Jonathan Lethem
Jonathan Lethem Credit: Mara Faye Lethem

The theme of this 20th edition is, simply, “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 stretched out over a couple weeks, including lectures, readings, discussions, film screenings, and theatrical and musical presentations. (Shockingly, among this embarrassment of riches, I couldn’t find a single program about monkeys. Hey, CHF: monkeys are funny.) This year a Festival Day—a sort of minifest held at venues in Hyde Park on Saturday, October 17—offers a foretaste of the festival proper, which runs November 2-15.

Here are some highlights: Comedians Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen expand on tales from their book, Tim and Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White (Sat 10/17, 2 PM, DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Pl., $5). Director-actor Harold Ramis relates his “Personal History of Film Comedy” (Wed 11/4, 7 PM, Northwestern University School of Law, 375 E. Chicago, $10). Cartoonists (and friends) Lynda Barry and Matt Groening chat about their work (Thu 11/5, 7 PM, UIC Forum, 725 W. Roosevelt, $15). Robert Reich (Supercapitalism) will surely have ’em rolling in the aisles when he delivers the Franke Lecture in Economics (Fri 11/6, 6 PM, Northwestern University School of Law, $15). New Yorker cartoon editor Robert Mankoff moderates a panel comprising New Yorker cartoonists Pat Byrnes, Roz Chast, and Ed Koren (Sat 11/7, 10 AM, Northwestern University School of Law, $10). To consider The Not-So-Funny Situation of Alternative Comix, Reader media columnist Michael Miner hosts Jules Feiffer and Chris Ware (Sat 11/7, 4:30 PM, Francis W. Parker School, 2233 N. Clark, $5). Playwright Tony Kushner receives the 2009 Chicago Tribune Literary Prize (Sun 11/8, 10 AM, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, $15). Novelist Jonathan Lethem discusses his latest, Chronic City, in an interview with journalist Victoria Lautman (Sun 11/8, noon, Art Institute, Michigan and Adams, $5). Comedian Dick Gregory holds forth on The Color of Funny (Sun 11/8, 5 PM, Northwestern University School of Law, $10). And CHF artistic director Lawrence Wechsler engages with humorist John Hodgman, Daily Show correspondent and author of More Information Than You Require (Tue 11/10, 6 PM, Northwestern University School of Law, $10). a 10/17 and 11/2-11/15, multiple venues, 312-661-1028 for info, 312-494-9509 for tickets,, $5-$20 (a $5 processing fee is added to all advance orders; a $5-per-order surcharge applies to tickets purchased at the door; cash only at the door), tickets go on sale 9/21. —Jerome Ludwig