The theme of this 20th edition is “Laughter,” and as usual the organizers have brought together an eclectic assortment of writers, artists, scientists, scholars, and performers to address the topic in dozens of programs running through 11/15, including lectures, readings, discussions, and theatrical and musical presentations. Tickets are available via the festival box office at 312-494-9509 or online at chicagohumanities.org; advance purchase is encouraged, as a $5 per ticket surcharge applies at the door. Many of the high-profile events are now sold out, but here’s a few recommendations for ones that weren’t at press time; for a complete schedule see the festival Web site.
Pulitzer-winning composer John Adams‘s topic for the Art Institute of Chicago President’s Lecture is Where Music and Literature Collide (Thu 11/12, 6 PM, Art Institute, Rubloff Auditorium, 111 S. Michigan, $10). Cultural Critic Barbara Ehrenreich (Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy) delivers the Doris Conant Lecture on Women and Culture (Northwestern University School of Law, Thorne Auditorium, 375 E. Chicago, $10). Former Village Voice dance editor Elizabeth Zimmer presents “instances of the funny, the giddy, and the absurd within the Western concert dance tradition” in Foot Is a Funny Word: The Comedic Spirit of Dance (Sat 11/14, 10 AM, Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theater, 77 E. Randolph, $5).
Researcher Irene Pepperberg (Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence—and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process) discusses animal intelligence—and humor (Sat 11/14, 12:30 PM, Northwestern University School of Law, Thorne Auditorium, 375 E. Chicago, $10). In Crossing the Line, actor-comedian-director Paul Provenza (The Aristocrats) and attorney and Second City faculty member Katie Watson “explore the volatile side of comedy” (Sat 11/14, 12:30 PM, Francis W. Parker School, 2233 N. Clark, $5).
Period instrument ensemble Ars Antigua performs Musical Jokes From the Baroque; Roosevelt University music prof David Schrader will be on hand to elucidate (Sat 11/14, 3 PM, Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theater, 77 E. Randolph, $15). Novelist Aleksandar Hemon hosts a program on The Cultural Translation of Laughter (Sat 11/14, 4 PM, First United Methodist Church of Christ, Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington, $10).
Scholars Gerald Early and Werner Sollors and author Glenda Carpio (Laughing Fit to Kill: Black Humor in the Fictions of Slavery) consider “how comedy has been used to confront the injustices of slavery and racism in America” in Black Humor: Reflections on a American Tradition (Sat 11/14, 4:30 PM, Northwestern University School of Law, Thorne Auditorium, 375 E. Chicago, $10). Performance artist Yuri Lane presents his “hip-hop travelogue” From Tel Aviv to Ramallah: A Beatbox Journey (Sat 11/14, 7 PM, Francis W. Parker School, 2233 N. Clark, $15). Musican Don Byron leads an ensemble performing The Music of Mickey Katz (Sat 11/14, 9:30 PM, Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago, $20).
Northwestern film prof Scott Curtis, physicist Sidney Perkowitz, and University of Chicago astrophysicist Rocky Kolb discuss mad scientists and the movies in Scared Silly (Sun 11/15, 3 PM, Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theater, 77 E. Randolph, $5). Comedian-screenwriter Tim Kazurinksy moderates a discussion at a screening of excerpts from John Davies and Raymond C. Lambert’s film A Funny Business: The Rise and Fall of All Jokes Aside (Sun 11/15, 3:30 PM, Northwestern University School of Law, Thorne Auditorium 375 E. Chicago, $5). And the Neo-Futurist and Lucky Plush Productions theater ensembles team up for A Beckett Brouhaha (Sun 11/15, 3:30 PM, Francis W. Parker School, 2233 N. Clark, $15). —Jerome Ludwig