Lizz Free or Die

Lizz Free or Die

4.8 16
by Lizz Winstead

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Lizz Winstead, co-creator of The Daily Show and one of today's most hilarious comedians and insightful social critics, pens a brilliant account of how she discovered her comedic voice.

In this collection of autobiographical essays, Winstead vividly recounts how she fought to find her own voice, both as a comedian and as a woman, and how humor became herSee more details below


Lizz Winstead, co-creator of The Daily Show and one of today's most hilarious comedians and insightful social critics, pens a brilliant account of how she discovered her comedic voice.

In this collection of autobiographical essays, Winstead vividly recounts how she fought to find her own voice, both as a comedian and as a woman, and how humor became her most powerful weapon in confronting life's challenges.

Growing up in the Midwest, the youngest child of conservative Catholic parents, Winstead learned early in her life that the straightforward questions she posed to various authority figures around her-her parents, her parish priest, even an anti-abortion counselor -prompted many startled looks and uncomfortable silences, but few answers. Her questions rattled people because they exposed the inconsistencies and hypocrisies in the people and institutions she confronted. Yet she didn't let that stop her from pursuing her dreams.

Funny and biting, honest and poignant, this no-holds-barred collection gives an in-depth look into the life of one of today's most influential comic voices. In writing about her childhood longing to be a priest, her role in developing The Daily Show, and of her often problematic habit of diving into everything head first, asking questions later (resulting in multiple rescue-dog adoptions and travel disasters), Lizz Winstead has tapped an outrageous and heartfelt vein of the all-too-human comedy.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Co-creator of Comedy Central's The Daily Show and all-around champion of smart, topical humor, Winstead's debut is an intelligent and witty collection of essays cataloging her trajectory from a Catholic childhood in Minneapolis to her current work as comedian and television producer. The book starts off a bit slow, strolling through Winstead's precious but mostly generic youth. Arriving at young-adulthood, the essays become immediately funnier and more compelling. Stories from Minneapolis' "Punk Rock Ghetto"—about rooming with a very young Michele Norris (of NPR fame), witnessing the early moments of Rosanne Barr and Tom Arnold's romance, and listening to Prince perform hometown shows at a local club—are vicarious fun. An essay about an early, disastrous gig is hysterically funny, and her first-hand accounts of the early days of The Daily Show and Air America Radio are fascinating. The collection is inconsistent, and Winstead acknowledges that the book is an experiment of sorts, but frankness about your intentions and experience doesn't save you from the duds. That said, the good ones are very good, addressing the ups and downs of career, family, and friendship with honesty and humor. (May)
Mother Jones
Charming... with insight and understated humor.
American Way
[An] indelible, hilarious, often poignant romp.
Political satirist and stand-up comedian Winstead... [is] shrewdly observant, linguistically adept, bravely soul-baring, and caustically smart.
From the Publisher
“Sharply witty and iconoclastic.”—Elle

“Searching and lively … and moving. … Ms. Winstead writes with a feel for the sound of words.” – The New York Times

“Engaging…Winstead proves that she’s got a writer’s touch.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune 

 “Charming… with insight and understated humor.”—Mother Jones

“A sometimes-hilarious look at a woman who often plunged into life without much forethought but kept on going.”—St. Paul Pioneer Press

Lizz Winstead is a sharp-witted truth-teller, and Lizz Free or Die will inspire anyone who has ever talked back to the television or wished they could come up with satire as insightful as The Daily Show. It’s also a book about family, friendship and a zest for comedy that transcends political differences. In good times and bad, Winstead found her way by going toward the light and the laughter.”—Ms. Magazine

“Lizz Winstead is down-to-earth and wonderful and nice…read her book. You’ll start to think the same thing.”—Bust Magazine 

“[An] indelible, hilarious, often poignant romp.”—American Way

“Political satirist and stand-up comedian Winstead… [is] shrewdly observant, linguistically adept, bravely soul-baring, and caustically smart.”—Booklist

“Funny, thoughtful… recommended.”—Library Journal

“Intelligent and witty…with honesty and humor.”—Publishers Weekly

“With this book, Lizz Winstead takes us on a hilarious, honest, moving and insightful journey. It is the journey of a funny, fearless woman as she finds her voice and shares it with the world.”—Arianna Huffington

“Reading Lizz Winstead's hilarious collection of very personal essays somehow leaves you changed.  You laugh, and yet there are nutrients in her words.”—Sarah Silverman

“Lizz Winstead has written a fantastically readable collection. I really did laugh, and then, I really did cry.  Most important, though, I found someone I can leave my dogs with, should I have to flee the country.” – Julie Klam

"Lizz Free or Die is brilliantly funny and razor sharp. Lizz Winstead observes our times with candor, hope and a gimlet eye. She is a national treasure."— Adriana Trigiani

"Reading Winstead is like hanging out with Winstead: invigorating, infuriating, and hilarious." — Patton Oswald

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sold by:
Penguin Group
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File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Lizz Winstead is co-creator and former head writer of The Daily Show and one of the founders of Air America Radio. A performer and stand-up comedian, she frequently appears on MSNBC, CNN, and Comedy Central. She lives in Brooklyn. Learn more at or follow her on twitter @lizzwinstead.

