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MANCHESTER

Standing up for Planned Parenthood

'Comic, 'Daily Show' co-creator drops in'

Oh, New Hampshire. You think you're so cool with your first-in-the-nation primary and your car-slowing scenery. Well, brace yourself, Granite State, because Lizz Winstead is headed this way, and she's not here to extol the foliage. The political satirist and co-creator of the Daily Show is going to focus her considerable comedic powers on poking some fun at our little corner of the map and its particular quirks and foibles. But don't feel bad, she does it to all the states.

"I'm very spontaneous. I love going to a place and telling jokes about what's going on there because people don't hear a lot of jokes about their state," Winstead said in a telephone interview from the road.

The popular comedian will be at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester tomorrow night as part of a Planned Parenthood benefit tour that started as a quick jaunt and has snowballed into a 25-city tour. "What's been great is that on every level, we have been successful," said Winstead, an outspoken advocate of women's rights. "It's been a really great re-awakening of the movement."

Winstead got the idea for the tour while working on a book of essays about her life. "I couldn't get (the book) finished in New York. There were too many distractions. So I decided to load up my dogs and myself and go back to Minnesota where I'm from and to hunker down all winter," she said.

While hunkering, Winstead observed the Republican budget-cutting attempts that took aim at National Public Radio and Planned Parenthood and the subsequent state-level maneuvers to de-fund the organization. Irked by the proposals - of

which, she added, "New Hampshire has had some of the craziest" - Winstead decided to wield her wit for the cause.

"I thought, I've got to drive back to New York. I'm going to do as many Planned Parenthood events as I can on the way," she said.

The obvious goal was to raise money, but Winstead also wanted to light a fire under young crowds and to give people a sense of solidarity. "One in four women uses the services of Planned Parenthood," she said.

"It's time for those of us who have to be the voice for (the workers) so they can focus on health care. These women are assaulted every day. . . . I want them to know they have advocates."

The tour was so popular, attracting 300 to 400 people a night, that Winstead decided to expand it. She's purposely priced her events to attract younger crowds, and the tactic has worked. The percentage of first-time donors is in the 65 to 70 percent range, she said, and young faces dot the audience. "I think people are thankful that someone is putting a name and face on the issue," she said.

It also helps that Winstead is one of the country's most in-demand comics. She's co-founder of Air America radio and a familiar face on Comedy Central and HBO and was recently recognized in Entertainment Weekly's 100 Most Creative People issue.

"Humor opens up a dialogue that shrieking doesn't," said Winstead, whose influence as co-creator and former head writer for The Daily Show arguably changed the way Americans - particularly the under-30 crowd - consumed the news. "It's refreshing to be able to say, 'Are you people crazy?' . . . It used to be that the media was the watchdog. Now the comedians are the watchdogs for the media."

The shows are seat-of-the-pants affairs, with new jokes finding their way in every week. "I write of the moment. People are really excited to hear this fresh, fired-up material," Winstead said.

And while humor is her primary tool, Winstead closes each show by reading a personal essay from her book about how she got pregnant in high school the very first time she had sex. It's a common story, she said, and one that she hopes gives people greater sympathy for those who find themselves visiting Planned Parenthood. "As young girls, our bodies and our minds and our good choices don't develop together, and so we get in trouble," she said.

(Lizz Winstead will be at Southern New Hampshire University's Dining and Event Center tomorrow night at 7:30. A backstage after party, with a chance to meet Winstead, enjoy dessert and cocktails and discuss current political challenges, will follow the show at 8:30. Tickets are $35 ($25 students) for the show and $75 for the show and backstage party combo. For tickets and information, visit ppaction.org/lizzwinsteadnh.)