A Comic Comes Home

By Becky Levin

Throwing her arms up in frustration, Lizz Winstead exclaims, ``I'm a white, heterosexual feminist. Where do I fit in?''

This is the foundation on which Winstead's one-woman show, Don't Get Me Started! is based. Lizz Winstead can't believe she's the only one seeing through all the bullshit that makes up today's society, and she's setting the stage, literally, to provide a forum for discussion. Feeling the need to be a more effective comedienne/liberal, Winstead has departed from the usual comedy venue to more critically explore her life and her art.

Winstead chose to open her show in Minneapolis, her hometown. Born and raised here, Winstead attended the University of Minnesota as a history major. One night, on a dare by college chums, she attempted stand-up at a Dudley Riggs' open-mike night. The laughs haven't stopped since. Credited with such TV appearances as MTV's ``Half Hour Comedy Hour,'' HBO's ``Women of the Night,'' and ``Evening at the Improv,'' Winstead is one of today's most talked-about female comics. So how does one who was raised in a middle-class, Catholic, conservative household evolve into a socially conscious, agnostic left-winger?

``My father grew up where they filmed Mississippi Burning. Yeah, so you know, he's really liberal,'' Winstead says, satirically. ``I'm the youngest of five kids. All of my siblings grew up during the '60s and early '70s, so I had the influx of the radical influence and the influx of the conservative influence. My siblings always made more sense to me than my parents did, and I was more drawn to them rather than my parents.''

After years on the comedy circuit, Winstead has focused her comedic energies and political convictions into a theatrical production. In turn, the audience is inspired to reevaluate their own choices and opinions. This creates an intimate relationship Winstead couldn't find in the clubs.

``I'm trying to elevate stand-up comedy to something else, as well as showing that you can do it in different forms,'' Lizz explains. ``My material can't work in a club -- I know, I've tried it. People don't know what the Gaza Strip is; people don't know what you're talking about. I never was about appealing to the masses, anyway. I wanted people who think the same way I do to be able to have some kind of entertainment outlet where they could go and have a good time.'' Anthony Benson, the show's producer, agrees. ``Our purpose was to cater to a specialized audience with hopes of reaching a broader audience,'' he says. ``If that happens, then great. The more people that start thinking about this topical information and material, the more it will benefit everyone. But that's why we're taking it out of the comedy venue. It creates a different environment for the material.''

Despite her purpose or perception, Winstead does appeal to the masses. Her material cannot help but touch a part of everyone's life. After all, who hasn't felt the pang of guilt when a good liberal cause rings and you can't find the time to listen because you're watching ``thirtysomething?''

Winstead can be cynical at times, but her genuine warmth and charisma prove she's concerned about the world's fate. She examines important issues and offers up a smorgasbord of witty and satirical commentary. At the opening of her show a survey is given, asking for opinions on topics from war to abortion. The results prove that not everyone is as hip to the liberal thing as Winstead. However, whether the masses -- in this case her audience -- agree or not, her performance is captivating and challenging. What Lizz Winstead is not is a perfect model for political correctness. She does not claim to be, and candidly reveals her weaknesses.

``We are bombarded by countless liberal causes,'' she says. ``It's really hard, I mean, I'm lazy by nature. Sure, I'd like to save the gay, homeless, baby whales, but I just don't have the time.''

Winstead realizes society's problems are overwhelming, and shares our feelings of helplessness. But she refuses to succumb to the apathy. She's developed an approach that makes the world seem less apocalyptic. She isn't antagonistic toward the audience. This explains how she can avoid sounding as if she's preaching her own gospel. Curled up in an easy chair (part of the set representing Winstead's New York apartment), Lizz brings her show to a close. She hasn't attempted to solve the world's problems, but instead introduces a renewed sense of awareness and a refreshed feeling of hope. For those of you who feel you're the only humanitarian left alive, go see Winstead for the comfort of knowing you're not alone. For those of you who haven't got a clue, here's a great place to get one. Don't Get Me Started is guaranteed to send you away with a heightened awareness, and a grin on your face.

Copyright 1991 Minnesota Daily Online
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