Skip to content

Question: What was the initial idea for "The Daily Show?"

Lizz Winstead: Well, I started out as a stand up who did political material and it had been...I'd done a couple of one-woman shows that had been based on sort of the evolution of 24-hour news and media and during the First Gulf War it occurred to me that CNN had been spending more and more money on graphics and less and less money on research and it was like, well, that's kind of a sounding alarm that I think through comedy I kind of want to do through my stand up to talk about that. And then it became...there was things like there was always children disappearing on the news and like we never got their big story and so I've been talking about these in my one-woman shows and my stand up and then Comedy Central knew my standup and I've done specials for them and stuff...and so then they said, "Would you like to come and create a show that responds to the world on a daily basis.? " And I said, "Yeah." But I said of my big sticking points is that it's not just the politicians and the news-makers, it's the media itself that's as big as pa player in the landscape. So, if you want to do it where we actually become a media outlet and become them and show how sort of remiss they are in reporting the facts and getting it wrong as well as taking on the powerful, I'm all for it. And they said, "That's a great idea." And so Madeleine Smithberg and I created this machine that is now "The Daily Show."

Question: What did Jon Stewart bring to the show?

Lizz Winstead: Well I think there was several different...As we were developing the show, there was also two different camps as we were on the air about people that wanted to focus on pop culture and people who wanted to focus on politics and what was going to be engaging and I was sort of fighting for politics, and the people who were fighting for pop culture so we had this meld of politics and pop culture and when John came onboard, John was really, "Let's take on the people that are the big giant offenders and hypocrites which are corporations and the media and politicians," so that when the show really started going for sort of a really healthy big targets of big bullies, that's really when it started to shine and John is somebody who really knows that game and through humor, you know, he always says the show is funny first and then, you know, the points come through second. And so, he really knows and understands that picking on the big targets and pointing out their hypocrisy is definitely the best way to go when it comes to political satire.

Question: Did the Bush administration make the "The Daily Show?"

Lizz Winstead: Well I think there's...The political climate, I mean...When it was being developed and it was the last years of Clinton, you know, remember that Clinton wasn't always just Monica. You know, there was welfare reform, there was all sorts of stuff that happened, those elections were also really great. So the show built itself on that and then when the Bush administration took off, yeah. I mean, it's sort of incredible how it felt like we hired them so we could have material. Like, there really wasn't an election. We just paid off America to vote for George Bush so that we could have a show.

Question: Was the McCain-Palin ticket a peak moment for political satire?

Lizz Winstead: Well I think you're forgetting the whole part of the political landscape which was the Bush administration, you had 10 Republican candidates, only three of them believe in evolution. You had Mitt Romney, you had Mike Huckabee, you had Hillary, you had Bill Clinton running off the rails. You had this power struggle between the first viable female candidate for president and the first viable African-American candidate and then you had John McCain on his own being a complete...He was like Yosemite Sam. Then Sarah Palin happened. So, there was a wealth of material and also, don't forget we had wire tapping. We had crazy, you know, attorneys who were, you know, political appointees from Pat Robertson University, we had Katrina, you know. There was so much going on before the election, into the election, the candidates themselves and John Edwards don't forget that, you know, Palin didn't come till September of 2007 and so...or 2008 I'm sorry. So, there was...That was, I mean, I have to say I don't...Tina Fey was probably sitting in her underwear eating cheerios on that morning when they stood on the stage in Minnesota and I'm sure she spat whatever was out in her mouth and said, "Oh my God, the dumbest woman in the world looks just like me. Ka-Ching!"

Question: Is it harder to make Obama jokes?

Lizz Winstead: I am someone who...I just finished doing a one-woman show about Obama's first 100 days and it was not hard at all...because Obama ...You know, Obama is hope and change and he is historic but he is a politician. He came up from the machine. You know, he's not Gandhi, he is a centrist, he is inconsistent, you know. I think for me progressives glommed on so much on Obama. He never claimed he was a progressive and so there is a lot of humor in mind in what people expected Obama to be because they didn't even read his books or look at how he legislated and he has had hysterical moments. You know, he is not an idiot like Bush so I think you have to be smarter in your politics which means your audience hopefully is smarter and paying more attention but, you know, you have a treasury. Our economy is falling apart and there's one guy that works at the treasury, Tim Gartner and they can't find anyone else to fill the jobs because all of those people have committed crimes. So, there's that, there's Larry Summers, you know, there's Obama expanding the wire tapping program. There's the closing of Gitmo. There's Dick Cheney, unavoidable for comment, you know, espousing his bizarre belief system, you know, there's torture memos. So, there has been...There hasn't been a beat, a moment that has fallen off where like, "Oh, what are we going to talk about?" It is seamlessly transition from Bush into Obama in just a very different way of looking at things.

Question: What topics do you enjoy satirizing?

