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Lizz Winstead: The Dictionary From A To Lizz

Jun 7, 2013
Originally published on March 4, 2015 11:59 am

Lizz Winstead has an impressive resume. She's a veteran stand-up comic, co-created both The Daily Show and Air America Radio, and is the author of the book Lizz Free or Die. But Winstead is also a bonafide word nerd and game fanatic. Which means she was right at home on the Ask Me Another stage.

Winstead sat down with host Ophira Eisenberg to recount the origin story of The Daily Show, an idea that came to her during a disastrous blind date. It's clear, however, that Winstead's imagination is always running. As the child of a large, game-loving family, she's crafted her own party games, such as The Lifetime Game. (That's where you read the descriptions of Lifetime original TV movies and your friends make up ridiculous titles.) And she's even created her own Lizz vocabulary, filled with portmanteau words such as "packuum," "disdrain" and "anticipointment," to explain, for example, the experience of packing for a trip while in an emotional vacuum.

Given her love of wordplay, Winstead was more than game to lead a trivia round called "Natalie Portmantoast," which asked contestants to create words by combining a famous person's name with a food item. And later, the Minneapolis native proved her fierce hometown pride in an Ask Me Another Challenge entitled "Minnesotans We Have Known."

About Lizz Winstead

Known as as one of the top political satirists in America, Lizz Winstead has helped changed the way people get their news. She brought her political wit as co-creator, former head writer and a former correspondent on The Daily Show, and to Air America Radio, which she co-founded and for which she co-hosted Unfiltered with Chuck D and Rachel Maddow.

Lizz tours the country benefiting Planned Parenthood and NARAL and has co-founded a reproductive rights awareness organization called A Is For. When Lizz is not on stage, she writes for various publications and is a regular commentator on breaking news for MSNBC. Her first book, Lizz Free Or Die, a hilarious collection of personal essays, was released summer of 2012 by Riverhead Press.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


Very important puzzler. She's a standup comic, co-creator of "The Daily Show," "Air America," and author of the very funny book "Lizz Free or Die." Lizz Winstead, welcome to ASK ME ANOTHER.

LIZZ WINSTEAD: Why thank you. I'm so excited to be here.


EISENBERG: You co-created "The Daily Show," your dream job. But you did not actually pitch the show, it came to you.


EISENBERG: How did that happen?

WINSTEAD: Well, "The Daily Show" kind of happened, for me, about four years before "The Daily Show" actually really happened. I was living in New York and a friend of mine said, hey, I met a guy that might be great for you. Do you want to go on a blind date? And so, I'm from Minnesota, so it's like, oh, I can't really say no. Yeah, sure, whatever.


WINSTEAD: Does he have a record? You know, okay. Does he have any watch lists or can he move into any neighborhood? That's okay; we can just have him. The "La Dolce Vita" was playing on the big screen in New York at an art house and I'd never seen it on the big screen, so I'm like, do you want to go see "La Dolce Vita"? And he goes, well, isn't that in black and white?


WINSTEAD: So he's falling asleep through the movie and then rubbing his satin Jacket up and down against me as he's falling asleep in his chair, and then he's hitting me with the brim of his hat as he wakes up.

And then, I got so annoyed that I took my greasy popcorn hand and I purposely pushed him away and got his satin jacket all stainy. I know. I know. I felt joy for five seconds and then I felt that. And I was like, oh, god, I'm from Minnesota.

So what do I do after the movie? "Do you want to go have a drink," because I felt really bad. So he goes, okay, I know a sports bar down the street. And I go okay, well thank god it's winter in 1991, because the Yankees won't be on the TV.


WINSTEAD: What was on the TV, it was the first night of the first gulf war. And the entire bar was gathered around this TV and watching. I mean, it was the first time a war had absolutely sort of started in the living room of America.

And it was - CNN was the only cable channel at the time. You know, all the sudden there was theme songs, and there was graphics and there was, like, those green lights and all these hot people were on the top of, like, hotel rooms, reporting the war.

And I thought to myself as I watched this, are they reporting on a war or trying to sell me a war? And at that point, Johnny Yankees goes "this is so awesome."


WINSTEAD: If there was ever a calling or an epiphany or when people say they found god or whatever, it was like I need to talk about how the media shapes things. I've never paid attention to this before and now I'm going to all the time.

And then that's what I did. And my comedy act went from, you know, like straight observational material to really observing the media. And I took a little side job working on Jon Stewart's syndicated show, and when that got cancelled, our bosses took the job at Comedy Central.

And they called Madeleine Smithberg, who was the executive producer of "The Jon Stewart Show," and they said, do you guys want to develop this show? Madeleine kind of had the chops, the producer chops, and I was kind of this flailing weirdo who had only produced that show. And I was like, sure, we do.

And she's like, you don't know anything. I'm like, I know, but what I know is this is the show we need to do. And the one thing I said to the network was the media itself should be a character. You know, so let's do it where instead of like "SNL's Weekend Update" or something, we do a show where it looks like the news but it's a comedy show and we operate it like a news organization.

EISENBERG: You grew up in Minnesota. We're both from big families, by the way.


EISENBERG: I'm the youngest of six. You're the youngest of five.

WINSTEAD: Youngest of five.

EISENBERG: Were you also considered the "mistake" by the way?

WINSTEAD: Oh my god, here's the deal, by six years. So it's like I'm the youngest of five, and then there's catholic family and then there's like a six-year gap. We don't know what happened for those six years. Like, were my parents not having sex? I don't know.


WINSTEAD: It's like questionable. I was either supposed to not be or supposed to be a boy, because I'm four girls and a boy in my family. Yeah, and just a constant disappointment to my poor mother.

EISENBERG: Yeah, so I always like finding out if our VIPs came from game-playing families.

WINSTEAD: Oh my god...

EISENBERG: Your family is an exception. It's like you created your own games.

WINSTEAD: Yes, a game that I did invent, which I'm very proud of, and you are all going to love this and play it at your parties. And I would like you tweet and Facebook about it. It's called the Lifetime game. And you go to the lifetime...

EISENBERG: You cry during this game, I think.



WINSTEAD: You go to the Lifetime television website.


WINSTEAD: Already, it's awesome. And you go to movies a to z. And then somebody reads...


WINSTEAD: Oh yeah. Somebody reads the description of the movie. And then it's like Scattergories, where then you write the title of the movie and it's hilarity beyond.

EISENBERG: We call you a word nerd, so far in this show, but you love making up your own words. In "Lizz Free or Die," there's...


EISENBERG: ...all kinds of made-up words. I would like you to offer some of their definitions for fun.


EISENBERG: Disdrain.

WINSTEAD: Disdrain is when you desperately try to mask your disdain for someone who is ridiculous. So it's dismissive and disdain combined into disdrain.


EISENBERG: It's like every day.


EISENBERG: That's like subway word. Packuum.

WINSTEAD: Packuum, we've all done this. Have you ever gone on a trip and you're a mess and so you get on your trip and you realize you've packed four pairs of tees and a bathrobe, and no underwear? So packuum is when you pack in an emotional vacuum.


WINSTEAD: Where you should ask for some assistance to help you because you will find yourself at a wedding without a bra or anything but you'll have some sneakers and a yoga mat.



EISENBERG: So we've written our own game mashing up words, and I was wondering, since you are the expert, if you might like to help me lead it.

WINSTEAD: Why, yes, I always love to lead a game.

EISENBERG: Thank you so much. A big hand for Lizz Winstead everybody.

WINSTEAD: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.