Lizz Free or Die

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Overview

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 ...

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Lizz Free or Die

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Overview

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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  • Lizz Free or Die
    Lizz Free or Die  

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.
Booklist
Political satirist and stand-up comedian Winstead... [is] shrewdly observant, linguistically adept, bravely soul-baring, and caustically smart.
Booklist
Political satirist and stand-up comedian Winstead, cocreator and former head writer of The Daily Show, is not only a funny personal essayist. She's also shrewdly observant, linguistically adept, bravely soul-baring, and caustically smart. Her memories of her Catholic childhood in Minneapolis are pegged to her fear of the creepy, "severed" praying-hands plaque hanging in her home, her disgust over the endless cavalcade of babies in her extended family, her thwarted ambition to be an altar boy, and a traumatic teenage pregnancy. Minneapolis' dynamic music scene in the days of Prince and punk rock and funky comedy clubs with open-mic nights became her havens and creative incubators. While tracing the arc of her comedic evolution, Winstead dissects the opposition women comics face, tells piquantly hilarious tales of disastrous gigs (worst wardrobe malfunction ever) and rescue dogs, and recounts the eruption of her "media skepticism" while watching CNN's coverage of Desert Storm, the impetus for her founding roles in both The Daily Show and Air America Radio. Open-hearted, incisive, and droll, Winstead celebrates the sustaining power of humor and truth. — Donna Seaman
Library Journal
Comedian Winstead's debut collection of "messays" (memoir plus essays) offers a funny, thoughtful look at her life and work. She's not afraid to explore topics like her childhood fear of a praying hands plaque (she thought they were the real severed hands of a sinful child), a wardrobe malfunction that left her "she-joy" exposed, or career low points like opening for Frankie Avalon. Recognizable from appearances on comedy and news commentary shows, Winstead also co-created Comedy Central's The Daily Show (this is covered in one of the book's longer essays) and was part of Air America radio's starting lineup. While she takes the high road in glossing over her departure from The Daily Show, her Air America essay reveals the network's mismanagement, which resulted in her being replaced by Jerry Springer. VERDICT Winstead's showbiz connections will draw in readers, especially those who share her progressive point of view, but poignant essays about an unwanted pregnancy and the loss of her parents resonate most strongly. Recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 11/14/11.]—Terry Bosky, Palm Beach Cty. Lib. Syst., FL
Library Journal
Cocreator and former head writer of The Daily Show, Winstead doesn't just make folks laugh; she's also a sharp social critic. This collection of essays considers how she found her voice, starting with childhood as the outspoken daughter of strict Catholic parents. Winstead has worked mostly behind the scenes, so this book is like a coming-out party; expect lots of media—obviously, given her connections.
Kirkus Reviews
An odd book that falls into the gap between memoir and essay collection and one that lacks the amount of laughter or revelation that readers expect from an author who is known for comedy. Winstead mainly enjoys peripheral name recognition. She was one of the co-creators of The Daily Show and its head writer, but she left the show "a few months before Jon Stewart took over for complicated reasons that are far less important than my wonderful experience of creating and bringing it to life." She subsequently became one of the primary architects of the ill-fated Air America liberal radio network, where she co-hosted a program with an unknown discovery, Rachel Maddow. She also introduced Rosanne Barr and Tom Arnold. "This is a book of essays about life. My life," she writes. "It's not a memoir, per se." However, "essays" might imply a series of pieces that can stand alone, which most of these can't, and it's closer to memoir in its chronological progression and dependence on information provided in earlier chapters to understand later ones. She calls these pieces "Messays," which might seem like an unfortunate aberration if the book weren't subsequently filled with similar neologisms. Her tendency to question her own memory causes her to "Lizzmember," while her family's penchant for interrupting makes them all "Winsturrupters." Yet her life seems richer and more inspirational in the lessons of experience than such cloying affectations suggest--as a liberal Minnesotan raised in a loving, conservative Catholic household, as a feminist in comic clubs where there was too much misogyny, as a daughter who suffered through the declining health and deaths of her parents. Winstead also has a couple of very funny, extended chapters: on the robbery of her parents at an assisted living home and of her experiences with dogs and vets. Intermittently interesting--if only there were more evidence of the "observational humor" through which the author long made a living.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594487026
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/10/2012
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.88 (w) x 8.34 (h) x 1.04 (d)

Meet the Author

Lizz Winstead

Lizz Winstead is the co-creator and former head writer of The Daily Show and one of the founders of Air America Radio. She has been cited by Entertainment Weekly as one of the magazine's 100 Most Creative People and frequently appears on MSNBC, CNN, and Comedy Central. She lives in Brooklyn. Learn more at www.lizzwinstead.com or follow her on twitter @lizzwinstead.

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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 speci?c 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 stu? 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 ?nd 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 de?ne 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 rede?nes 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 horri?c 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 o?er 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 bar?ng 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 speci?c 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 o? 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 con?rm.)

Having said all of this, these messays are stories from a brain that ?uctuates 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 ?nding 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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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 16 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 16 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2012

    I bought this book after hearing Liz speak at Barnes and Nobles

    I bought this book after hearing Liz speak at Barnes and Nobles in Tribeca. I fell upon it. Needless to say 48 hours after hearing her, I've finished the book. I don't write reviews often but felt I needed to share in hopes others would also pick it up. I read it cover to cover and could not put it down. It had me from the start, scenes of her surrounded by babies and mid-western women in mumus doing nothing but gossiping about husbands and having babies. I love that Barbie with her houses and cars became Lizz's idea of freedom. No mumus. No babies. Life. Freedom.

