Lizz Winstead might not be a household name, but one of her creations—The Daily Show—has become a decade-long cultural phenomenon. Not surprisingly, her defunct weekly off-Broadway show, Shoot the Messenger, was also dedicated to exposing media fluff to biting sarcasm. Winstead will be in Washington performing standup at the Bentzen Ball comedy festival, going on from October 22 through 25. You can see her the first three days of the festival; her first show is Thursday, October 22, at 7 at Bohemian Caverns with Natasha Leggero, Chelsea Peretti, Hugh Moore, Chris Fairbanks, Ruby Wendell, and Jason Weems. Tickets for single shows and weekend passes are available here. We talked to her about the festival, some of her favorite comedians, and political comedy.
How and why did you get involved in the Bentzen Ball?
“Tig Notaro is a friend, and she knows I often work in Washington. I usually do the Arlington Cinema 'n' Drafthouse every January, so this was a great opportunity to do smaller stuff, ten or 15 minutes with some great people. You usually don’t get to see all these talented people at once.”
If you weren’t performing at the festival, whose show would you choose to see?
“The obvious one to say is Sarah Silverman, but I’m sure that one will get sold out, and there are so many good ones. I’d go see the Patton Oswalt, Todd Barry, and Tig Notaro. See, this is why this show is so insane. All these great people are everywhere. Now people are going to say, ‘Why didn’t you mention my show?’ and I’m looking at the schedule and thinking, ‘Oh, people need to see this one and this one and this one.’ You know what? I’m going to reject this question. This is why I can’t follow anyone on Twitter, because I get paranoid. I’m opting out.”
You do a lot of work on television, such as your show Shoot the Messenger and your work producing The Daily Show. Do you prefer that over standup?
“It’s just two different things. It’s like saying, ‘Do you prefer lunch or dinner?’ They’re both very important to me, and I try to balance my life and make time for both and also make time to write and produce. But my roots are in standup, and I really try to carve out the time to do that.”
Who’s a relatively unknown comic you’re really excited to see at the Bentzen Ball?
“I really love Reggie Watts because he’s so different and really funny. And Tig is somebody who’s maybe not a household name but who’s very good at what she does. Morgan Murphy some may know, some may not. Jen Kirkman—all the women in the show are really great. You’re doing it to me again. They’re all really great. And some of these are based in Los Angeles, so I just haven’t been able to see them because their film careers are taking them elsewhere or whatever, so I’m really excited to see them.”
You’ve always been drawn to political humor in your work, a genre that’s particularly salient in this city. Why do you like political comedy—and what is it like to perform that in Washington?
“What draws me to it is, in the wake of the 24-hour cable-news domain, watching the insanity of news being reported and not being reported. I feel like being one of the voices on politics as well as media because I think the two go hand in hand—they’re bedfellows. I want to go, ‘Hey, look at this, don’t always believe what you hear.’ I like focusing on the way news networks prioritize what’s being reported over what’s going on in the rest of the world. What I like about Washington is that you can go a little bit deeper with this stuff, because Washington just lives and breathes it. I can tell jokes here that I wouldn’t tell anywhere else in the country. Usually I’d go, ‘Hey, so do you know who Michelle Bachmann is?’ But in Washington everyone knows who Michelle Bachmann is, and you can launch into it right away. You can talk up to people here.”
Who are some of your favorite comedians or comedic inspirations?
“Oh, man. Tough one. Dana Gould, Patton Oswalt. I’d have to say Wendy Liebman, and I really like Sarah Silverman. Let’s go with those four.”
You can never get away from politics in Washington even if you wanted to. How would you solve the health-care crisis?
“I would have the aforementioned comics read the health-care bill onstage à la The Vagina Monologues. We could have The Full-Body Monologues. I just think that there’s some sort of Congress-to-English dictionary and people just aren’t able to translate it, and then you have Michelle Bachmann going, ‘Abortions in homerooms! Replacing SATs with EPTs!’ and everything’s out of control.”