Making spirits bright

Lizz Winstead at the White House holiday party Monday afternoon. Submitted photo by Bruce Cherry

Lizz Winstead brings her annual year-in-review show to the Cedar Cultural Center for three nights at the end of the month. But considering everything that happened and continues to happen in 2016, from the deaths of Prince and David Bowie to the election of Donald Trump to the latest greatest daily threats to democracy, she could probably do a week’s residency. I got her on the phone from the nation’s capitol Tuesday night to talk about the strange times we’re living through, and her plans for the new year with her abortion rights advocacy group Lady Parts Justice League.

WALSH: You were at the White House Christmas party today? How did that happen? It had to be strange to be there, knowing what will happen Jan. 20.

WINSTEAD: My friend Bruce Cherry got invited to the party and I was his date. Every moment of joy during the tour you were constantly jarred back into “And then this will be gone.” All these photos of the Obamas and their kids and of people who have helped make America better through philanthropy or charities, and you’re looking at these, going “Who’s going to be up here next year? There’s not going to be a single person who’s made America better.” It’s just insane. I had real mixed emotions, because I was really excited to be there because when you’re the abortion lady you never get invited anyplace.

With the new government about to gut federal funding to Planned Parenthood, what will Lady Parts Justice League’s response be?

One thing I want to say is that I’m super-thankful that we’re not forming the organization in the wake of crisis. We have an infrastructure and a plan. We know that no matter who is elected, there will be people fighting against abortion access and reproductive access, so that was a given. My eyes were really opened in 2011 when I watched the state legislatures do this. So I knew full well and our mission is to raise awareness on a state level to get active with the activists, and we’ve done that. We’ve been to 10 states in the past 18 months. We rent a bus and we go do a multi-media comedy show that shows our videos and we do a talkback after our show. In June and July we’re going to 16 states, and we really want to galvanize people on the ground, working with the clinics and the local activists.

You love Christmas more than anyone I know, and you’ve spent your life working as one of the most active activists anywhere. How do we celebrate or party at a time when Trump is coming to power?

My theory, and especially with forming LPJL, has been how do we create an activism that flows organically into the things that bring us joy. So now’s the time, as we gather with people, spend part of our time making plans about what we’re going to do. You know, why not start registering people to vote on Jan. 3? While the big Million Women March is happening in Washington (on Jan. 21), LPJL is deciding to stay in New York and we’re planning to do a volunteer fair that will have comedy during the day and a dance party that night celebrating Roe v. Wade. And we’re encouraging people who can’t make it to Washington to create volunteer fairs and bring organizations together.

What will you be talking about at the Cedar, and what is there to laugh about in these dark days? Is there a guiding principal in comedy that you’ve learned along the lines of laughing to keep from crying?

I think that, for me, if you’re laughing, you haven’t given up hope. That’s a really good thing. So every time someone laughs at a tweet, or a Facebook post, or when I’m on stage, that means you can see the humor in it, and that gives some hope. I think I’m going to play on the emotional rollercoaster that we’re all feeling. I did two shows with Ani DiFranco two days after the election, and talking to people about where they were at, and I’d just say, “Who hasn’t taken a shower in a week? Two?” And people were just like, “We get it.”

So telling the story of 2016, you can’t not talk about how we all reacted emotionally, how we all reacted to our relatives and our friends, and how our Facebook relationships with people have changed. All of those things are really fun explorations in our own humanity.

Also, half of it is, “Where were you last year? There was stuff to do last year, but, OK, you’re here with me now and you’re in you’re standing there in your mustard-stained ‘Nasty Woman’ shirt and you’re panicking and you don’t know what to do next.” We’re not sure what to do next. I think some of that is going to be really fun — who we blame, how we averted our eyes, what blinded us to allow this to happen and all of that stuff is really the story of 2016.

The poster for the show and the name is “Controversy,” a nod to Prince. What were you thinking, and what are you trying to convey?

Doing the show in Minneapolis just adds a certain thing. I’m a daughter of Minnesota. The album is in my top five albums, that’s just a given. The album was a reflection of the times (the mid-’80s) in a really profound way, the songs in and of themselves, and then the cover with the headlines from this Minnesota icon … I was like, this is the most controversial year I’ve lived through in my life, and Prince died this year. So to be able to replace headlines on that album cover with headlines from this year just seemed perfect.

Anybody who knows me knows that a crucial part of my upbringing was the music of him and First Avenue and being in that place, and I think with Prince being gone and the main lyric on that record being, “You’re gonna have to fight your own damn war.” It’s like yeah, we are, and that’s what we’re doing.


Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at