Comedian Lizz Winstead doesn’t get political for no reason.
The Cedar Cultural Center
$20/$25 at the door
In fact, she has a big reason, and it’s reproductive rights. On Thursday, Winstead and her nonprofit Lady Parts Justice League bring the Vagical Mystery Tour to the Cedar to raise awareness about abortion rights access.
In addition to cutting standup sets by Daily Show co-creator Winstead and local award-winning comedian Jenn Schaal, a lineup of Twin Cities musicians including Chastity Brown and Lori Barbero will sing some of the most sexist songs ever written.
The stirrings for the Vagical Mystery tour began a few years ago when Winstead heard about an upcoming rally of up to 1,000 anti-abortion extremists in Montgomery, Alabama, outside of a clinic. Winstead offered the support of the Lady Parts Justice League to the clinic; she and her team were the only pro-choice activists that showed up.
“If we’re the only people here during a highly publicized thing, does that mean there’s nobody showing up, ever, at any point?” she wondered.
Winstead noticed that there are plenty of groups that address patient advocacy and reproductive rights at the policy level, but there isn’t much in the way of support for abortion providers and clinic workers. She decided to travel around the country doing comedy shows followed by talk back sessions with providers and activists to let audience members know what laws to be on the lookout for in their state and how they can help out local clinics. Audiences are often shocked to hear what’s going on legislatively in their hometowns, but this doesn’t surprise Winstead at all.
“There’s an assault on reproductive access,” she says. “It’s profound and intense and it’s never covered in the media.”
As we head into another election season, it’s crucial for voters to find out who represents them and what they stand for, especially at the city and state levels, where much of reproductive health legislation is made. But no matter what happens on Election Day, “people are still going to be needing abortion care and providing it, and we need to be a support system for them,” Winstead says.
Abortion access isn’t just political for Winstead; it’s personal as well. She got pregnant in high school the first time she had sex. She went to a pregnancy center, unaware that it was anti-choice and it was “the most shaming experience of my life,” she says. (She was able to access an abortion elsewhere.) She first told her abortion story publicly in 1992 on Comedy Central’s Women Aloud.
Winstead believes comedy is an effective vehicle for political change; indeed, she’s made a career out of it. “I think that breaking issues that are hard down into humor can be a really good way to expose hypocrisy,” she says.
The Vagical Mystery Tour’s content isn’t about hammering the audience with reproductive rights information. It’s also about having fun. “The purpose is just getting really talented people together to do what they do, and then having a conversation about the issue after the show,” Winstead says. “People need joy more than ever during these times, so the people providing joy, if they’re also providing some information, wow, that’s like a one-two punch right there to change if you ask me.”
Because of the plethora of musical talent in Minneapolis, Winstead added musicians and their sexist song selections to the lineup “to remind people that pop culture does not define women in a great way,” she says. “We sing along to songs, and they’re super catchy, and all of a sudden you’re like, ‘Wow, I’m sitting here singing this song that’s really about some guy treating me like garbage.’”
And the work doesn’t end when Winstead leaves the stage, either; each stop on the Vagical Mystery Tour includes a get-out-the-vote drive with local activists and a work project at a clinic. At a recent stop in Alabama, Winstead and crew bought lunch for clinic staff and built a wall of hedges to block anti-abortion protestors from seeing the clinic’s patients. Many clinics can’t get services that other business take for granted -- like landscaping, plumbing, and roofing -- because the providers of those services are against abortion or aren’t willing to service clinics out of fear of repercussions from anti-choice community members.
“We’ll do anything they’re too overwhelmed and busy to do,” Winstead says. She hopes audiences realize that “whatever skills that they have, whatever they know how to do, they can be helpful in making the lives of these providers better.”
Winstead believes that events like the Vagical Mystery tour can be both entertainment and a call to action. She also hopes to inspire others to make their voices heard about reproductive justice issues and abortion access.
“When one in four women will have an abortion in her reproductive lifetime, that is part of healthcare for people,” she says. “I refuse to be part of a silencing operation that tries to stigmatize people. They’re hard conversations to have, but they need to be had.”
IF YOU GO:
Lady Parts Justice League’s Vagical Mystery Tour 2018
Cedar Cultural Center
8 p.m. Thursday, July 26
Tickets are $20-$25
The Cedar Cultural Center
$20/$25 at the door