I Helped Create ‘The Daily Show’: Now, I’m Fighting for Abortion Access

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NOAY_KEY-IMAGE_Lizz-scotus-headsAR_v3 - Credit: Astral Studio
NOAY_KEY-IMAGE_Lizz-scotus-headsAR_v3 - Credit: Astral Studio

My first act toward shedding myself of fucks to give was sharing my abortion story on Comedy Central back in 1992. That was the first and last time I was asked to do that on television. That’s when I learned that corporate media, no matter how open-minded, is not a place where activism will thrive.

My career was built at the intersections of comedy and social criticism, but as I worked on shows at for-profit media networks, there was a limit. The suits were quick to remind me, “You are a comedy writer, not an activist.” But I am both, and it was wrong to get people all riled up and not give them a way to fight back. I felt like an anger fluffer.

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Since they didn’t want me to be an activist, my spidey sense told me that being the abortion comedian may also be frowned upon. So instead of trying to push an agenda that corporate media didn’t want, I created the comedy-activist model that was missing in the fight for reproductive health, rights, and justice. Lady Parts Justice League, now Abortion Access Front (AAF), is a gathering of comedians, writers, producers, and activists who do what the mainstream media wasn’t doing: talking about abortion. We did benefit shows, launched a podcast, and made hilarious videos that called out the lies.

But dragging anti-abortion assholes and making funny videos wasn’t enough. We wanted to mobilize folks and help the public become part of the solution. We wanted to center abortion providers and patients in the most marginalized communities, and we wanted them to tell us how we could help.

We called clinics and local activists in states that were the most vulnerable, asking what they needed, what community support could we help cultivate, and how could we help educate the public on their states’ obstacles? The response was often tearful: “You would do that? No one has ever asked us what we need.”

Comedians Sarah Silverman and Lizz Winstead in 'No One Asked You.'
Comedians Sarah Silverman and Lizz Winstead in ‘No One Asked You.’

And they need a lot. Everything from lunches for staff to securing their websites from anti-abortion hackers, to landscaping and painting the clinic, to simply creating a fun event that could gather the public so they, in turn, could mobilize them.

What we learned from talking to the abortion clinics is that often in the communities where they provide abortion care, they can’t get a company to repaint their building after it has been vandalized or even get their grass mowed because people don’t want to do business with them. And if they do find someone? Often that company will be targeted for helping them. When we learned that, we decided to hit the road. Through our comedy shows, we raised awareness, raised hell, and brought clinics and communities together.

Here’s how it works:

About 12 comedians and activists pile into vans and tour America. At each stop, we do a variety show that also features local providers and advocates. Audiences laugh, rage, and listen. Often, this is the first time they have ever met their local abortion provider, and the first time the providers have an audience full of people eager to support them. After each performance, the audience signs up to participate with the locals, and the support system gets stronger.

But that’s just half of a tour stop. The other half is spending a day or two at the clinic getting shit done. We’ve planted bushes in Raleigh and Huntsville, thrown a neighborhood block party in Detroit with a bounce house and bookbags full of school supplies so the clinic could get to know their neighbors and their kids, and in Cleveland, we brought in a taco truck and a hot tub for a serious morale boost after hundreds of protesters had barraged their clinic. These folks are working so hard for us that doing something nice for themselves only happens if someone else can arrange it. That’s us.

Every person can do something and Abortion Access Front takes enormous pride in showing folks all of the ways they can make a difference, and guiding them to the people who need it most. We also really love making people laugh.

Activism takes many forms. Going to protests or lobbying politicians isn’t everyone’s jam. AAF works with people, learns their passions and skills, and turns them into the activists they want to be. That is the core of what we do: empowering people to make their own change and plug into a movement in real and meaningful ways.

When Roe v. Wade fell in June, people wanted to do something more than just another march. Come July, AAF launched Operation Save Abortion, a training series grounded in reproductive justice, led by experts in the various aspects of abortion activism. We wanted to create a day of learning that explored all the ways folks who want to get involved could jump in and choose a lane that spoke to them and then turn it into a lasting series that anyone could participate in on their own time.

We had over 11,000 folks from all 50 states involved and helped them connect to local organizers. In real time participants learned, discussed new concepts, and worked through their own biases while independently connecting with each other to meet up and get into some good trouble.

Every person can do something and Abortion Access Front takes enormous pride in showing folks all of the ways they can make a difference, and guiding them to the people who need it most. We also really love making people laugh.

When director Ruth Leitman approached us back in 2016 about following our work, we had to say yes. With so many media outlets running away from anything abortion as a topic too divisive or too risky, she wanted to run toward it and help spread the word.

AAF saw the Roe writing on the wall as soon as we started touring the country back in 2016. We became experts on how zealots were running coordinated state efforts to end abortion, and that gave us our drive and clarified our mission. The result is No One Asked You, a new documentary that just premiered at DOC NYC.

As I write, we have traveled to 33 states, turning audiences into changemakers. This documentary has followed us every step of the way and shows the courageous work of providers, and how a group of comedians-turned-activists created a whole new way to fight back, creating opportunities available to everyone. We hope you watch and get inspired to join us so we can put you to work. We get the world we fight for, and if we want reproductive freedom, it is on all of us to step up.

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