Comedian Lizz Winstead helped kick off the fake news revolution back in 1996 by co-creating and serving as the head writer for The Daily Show. During her tenure, Winstead served on the team that brought on Stephen Colbert and Lewis Black. She later brought her acerbic political commentary to the radio, where she co-founded Air America (which closed up shop for good earlier this week) and has shared the air with the likes of Rachel Maddow and Chuck D. (Not bad for a college drop-out.) Most recently, Winstead has toured the country with her off-broadway theater show Shoot The Messenger—a live sketch show about an inept fictional news network—which has since been developed as a television pilot under the name Wake Up World. Prior to her two-night stint at Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse, The A.V. Club caught up with Winstead as she pointed out why Pat Buchanan is the most useless person in news media, outlined her gripes with the Obama administration, and reminisced about her own personal "monumental fuck-ups."
The A.V. Club: What is your biggest disappointment with the Obama presidency so far?
Lizz Winstead: It’s a toss-up. He didn’t take an active leadership role in health care to actually make sure insurance companies are held responsible, so I don't see any reform. I don't see more health care that's affordable being provided in this bill. I just see people being forced to get health care and the insurance companies making millions—and that makes me really disappointed…. Also, watching how Afghanistan has changed dramatically into a full-on civil war and having Barack Obama sort of ignore that and wanting to send troops in. The policy in Afghanistan seems completely arbitrary—I don't understand why it is called "The Necessary War." I don't understand the necessity…. Hiring the same people who got us into this financial situation to fix it is another giant problem. I understand it's a tainted gene pool when it comes to the financial industry. It's kind of like if you had to pick a husband and the only pool you could pick from were all the guys that fucked around on you. That's kind of what we're dealing with.
AVC: In a recent radio interview, you mentioned that you didn't go into the election believing that Obama was a progressive, but you were at least expecting a Democrat.
LW: Right. I was never one of those people who thought that we were going to get single-payer health care, but there is a democratic platform and set of ideals that he did run on. One of the things that he absolutely did promise was the re-importation of drugs was going to happen and that we would be able to negotiate the price of prescription drugs—which is one of the major, major costs. One of the first things he did was have secret meetings with the pharmaceutical industry and cut a deal that's exactly the opposite of that. I really did expect democratic values, i.e. we don't torture and we're going to get Gitmo closed, we're going to give due process to these people so that we can show the world that we are a nation of laws. We're going to show the world through real health care reform that we are a nation that cares about its most vulnerable. We protect women's rights and don't auction them off when it comes to health care and those were the most basic things I expect. I find it odd to see him consensus-building with people who are just going to call him names. At some point I wish he would say "Well fuck it, if you're just going to call me a socialist then I am going to give everybody health care. No matter what I do I'm a socialist." He hired Ben Bernanke, what a socialist. He's a regular Marxist.
AVC: Who in your opinion is the most useless person in news media?
LW: That is so hard, but I would have to say Pat Buchanan. He's been startlingly racist. Between Sonia Sotomayor and then him going off on a tangent on the Rachel Maddow show about how we first and foremost should be looking out for white, middle-class men and protecting their interests. Then to him defending Brit Hume saying that Tiger Woods should leave Buddhism and become a Christian so that he could find peace. Then he revealed himself to say that he didn't really know too much about Buddhism. It's like if you don't know much about this then why are you commenting? He will comment on anything, whether he knows about it or not. That is useless. It's like if someone called my mom to find out what the top 10 hip-hop records of the decade were. You might as well just ask Pat Buchanan what the top five emcees were in the ’00s.
AVC: You've criticized The Daily Show for lobbing softball questions and generally letting guests off the hook in the interview segments. Do you still feel that show drops the ball?
LW: I said that in 2004 in a Mother Jones article. It was right after I watched Henry Kissinger get interviewed by Jon Stewart. Actually, I talked to Jon about it—he came on my radio show on Air America and I was like, "Dude, you had Henry Kissinger, he's a war criminal!" He was very funny and was like, "Lizz, I'm just not you." That was six years ago, so now I would say that Jon Stewart does some of the hardest-hitting interviews on TV. What I love is that people go on that show and they assume well they can fool him even after they've watched Jon bury people with their own words. I've seen him with Bill Kristol, Betsy McCaughey, and a million other interviews where he's left them speechless and it was awesome.
AVC: You're working on a book right now. What will that entail?
LW: It's a book of essays. It's not a book about politics—it's a book that gives you insight as to why my politics are the way they are. It's stories of me growing up and the stories of how I've massively fucked up in my life and of the people who helped me. I dropped out of college and I'm pretty much a self-educated person, so a lot of my core belief system comes from life.
AVC: What would be some of the monumental fuck-ups?
LW: The biggest monumental fuck-up was when I got pregnant after having sex for the first time when I was in high school. There's a lot to do with teen drinking. My grandmother lived with us and I locked her in her room and had a party and how she forgave me. There are ones about school and dropping out and giving all of my student-loan money to an old boyfriend so he could wine and dine another girl, probably. So yeah, that one was pretty bad.