Lizz Winstead: In general...The media is always a source. It sort of my raison d' etre, you know, I absorb print media, I absorb TV media. At the moment the "Morning Joe" program I am completely obsessed with because I watch Joe Scarborough bully Mika Brzezinski and it feels like she has Stockholm syndrome. It feels like everyone on that show is so unhealthily co-dependent on each other that it's like watching one of those weird Ibsen family dramas play out in front of you, except with some current events in it.

Question: Has the role of comedy changed?

Lizz Winstead: I think that the people who have been doing political satire, or the people I've talked to, have really felt like it used to be them again. The media was the watch dog for those, you know, the government and corporate America and when the media sort of felt like it was in bed and they were lazy or in bed with their, you know, advertisers I think comics naturally started feeling the role of sort of being the watchdog of the watchdog, you know. Political satire and comedy-we just started asking the questions that journalists weren't asking anymore through humor, through sort of hopefully righteous anger but also just asking questions that our audience wanted to hear and so we were doing basically a service. We just kept do what we were doing but then it just transitioned into like, "Find out what's going on." Or if we're just going to be lied to from right, left and center, to provide a haven where at least people can come together and not feel crazy, feel like, hey I'm in a group of people who have understand that everyone is spinning us and somebody is onstage pointing that out through humor, at least I can breathe a sigh that I'm not insane when I hear the cacophony of lies.

Question: Is comedy a tool for social activism?

Lizz Winstead: I think comedy can be a tool for social activism. I think that when you point out hypocrisy, again because the media often doesn't, you know-the follow-up question should just be put in the Smithsonian as a relic of media because there are no follow ups anymore. People do not have enough historical knowledge to say, "Wait, you're lying." If you don't have enough, you know, knowledge on the environment to say, "Wait, scientists say there is global warming, it's real." So, a lot of information sort of floats out there a thick muggy day and nobody weeds through it and cuts through the muck and says, "Here is the truth." And I think that pointing that out through humor can be a tool to have people say, "Wow. I should be asking questions and I'm laughing." And, I think that's what's fun is that you can ask questions your self on stage to humor and then that means the audience kind of scratches its head and says, "You're right!" and as you watch videos on the web on "The Daily Show," Colbert and Bill Maher, you will see them lay out a case and make it funny through video, through things that are out there. If somebody says one thing one day and something else the next day and, you know, we have this amazing medium with which we can put it out there.

Question: Is the mainstream media taking the hint?

Lizz Winstead: Well yeah, sure. You know, Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz and Keith Olbermann, you know, 's there's a trifecta on MSNBC that is trying to get to the bottom of the story and look between the lines of the story and, you know, I did a radio show with Rachel Maddow for a year and together it was sort of like I was the color commentator and she was the person that was bringing all of these stories that were buried in independent media or that were not covered at all, and we will get experts and she would drill at home and then I would sort of provide the humor and outrage of the listener. I was learning it for the first time along with Rachel and it was really helpful. I mean, I guess and I hope that they continue to do that. My fear is that if new shows, you know, keep reading the chatter about how most people get their news from "The Daily Show" which I don't believe is true. I think young people get their news and then they go to "The Daily Show" for response because you wouldn't like "The Daily Show" if you didn't know it was going out in the news. So, it's kind of false premise. But, I hope they don't start feeling like because "The Daily Show" is a successful place for people to go and sort of have a catharsis that they become that. I hope they still become interesting, compelling and using humor certainly, voices of reason and not comedians.

Question: Does Jon Stewart have more influence than broadcast journalists?

Lizz Winstead: I would say John Stewart probably does have more influence. A) because you can count on one hand the number of actual broadcast journalists on television. Let's not...Let's not call them broadcast journalists when 80% of them are commentators. You know, how many broadcast journalists are on Fox? How many broadcast journalists who went to journalism school were investigative reporters, worked at newspapers, have Pulitzers or Peabodys for digging into a story and making it great? There is very, very few. So, if you're going to have a landscape of people commentating, John Stewart actually culls the materials and looks at things and presents it in a funny way but nonetheless, there is truth there. He is not making up news to make a joke. He is taking the reality of the news and spinning the hypocrisy in it and using humor here doing it. So yeah, that person is going to definitely be more influential I think than somebody who's just some ex-congressman who's literally wondering aloud on television, bloviating their opinions that are based on newspaper things that you've read, I've read. I mean, that's what's crazy, is that they say things- I learn nothing because I already read that. In fact, we watch new shows and they read you the paper. It's like really is this what broadcast news has come to is they read the paper and then tell you what's in the paper? And so if newspapers are crumbling, what will become of broadcast news? It's a very interesting dilemma that I think they're going to find themselves in.

Question: Why are people attentive to alarmist commentators?

