BYT Interviews: Lizz Winstead
Megan | Jun 11, 2015 | 2:00PM |

Grown Ass Carnival is happening at Long Island City’s The Creek + The Cave this Sunday, and it sounds like just about the best time EVER; tickets are just five bucks, and there will be games, prizes, booze, celebrity guests and MORE (followed by Sexual Storytelling for an additional but totally worth it fifteen bucks), all thanks to the amazing minds behind Lady Parts Justice.

What is LPJ? Well, if you haven’t heard of it, chances are you’ve been living under a rock; it’s one of the most innovative reproductive justice organizations out there at the moment, and they are (for lack of a better term) totally doin’ the lord’s work in helping to educate the public about state-by-state legislation and motivating people to get out there and vote to reclaim their reproductive rights.

LPJ was founded by the inimitable Lizz Winstead (co-creator of The Daily Show, writer // author // producer // all-around hilarious genius that I wish was my best friend // etc.), and I hopped on the phone to her last week to talk about the specifics of the event (MARGARITA SNOW CONES, YOU GUYS…) as well as the roots of the organization, challenges they’ve faced along the way, and what WE can do to help propel their incredible work. Read up on all of that below, follow LPJ on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest news, and (of course) grab tickets to the Grown Ass Carnival this Sunday! HERE WE GO:

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How’s it going?

Good, how are you? We’re all looking at Chris Christie’s camel toe, which we can’t un-see.

Oh my god, it’s so bad. It’s SO bad.

It’s so bad. It’s crazy. Gross.

Like, I don’t even understand why it exists. I wish that it didn’t.

I mean, when I put on leggings, I don’t have balls and a penis, but for Chris Christie to put on these tight pants and say, “Winning! I don’t need a cup!”…what?!

Yeah, it’s out of control. 

Out of control.

Well, at least it’s still Friday, so that’s looking up for us! Now, I am SUPER excited for Grown Ass Carnival!

It’s going to be so fun! We are beyond psyched. All these male and female comedians will be carnival workers, we have grown up games…we have MARGARITA SNOW CONES. And then we have dirty bingo (it’s called “DILDO” instead of “BINGO”) and we have really funny bingo callers (we just want to hear people yell out “DILDO!” because we’re five years old), and then we have a dunking booth, which is kind of my favorite thing; we have comedians and then we have some great musicians like Holly Miranda and Ambrosia Parsley, and they’re going to be reading all of the horrible things that are tweeted at women to inspire you to dunk them.

Amazing! So how long did it take to actually conceptualize this event, then?

We had been brainstorming a lot about wanting to combine a really fun event with something that gets people in the door so that they can learn about the state of what’s going on with reproductive healthcare around the country, and we also wanted to have a fundraiser that was affordable; I think so often people want to help and they care about stuff, and then the only thing that they can really participate in are things that they’re priced out of, like a fancy chicken dinner or something like that. So we feel like part of our motivation at Lady Parts Justice is to throw events that you want to incorporate into you life, because everyone’s working two jobs and they’re broke, and so if you want people to learn and care, you have to create events and evenings where it sounds enticing, and it makes them want to carve out time for it. Eventually, if you have enough events (smaller in scope but equally as fun), then they’ll realize that they actively want to participate in this community by helping to make sure their local politicians are being held accountable, getting up to vote, etc. It’s a meta thing; it’s macro and micro at the same time.

Right, and you address such HUGELY important issues with LPJ…it’s one thing to care about those issues and be vocal about them, but it’s entirely another to get off your ass and actually START an organization and DO things about it. What was the process like in establishing Lady Parts Justice and just taking things to this whole next level?

Well, what happened for me was that I wrote a book that came out in 2012, and in 2011, I was on deadline and freaking out, and what I did with my writer’s block was I packed up my dogs and me and rented a van and drove back home to spend a whole winter in Minnesota (where I’m from) so I could finish writing. The second I landed in Minnesota, that Congress (that was elected in the sweep in the midterms when all of those Tea Party people took over) tried to de-fund Planned Parenthood and the National Parks and public radio, and so when I was finishing up my book, I was getting more and more anxious about watching more and more states have these laws that I knew were going to do harm to rural women, urban women, and I thought, “Well, I have to go back to Brooklyn with my dogs and my van.” So I called up Planned Parenthood and said, “What if I do benefits for you along the way on the way home?” And they said, “Okay.”