    I'm a sucker for a good memoir, but this is really a mix of a hysterical read combined with a true heart touching story of how a woman discovers who she is. If you want a fabulous read that will not only make you laugh but inspire, look no further.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 11, 2012

    Fans of her comedy know Lizz Winstead possesses a sharp, importa

    Fans of her comedy know Lizz Winstead possesses a sharp, important and intriguing voice. "Lizz Free Or Die" proves the co-creator of "The Daily Show" has the writing chops to match. This collection of "messays" (her word) are always compelling, most times funny and occasionally poignant. As an added bonus, Winstead employs a personal vocabulary that is sure to be adopted by anyone intelligent to borrow it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 11, 2012

    One of my favorite memoirs in years

    I know this book by Lizz Winstead says it's not a memoir but rather a "collection of essays." But the essays have been assembled in such a manner as to tell a funny, moving and well-rounded story of Winstead's life and that of her family.

    Some essays, like the one about her dogs, had me laughing out loud. Others, while still funny, were also more politically insightful, or in the case of the essay about her co-creation of "The Daily Show," were historically fascinating for any fan of TV, or of that show's amazing effect on our national discourse.

    And throughout, every chapter features the Midwestern bon mots of Winstead and her family; both of her parents are hilarious characters, exhibiting an amazing wit that is so simple and elegant in its construction, I liked rereading their comments and laughing anew each time.

    I thoroughly recommend "Lizz Free or Die." For anyone who's fascinated by comedy or politics -- or just grew up with a maddening yet loving family, it's a must.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2012

    Review update

    Earlier I posted a one star review, reporting this book as "boring" as of page 23. Well, I'm now on page 100 and it' s definitely NOT boring! I love it and you will too! (Hey, a person can change their mind!)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2012

    This book made my wife and I laugh out loud numerous times. It's

    This book made my wife and I laugh out loud numerous times. It's hilarious and brutally honest. The author spares no one from her scathing (yet insightful) wit, least of all herself. Anyone looking for a book from which they'll walk away feeling as if they just gained a whole other lifetime's worth of knowledge without having to go through it on their own... will love this!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2012

    Comedian/TV producer/performer/Renaissance Woman Lizz Winstead's

    Comedian/TV producer/performer/Renaissance Woman Lizz Winstead's first collection of essays is laugh-out-loud funny, incisive, tender, laugh-out-loud funny, riveting, honest, biting and laugh-out-loud funny, and kind of makes me wish I had grown up in Minneapolis. It is a wonderful introduction to those who haven't had the opportunity to witness Lizz's humor firsthand. I can't wait for Volume II! Go buy this book STAT.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2013

    T Kitty

    I love this book so much i read it four times

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  • Posted August 27, 2012

    Reviewed by ONLY GOOD BOOKS: As I was reading LIZZ FREE OR DIE

    Reviewed by ONLY GOOD BOOKS: As I was reading LIZZ FREE OR DIE last
    night and this morning, laughing hysterically to the point that I had to
    blow my nose several times, I kept thinking, How lucky I am to have the
    kind of work that gives me the time to read books like this. Lizz
    Winstead, a comedian who was co-creator and head writer of The Daily
    Show and one of the founders of Air America Radio, delivers her
    “messays” (essays that are not quite a memoir, but “a collection of
    stories that put my somewhat complicated life into perspective—or at
    least a kind of perspective”) with honesty and comic panache, and her
    insights about being a woman in a field dominated by men kept me turning
    pages well into the night. Here are a few things that stuck with me:1)
    people who dismissed her actually inspired her; 2) she has worked very
    hard and eaten lots of Ramen noodles; 3) when she realized she would not
    run out of ideas, that feeling liberated her. In short, she’s an
    inspiration to me.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2012

    Hilarious and heartbreaking. A truly great read. What is next L

    Hilarious and heartbreaking. A truly great read. What is next Lizz? Bring it!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2012

    Cats

    Hello
    Rivertalon

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2012

    Jaykit

    Scurried thogh a tiny hole in the tree.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2012

    Wonderful

    What a refreshing writer. She touches emotional chords with love and humor. I do a lot of reading on my bus ride to and from work and laughed out loud more times than I can count. I'm sure people on the bus think I'm insane. Thanks Lizz, not often someone can make me lose my composure like that.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2012

    If you are a fan of Lizz Winstead, you will hear her voice clear

    If you are a fan of Lizz Winstead, you will hear her voice clearly in this book. She writes the way she talks, with brutal honesty and biting humor. Loved it.

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  • Posted June 4, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    You'll laugh til you cry!!!

    review Made me laugh and it made me cry. Just a wonderful book by an amazing woman!! I highly recommend checking it out.






    Critical thinking, Family, Women's issues, The Daily Show, Air America Radio, Contemporary genius

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2012

    Very funny, easy read. If you grew up Catholic in Minneapolis o

    Very funny, easy read. If you grew up Catholic in Minneapolis or a surrounding suburb, YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK. Even if you didn't it will make you laugh and cry. My favorite chapter is Two Dogs and a Cup. If anyone has had to deal with health or behavior issues with their pets, they will love her inventive way of getting a specimen sample.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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