Lizz Free or Die
Lizz Winstead, co-creator of The Daily Show and one of today's most hilarious comedians and insightful social critics, pens a brilliant account of how she discovered her comedic voice.
In this collection of autobiographical essays, Winstead vividly recounts how she fought to find her own voice, both as a comedian and as a woman, and how humor became her most powerful weapon in confronting life's challenges.
Growing up in the Midwest, the youngest child of conservative Catholic parents, Winstead learned early in her life that the straightforward questions she posed to various authority figures around her-her parents, her parish priest, even an anti-abortion counselor -prompted many startled looks and uncomfortable silences, but few answers. Her questions rattled people because they exposed the inconsistencies and hypocrisies in the people and institutions she confronted. Yet she didn't let that stop her from pursuing her dreams.
Funny and biting, honest and poignant, this no-holds-barred collection gives an in-depth look into the life of one of today's most influential comic voices. In writing about her childhood longing to be a priest, her role in developing The Daily Show, and of her often problematic habit of diving into everything head first, asking questions later (resulting in multiple rescue-dog adoptions and travel disasters), Lizz Winstead has tapped an outrageous and heartfelt vein of the all-too-human comedy.
This is a book of essays about life. My life. It’s not a memoir, per se, as I decided to write about some speci?c moments that will give you some insight into the people, places, and experiences that propelled me forward. (With a few steps back in the process.) I think of these pieces as “messays,” because they are a collection of stories that put my somewhat complicated life into perspective—or at least a kind of perspective.
I have been through a lot of the same stu? that you have dealt with, are dealing with, or will deal with in the future. From the struggle of being a young girl trying to ?nd her voice, to the unlikely places she found it, to the realities and heartbreak of watching an aging parent die, this book gives you (I hope) permission to be honest with yourself, to laugh, to cry, to bitch, and to scream. And maybe if you come across any of those emotions while reading, you will realize that you, too, at some point in your life had been told to “restrain yourself” because you needed to be “appropriate.”
I hate the word appropriate.
And I hate people who think they can de?ne appropriateness as an absolute, especially because they are usually the same people who try to shove toeing the line down my throat most aggressively— proselytizing politicians and preachers and prosaic comedy producers, all who specialize in prematurely adjudicating without an appropriate leg of their own to stand on.
I hope this book rede?nes the word appropriate, or shoves it into obsolescence with other meaningless words, like refudiate, jiggy, and Tea Party.
So what kind of juicy details about my life are included? Well, let me be clear up front: First, this is not a book full of dark family secrets.
My father wasn’t one of those horri?c memoir dads. You know what I mean. He was not the kind of dad who did “things” to me that led to a social worker, which led to a judge, which led to an attorney asking in a closed hearing, “Where on the doll did he touch you?”
And my mother wasn’t one of those memoir moms, either. She was not some kind of emotional gorgon who scrubbed this poor author’s secret garden with Borax and Brillo pads or made her children eat their own feces in the crawl space under the basement stairs because her cult leader or the voices in her head told her to. She was more subtle than that.
At this point it should be noted that because these messays aren’t chock-full of the aforementioned themes, Lifetime Television won’t be clamoring for the TV rights to this book. Although I will share some woman-in-peril anecdotes, my woman-in-peril stories don’t involve deadly estrangement, deadly deception, or my mom and me sleeping with our deadly pool boy. So I o?er my sincere apologies right here to the careers of Missy Gold, Tracey Gold, and any other members of the Gold family who will not be employed in some made-for-TV movie incarnation of my life.
Second, I will not regale you with gag-inducing details about spontaneous sex in a Porta-Potty or how I blew some bass player from an indie band in the back of their Leinenkugel-soaked van. This is not to say I don’t weave a few tales of sexual stupidity. I did lose my virginity to a mediocre high school hockey player. I grew up in Minnesota; there were a lot of girls like me, who grew up in a wintry archipelago and gave it up to a right-wing left wing with a mullet. It was 1978; there weren’t a whole lot of options. Just ask Sarah Palin.
Third, it is not one of those mea culpa books. Those books always make my brain explode because more often than not they are less mea culpa and more everyone else is culpa. Themes like “I heroically sat idly by and watched as the administration I worked for subverted the facts to justify war and ordered torture and illegal imprisonment, but I’ll blame everyone who was around me for that.”
If you want to read one of those books, put this back on the shelf and walk over to the Your Taxes Used to Pay Me to Do a Crappy Job Running the Country and Now I Am Making Millions Lying to You About How Great I Was at It section. It’s right behind the Crafts and Hobbies aisle. Or you might want to check the How to Start Your Home Business area.
And last, it’s also not a revenge book. I am not a public laundry kind of gal, unless it’s my dog Buddy bar?ng up my thong on a busy Brooklyn street. I do share experiences that some involved may not like, and I have changed some names of people and establishments because either they have private lives that don’t need to be dragged through the public mud, even though they happened to be standing in it with me, or I would rather not give free advertising to them, as I think the services they provide suck.
I also feel awful because I could not include all the fantastic people in my life (blame my editor), but as this is not a memoir, I didn’t cover every special moment with all those who mean a lot to me so I hope I will be forgiven.
And as for the less fantastic people who have come across my path: I didn’t include too many of them for the simple reason that I remember them all too well.
Also, I sometimes lump together chunks of my life to serve as a composite of a given time period, rather than go through a linear play-by-play. I may occasionally have a date or a month wrong, but the experiences all happened within the same general time. Finding speci?c dates from my life way back on the Internet proved very unfruitful. My Wikipedia page is proof of that. So when I had to estimate, I based some of my timelines on the material that went into my shows, knowing I had an accuracy window based on a certain news cycle.
In short, I can say that all this shit happened, but I may be a bit o? in the exact order in which it appears here. It just means I should never be counted on to remember when your birthday is. (Mine is August 5. It is one of the few items on my Wikipedia page I will actually con?rm.)
Having said all of this, these messays are stories from a brain that ?uctuates from fun to fucked up and back, sometimes mid-sentence. They’re the adventures of how I evolved from a girl who just wanted to explore her dreams to a woman who came to understand that my dream was ?nding a way to use humor to speak truth to power—and ultimately realized that humor is a most useful tool to help put even the most painful moments of life into perspective.
So if you want to learn some shit about me and have a laugh, quit reading this part and get to the good stu?. The sooner you get started reading about my life, the better you will feel about your own."Lizz Winstead is a comic laser beam: smart, funny, and honest."
"Lizz Winstead is a brilliant and funny woman and an exquisite tastemaker."
"Lizz Winstead's perspectives on everything that matters in life are usually challenging, often downright inspiring, and always funny as hell."
-Paul Provenza, Author of Satiristas: Comedians, Contrarians, Raconteurs and Vulgarians
"Lizz Winstead isn't just hilarious (though there is nothing 'just' about being hilarious). She is thoughtful, insightful, caring, brave, whip-smart, and honest, and she also happens to be an absolutely terrific writer."
-Julie Klam, author of the bestselling You Had Me at Woof
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