Lizz Winstead: Well, like to call them the "fright wing" and, you now, when you scare people and you indulge their fears that's an easy emotion to live with. You're validated in your fear of race, your fear of terrorists, your fear of anything. It almost is like what Glenn Beck does, which I think is the most frightening thing, is that he is basically telling his viewers that they have no control and that they should be afraid and this really scary false premise because if you're human being and you feel like everything is happening to you, you want someone to take care of you and that was one thing I was fascinated with the Bush administration was if you look at the history of what George Bush told America it was, "Look I'm going to take care of everything. You can stay on the couch and you can jut be against abortion and hate the gays and hate stem cell research and before this war, I'm not going to ask you to fight, and so you can have a set of values that allows you to still sit in your recliner and be judgmental. Whereas it's actually more interesting is you watch the elevation of lefty blogs and progressive pundits, they're asking you to participate. And when people start participating what they find out is they are part of the community, they want to help other people, they see that if they actually get off the couch and start reading and listening and taking a stand and getting into their neighborhoods, they can actually accomplish something in a neighborhood scale and they see how that transforms incredibly. And using the internet as a tool has been just an unbelievable boon for the proactive.

Question: How has YouTube changed comedy?

Lizz Winstead: Well you know, sometimes I feel a little bit with YouTube, it's like...You know when you go to a discount store like Marshall's or TJ Maxx and  you know that there's one Prada suit in all of those racks of crap. It's how dedicated are you to weeding through the bull to actually find the one or two amazing items that are there and I think that, well, YouTube has become a...certainly a place where you can find amazing pieces of satire and comedy, I think that really good stuff gets lost there because you'll see that there are places like Barely Political and Huffington Post where...if you notice a destination on the web now for satire you'll go there, rather than try to scour through...I mean, if I were to Google, you know, political satire, I YouTube a search of satirical videos I mean, holy moly, you know, it's providing a place for a lot of people to put them up. It's not really helping to weed out which ones are sort of making a point, which ones are just funny and stuff like that.

It gives people an outlet to do stuff which I like. I think the one thing that I find incredibly awesome about the internet is that it kind of weeds out the complainers. Because now you have a tool and a device with which you can learn to shoot  and learn to edit and write material and start your own webpage and put your stuff up and send it out to the world. And if you want to really dig around you can find a website can contact and say, "Hey, I'm doing these videos that I think would be right for your site." So, it's really getting the activists who are thinking about getting their message out, it gives them an opportunity...because for years we as filmmakers and writers and producers and actors had to wait for some network or some casting director to give us a forum. And now, we don't have to do that anymore. So people are still complaining then they're not really utilizing all that's available for them.

Question: Are men funnier than women?

Lizz Winstead: Are you Christopher Hitchens? Of course not. Of course men aren't funnier than women. I don't even understand really...funny. Here's the deal about funny. I just had a huge fight on my Facebook page with a guy who said, "You're not funny Lizz Winstead." And I was like, "Well, you're not funny either." And then I realize that I went to his little Facebook page and I saw that it was a comic that goes on the road and...Funny is subjective. Funny is like, you know, sushi. Do you like sushi or do you not like sushi and then what kinds of sushi do you like? If someone is making a living doing comedy, then people think they're funny. I might not find them funny but others do. So, for anyone to make any broad statement about what's funny, what isn't funny, people who say there's lines that you can cross in comedy are people who are destroying the creative process. There's never a line in comedy. You never know what a line is because someone may cross it consistently for the way one person looks at humor and that same routine may never cross a line. So, I just...Boundaries and what's funny I just feel like it's all so subjective that I always say if you don't think I'm funny please tell your like-minded friends that I'm not funny because then I will not have to worry about them coming to my show feeling like they've wasted their money and they hated it you know. And if you do think I'm funny then please tell people because then everyone can have a good time.

Question: Why is there a perception that men are funnier?

Lizz Winstead: Well I think for Christopher Hudgins it's that he...It just feels so weirdly...I mean, it's weird. I did a panel with him this summer and he couldn't have been more cordial to me...after he'd written that thing and they were going to bring it up and talk about it and they never did and I was more than willing to do that. I think it's...It comes from an ignorance that if you aren't open to allowing someone to make you laugh, if you've never seen a woman be funny then you're just a sexist asshole. Like, it's crazy. If one woman has made you laugh ever in the history of your life that means women are funny. Like... And so I don't know where it comes from. It comes from deep...If you say that then you women. I think that then you are not open to hearing what women have to say and you're probably not funny and you're probably threatened by women who can command attention in a room, work it, make people laugh because you can't...I mean, that's the only explanation I can think of is that you just hate women.

Question: Is it easier for men to be crude?

Lizz Winstead: No. I think there's bad dirty jokes and there's good dirty jokes and if you execute it, the dirty joke poorly, it's cringe-worthy. If it's funny, it's funny. I think that Sara Silverman and, you know, various other women, Wanda Sykes who I think is great, Roseanne who has amazing...some really good like, you know, blue material. I do some dirty jokes and I've never had a problem, those women don't have problems. It's all in the execution.

Recorded on: May 27, 2009