The Humanities Fest strikes a different tone.
Rather than revisit themes like war and mortality and the degradation of the environment, this year’s Chicago Humanities Festival lightens the mood and serves up a heady dose of the best medicine: laughter. “Not happiness, mind you,” quips artistic director Lawrence Weschler in his introduction to the CHF program. “Happiness is smug and bland and self-satisfied. Laughter, on the other hand, runs the gamut: from blithe to bitter, raucous to subdued, fond to angry….” The presenters at this, the 20th annual Humanities Fest, similarly run the gamut: from New Yorker cartoonists to graphic novelists; poets laureate to Guerrilla Girls; neuroscientists to Carrot Top. (Okay, no Carrot Top.) Taking place through November 15 at various venues around the city, the popular fest features lectures, readings, concerts, conversations, exhibits and films. Humor us, and enlighten yourself, by checking out some of the events we’ve highlighted below. Be sure to check chicagohumanities.org, too, as many of these will likely sell out.
On Thursday 6, at the UIC Forum (7pm), Matt Groening and Lynda Barry, award-winning cartoonists and college buddies, discuss their influence on each other’s work, divergent career paths and other topics—like maybe the cafeteria food at Evergreen State College, their alma mater? Either way, it’s bound to be hilarious, and if you miss it you’ll probably say “D’oh!” The cartooning discussion continues on Saturday 8 at Northwestern’s Thorne Auditorium (10am) when New Yorker cartoon editor Robert Mankoff speaks with New Yorker cartoonists Roz Chast, Pat Byrnes and Ed Koren about the magazine’s finely honed sense of humor. Maybe they’ll also share some tips on how to win that dang caption contest.
If funny little drawings aren’t your thing in these heady economic times, you can catch former Clinton Secretary of Labor Robert Reich at the Thorne Auditorium on Friday 6 at 6pm. Since leaving Washington, Reich has positioned himself as one of the more perceptive liberal pundits of the last decade. It doesn’t hurt that he’s pretty funny, too.
Later at the Pritzker Auditorium (Saturday 8 at 12:30pm), Barry Sanders—the author, not the pro running back—recalls his acquaintance with comedian Lenny Bruce and the ongoing impact of the comedian’s caustic routines. Meanwhile, at the Francis W. Parker School (Saturday 8 at 1pm), Pulitzer Prize–winning cartoonist and playwright Jules Feiffer provides a visual tour of Depression-era humorists, from Milt Gross to Jack Benny. Even Popeye plans to muscle his way into the presentation.
On Sunday 9 at the Symphony Center (10am), the CHF presents playwright Tony Kushner with the annual Chicago Tribune Literary Prize, while at the Art Institute’s Fullerton Auditorium (noon), the rapturously imaginative Lethem speaks with Lautman about his latest novel, Chronic City, and the particular brand of funny that characterizes his work. For your entomological fix, head to the Pritzker Auditorium at the Harold Washington Library (1:30pm) to hear scientist May Berenbaum and writer Amy Leach discuss the unintentional comedy of bugs (think cockroach farts). Back at the Art Institute at 4pm, Tracy Daugherty, author of Hiding Man, a biography of Donald Barthelme, celebrates the New Yorker fiction writer’s legacy, with help from Weschler and Lethem. Clearly, this is “more information than you require,” but Daily Show funnyman John Hodgman speaks at Thorne Auditorium at 6pm. Alas, the public is all too interested in “the areas of his expertise”: It’s totally sold out.