Read an Excerpt

This is a book of essays about life. My life. It’s not a memoir, per se, as I decided to write about some specific moments that will give you some insight into the people, places, and experiences that propelled me forward. (With a few steps back in the process.) I think of these pieces as “messays,” because they are a collection of stories that put my somewhat complicated life into perspective—or at least a kind of perspective.

I have been through a lot of the same stuff that you have dealt with, are dealing with, or will deal with in the future. From the struggle of being a young girl trying to find her voice, to the unlikely places she found it, to the realities and heartbreak of watching an aging parent die, this book gives you (I hope) permission to be honest with yourself, to laugh, to cry, to bitch, and to scream. And maybe if you come across any of those emotions while reading, you will realize that you, too, at some point in your life had been told to “restrain yourself” because you needed to be “appropriate.”

I hate the word appropriate.

And I hate people who think they can define appropriateness as an absolute, especially because they are usually the same people who try to shove toeing the line down my throat most aggressively— proselytizing politicians and preachers and prosaic comedy producers, all who specialize in prematurely adjudicating without an appropriate leg of their own to stand on.

I hope this book redefines the word appropriate, or shoves it into obsolescence with other meaningless words, like refudiate, jiggy, and Tea Party.

So what kind of juicy details about my life are included? Well, let me be clear up front: First, this is not a book full of dark family secrets.

My father wasn’t one of those horrific memoir dads. You know what I mean. He was not the kind of dad who did “things” to me that led to a social worker, which led to a judge, which led to an attorney asking in a closed hearing, “Where on the doll did he touch you?”

And my mother wasn’t one of those memoir moms, either. She was not some kind of emotional gorgon who scrubbed this poor author’s secret garden with Borax and Brillo pads or made her children eat their own feces in the crawl space under the basement stairs because her cult leader or the voices in her head told her to. She was more subtle than that.

At this point it should be noted that because these messays aren’t chock-full of the aforementioned themes, Lifetime Television won’t be clamoring for the TV rights to this book. Although I will share some woman-in-peril anecdotes, my woman-in-peril stories don’t involve deadly estrangement, deadly deception, or my mom and me sleeping with our deadly pool boy. So I offer my sincere apologies right here to the careers of Missy Gold, Tracey Gold, and any other members of the Gold family who will not be employed in some made-for-TV movie incarnation of my life.

Second, I will not regale you with gag-inducing details about spontaneous sex in a Porta-Potty or how I blew some bass player from an indie band in the back of their Leinenkugel-soaked van. This is not to say I don’t weave a few tales of sexual stupidity. I did lose my virginity to a mediocre high school hockey player. I grew up in Minnesota; there were a lot of girls like me, who grew up in a wintry archipelago and gave it up to a right-wing left wing with a mullet. It was 1978; there weren’t a whole lot of options. Just ask Sarah Palin.

Third, it is not one of those mea culpa books. Those books always make my brain explode because more often than not they are less mea culpa and more everyone else is culpa. Themes like “I heroically sat idly by and watched as the administration I worked for subverted the facts to justify war and ordered torture and illegal imprisonment, but I’ll blame everyone who was around me for that.”

If you want to read one of those books, put this back on the shelf and walk over to the Your Taxes Used to Pay Me to Do a Crappy Job Running the Country and Now I Am Making Millions Lying to You About How Great I Was at It section. It’s right behind the Crafts and Hobbies aisle. Or you might want to check the How to Start Your Home Business area.

And last, it’s also not a revenge book. I am not a public laundry kind of gal, unless it’s my dog Buddy barfing up my thong on a busy Brooklyn street. I do share experiences that some involved may not like, and I have changed some names of people and establishments because either they have private lives that don’t need to be dragged through the public mud, even though they happened to be standing in it with me, or I would rather not give free advertising to them, as I think the services they provide suck.

I also feel awful because I could not include all the fantastic people in my life (blame my editor), but as this is not a memoir, I didn’t cover every special moment with all those who mean a lot to me so I hope I will be forgiven.

And as for the less fantastic people who have come across my path: I didn’t include too many of them for the simple reason that I remember them all too well.

Also, I sometimes lump together chunks of my life to serve as a composite of a given time period, rather than go through a linear play-by-play. I may occasionally have a date or a month wrong, but the experiences all happened within the same general time. Finding specific dates from my life way back on the Internet proved very unfruitful. My Wikipedia page is proof of that. So when I had to estimate, I based some of my timelines on the material that went into my shows, knowing I had an accuracy window based on a certain news cycle.

In short, I can say that all this shit happened, but I may be a bit off in the exact order in which it appears here. It just means I should never be counted on to remember when your birthday is. (Mine is August 5. It is one of the few items on my Wikipedia page I will actually confirm.)

Having said all of this, these messays are stories from a brain that fluctuates from fun to fucked up and back, sometimes mid-sentence. They’re the adventures of how I evolved from a girl who just wanted to explore her dreams to a woman who came to understand that my dream was finding a way to use humor to speak truth to power—and ultimately realized that humor is a most useful tool to help put even the most painful moments of life into perspective.

So if you want to learn some shit about me and have a laugh, quit reading this part and get to the good stu?. The sooner you get started reading about my life, the better you will feel about your own.

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