So I started doing that, and as I went to each town, I’d talk to clinicians, I’d talk to patients, I’d talk to state legislators, and what was interesting was that half of the people that bought tickets to the benefits were comedy fans, and the other half were reproductive rights activists; the comedy fans were like, “Whoa, what?! I’ve got to get involved.” And even the reproductive rights people (because I’d done a lot of research for my jokes) were like, “I didn’t know it was this bad.” So every town I’d go to, there were people that wanted to do something. And I realized that I couldn’t go to every town, so I thought, “If the comedy’s working and getting people motivated and fired up, then what if I get together and reach out to my community of comedians and say, ‘You guys, here is what I just learned; shit’s really bad, so what do you think if we get all of us together and start making videos that are funny and factual to start exposing people?'” And people were like, “Yeah, cool!”

So we released our first video (called “It’s the Law” about transvaginal ultrasounds and foricng women to have to look at the monitor to see their fetus), and this woman looks at the monitor and there’s a politician in her uterus, and she can’t get rid of him. Without any press or anything, that video got like 600,000 hits in two days or something, and I was like, “Oh my god, we’re onto something; we need to make more videos and get a website so people can read more about what’s going on in their state.” So I sent out a big email to people saying, “You guys, there’s no money in this, this is a volunteer thing. Do you want to do it? We’ll start a Kickstarter and a website and we’ll all just dive in.” And that’s what we did. Our funders saw our website and our videos and said, “Let us give you a little bit of money so you can actually hire some folks to do this for real.” Which was great, because we could start doing rapid-response comedy videos, and now we’re at the place where we have our offices set up and are hitting the ground running. Our official website isn’t even a year old, but we’re doin’ it! [Laughs]

Well, and again, what you’re doing is SO IMPORTANT! I mean, what’s been the most challenging thing you’ve faced so far? It’s clearly a massive undertaking, but does anything stand out in particular as a mega-hurdle? And what would you especially like help with at this moment?

The most important thing that we would like help with is bodies who can do stuff on a volunteer basis; we have a tiny core of people who are staff (and I literally took an 85% pay-cut to do this), but (for example) this week alone, it’s Friday and there have been eleven stories that broke about some shitty legislation in eleven different states. So we’re trying to make memes and get videos up as fast as we can, and if there are people who are good at graphic design or writing jokes or editing…anybody who could help volunteer their time, that would be amazing. (People who are good at anything, really.)

And in lieu of the money, it’s really fun; we have this clubhouse that we work in (two floors of a brownstone that’s furnished like a suburban house so we can shoot emergency sketches), and we’ve also found that it’s incredibly community-building. We have this great group of people who are dedicating some of their time to this, so we have wine together, we cook together, we write on Sunday nights together, and it’s a very familiar atmosphere. It’s great, and the goal is to show people that if you get together with your friends and make sure that the way you do your work has meaning, is fun and is rewarding, people will carve out time for it; if it feels like it’s a drag, people aren’t as motivated to do it. Hopefully when people see us doing it, they can join us here in New York, or they can get together with their friends locally, you know? If they need help, we’d love it if they Skyped us or we could do a Google Hangout to brainstorm and get creative. We want to be proactive, give people the tools they need, and then just kind of “be the change” in a weird way.

Fantastic. And tell me about V To Shining V, which is a more nationwide sort of thing, yeah?

Yeah, V To Shining V is our annual initiative, and the point is to take a day where people can attend a public event if there’s one in their area (and this year there will be eight) for an entertaining time that incorporates having a bunch of fun with talking about all of the laws that are being proposed in their state and identifying the legislators behind them, and from that point making a commitment from September through elections to get people registered to vote. That’s why we have it in the fall, is to remind people to vote; we lose so much traction in the midterm elections that if we create a big event to remind people, then it’s just one more big tool we can use to make people a little more aware, make them feel like they can make a difference when it comes time to vote.

Cool. And what else have you got coming up that you want to talk about?

Well, I’ll be headlining a stand-up show at Largo in LA on August 18th, which I’m really excited about, because I haven’t done a headlining gig in LA for probably three years. We’re also taking a busload of people (the Lady Parts Justice League) and heading down to Alabama for a weird USO tour-type thing to help clinic workers by giving them support for all the awesome work they’re doing, because they’re under attack constantly, and the work they do is so powerful that we want to cheer them on and let them know we appreciate it, that their work matters, and that there are people in the world who treasure what they do. So we’ll do comedy shows and make food and do karaoke, and provide a space that they can just chill out and we can make them feel like the kings and queens that they are.

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