bonus. I kind of felt like an anger fluffer. After a while, it was like, ‘What’s the point of getting people riled up and giving them information if I can’t say, “And here’s what you can do.”’ After doing [that first tour] and talking to these clinics and having people say, ‘What I can do’ and saying, ‘Gosh, I don’t know. I’m just kinda the comic who gave you the information,’ I realized I had to stop saying that. What if I actually started communicating with the clinics and the activists and the community and figured out what people could do.”
For the group's current Vagical Mystery Tour Winstead sought out a group of comedians as diverse as the audiences they would be playing to along the way.
“The show that’s in Wichita is an incredibly diverse group of comics,” she says. “It’s a trans man, a trans woman, a queer black man, a cis black woman. All of reproductive age. All with different reproductive needs. To be able to have a show full of people and their life experiences come from all different kinds of lenses that aren’t just your typical white person’s narrative is really cool and really fun.”
Winstead points out that she's happy to see a younger generation of writers, performers and activists actively working to define the issues of their age.
“When I would talk to young Millennials what they would say to me is, ‘You know, we would go to some meetings that were run by women who look a lot like you and are your age and they never asked us what our concerns were, what our needs were. They kind of wanted us to fight and litigate their issue,’” she says. “They’d say, ‘Your issue isn’t my issue.’ They are so excited that this organization that we started is addressing what’s happening now and I’m watching that happening now, whether it’s unions, whether it’s economic justice, racial justice, reproductive rights and justice, gender justice. They’re demanding that their needs be heard and they’re the ones becoming incredible leaders. It’s good for all of us to look in and say, ‘You wanna know what? There’s some incredible leaders in all of these movements who we could take a page from.’ Sometimes it’s really cool to be the pack mule is somebody else’s struggle. When I see really brilliant young minds, who are creating an action and activity and, just like anybody else, they get derailed because you’re the one that has to go make fliers or make sure that everybody else has water. If you can be the person who goes and does some errands and tasks for the people who are coming up with really good ideas, you can keep them on a path and that’s an important role too.”
Lady Parts Justice League's Vagical Mystery Tour visits Barleycorn's on Thursday evening. Scheduled to appear at this show are Mehran Khaghani, Ian Harvie, Jay McBride and Alex English as well as Joyelle Nicole. Lizz Winstead is not scheduled to appear.
Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.
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