The encore for Lizz Winstead’s annual New Year’s Eve show at the Cedar Cultural Center was a moving tribute to Robin Williams and Joan Rivers, both of whom died in 2014.

Sweet photos of Williams and Rivers were superimposed on the screen as the Minnesota-born satirist returned to the stage to acknowledge ovations for her “Plan B From Outer Space: Year in Review.”

The show’s promotional poster captures Winstead in a hairstyle and evening gown that made her look like former congresswoman Michele Bachmann, a favorite target. Winstead admitted to having mixed emotions about Bachmann’s exit, and she’s not the only one. Salon.com posted a story Monday about “Michele Bachmann’s 6 Most Insane Moments.”

Turns out one of the two comic icons Winstead will miss — Williams — is the reason I first became acquainted with Winstead’s act in 1988’s HBO Special, “Women of the Night.”

Back then Winstead, co creator of “The Daily Show,” was a struggling comic who had just performed at a San Francisco venue that was “maybe the equivalent of performing at a biker bar in Minot,” Winstead told me Monday as she recounted what she said on stage last week. For a kind of comic sustenance, Winstead had gone to the Holy City Zoo, a hangout where comedians commiserated.

“The guy who was running the show that night said, You want to do a couple of minutes? I said, ‘Absolutely.’ I get on stage and start talking about the horrible crowd. This laugh was coming from the audience and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m not that funny, why are you laughing so hard?’ I said, ‘You’re so distracting. You sound like Mork.’ And he laughed harder and I said, ‘Are you as annoying as Mork? Do you have on his rainbow suspenders? Dude, calm down.’ I finished my set and then I walked outside to smoke a cigarette. This man walks out, an older guy, and following him is Robin Williams. Robin Williams’ manager said, You are hilarious. I want to get you on ‘Women of the Night.’ And Robin Williams is like, I’ll make sure that happens.’

“Six months later I was on ‘Women of the Night.’ It was my first big TV break,” said Winstead.

In addition to Winstead, that HBO special also introduced me to Joy Behar, Susie Essman and Minnesotan Diane Ford, with whom I have unfortunately lost contact.

Speaking of women comedians, Winstead said, “People forget that before Joan Rivers, women hadn’t really broken into the comedy club scene. Joan Rivers broke that barrier and not only did she break it, she broke it by doing material that ruffled feathers. She allowed women to start doing comedy on their own terms and with their own voices — an incredible feat.

“People can say whatever they want about her material, but because she decided to do comedy on her own terms, she decided to take the stage and take the hits. And she loved edgy comics — Kathy Griffin, who is replacing [Rivers] on ‘Fashion Police’; she and Sarah Silverman [a close friend of Winstead’s] were incredibly close.”

Despite all the laughs Winstead wrung out of last year, this Year in Review was not easy to prepare, she told me at our annual lunch at Tandoor in Bloomington with owner Sarita Kalra.

“This has been the hardest year to write a year in review because the news that has been the biggest stories has been so dark. The media stories gone horribly wrong — there’s Bill Cosby, Ebola, ISIS, recruiting by ISIS, the NFL. If it’s not about women being raped, it’s about women and children being beaten. It’s been a very tough road to walk,” she said.

“When your lightest story of the year is a mass murderer finally getting hitched, it’s quite a year. [Charles] Manson put a ring on it! What? [CNN’s] Don Lemon without a doubt deserves the accolades he’s received [from CJR] as worst journalist of the year: From I was in Ferguson and the pot was in the air, to Hey, if you are being sexually assaulted you could bite it off — do I need to tell you any more Don Lemon stories? Google Don Lemon [and] journalism. Actually don’t. Your computer might explode.”

 

C.J. can be reached at cj@startribune.com and seen on Fox 9’s “Buzz.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count. Attachments are not opened.