How Much Humanity in Laughter: Some Final Thoughts on the Chicago Humanities Festival

December 1, 2009 · Print This Article

Guest post by Damien James.

440332661_3621a4b36dI heard all about what made the ancient Romans laugh (an inordinate amount of what were essentially absent-minded professor jokes), where Wittgenstein and Buster Keaton converge, the bathroom habits of insects, and Jewish humor. I heard clips of what is considered to be classic comedy, saw unreal films made and animated by Bob Sabiston, witnessed people actually slapping their knees while experiencing John Hodgman’s charmingly eloquent bullshit, and others share stories about themselves without the least bit of encouragement simply to pass the time while waiting in line to have a book signed.

It was such a bustling couple of weeks that I really didn’t have much time to do any actual and focused thinking about laughter, though. In hindsight and when I seriously put my mind to it (not necessarily easy for me), I began to consciously appreciate just how loaded laughter is, how there is a laugh for every emotion, how easily and naturally laughter is used to cover embarrassment, anger, self pity, contempt, all of which had passed through my thoughts at various times throughout my life, but had never featured prominently for any appreciable amount of time. Read more




Damien James on the Chicago Humanities Festival

November 10, 2009 · Print This Article

Matt Groening and Lynda Barry circa 1984 by Michael Sepcot.

Matt Groening and Lynda Barry circa 1984 by Michael Sepcot.

Guest post by Damien James

In the brief Chicago Humanities Festival preview posted a couple of weeks ago, I listed what I hoped would be some highlights, and I wanted to take a moment now that the festival is about halfway through its run to tell you about two events I recently attended so you get a picture—maybe fleeting—of how this years programming is meeting my admittedly high expectations.

In the near future I’ll share more about specific events as well as thoughts on the festival theme—laughter—with the intention of communicating how important the Humanities Festival has been for me, maybe how important it is to the city itself, and possibly beyond. It’s also my hope that it will become important to you, if it isn’t already. After all, each of us is a part of the greater festival of humanities as it plays out in our own lives every day, in the choices we make which not only effect ourselves, but everyone in our local and even global community.

And if this happens to be your city, the excellence of CHF earns you some bragging rights. Privatized parking meters, bogus mayoral claims of how green Chicago is, Land of the Lost-sized pot holes and shitty CTA service, our former governor’s “reality” TV career, and our failure (thank Jesus) to win the Olympic bid are not the only things we have going for us… Read more




Chicago Humanities Festival Preview

October 21, 2009 · Print This Article

We’re pleased to welcome Chicago artist and writer Damien James as our new guest blogger! Damien will be covering the Chicago Humanities Festival for us, and today brings us a preview of what we can look forward to at this year’s Festival.

The Chicago Humanities Festival has just kick-started it’s 20th anniversary programming with the theme of Laughter. “Not Happiness, mind you,” writes the Festival’s artistic director Lawrence Weschler. “Happiness is smug and bland and self-satisfied. Laughter, on the other hand, runs the gamut: from blithe to bitter, raucous to serious, fond to angry,” and so on.

Spread out in venues across the city, the Chicago Humanities Festival will giddily dance through Laughter in all its permutations with the same expansive worldview and near-reckless abandon it has brought to the table since 1989, when Richard Franke got the bright idea to bring intellectually stimulating, entertaining, and entirely accessible lectures, performances, and all-around amazingness to our Midwestern metropolis.

On hand will be such distinguished guests as Harold Ramis (sharing some of his favorite funny moments in cinema), Matt Groening in conversation with Lynda Barry, Pulitzer Prize-winner Alison Lurie, Pulitzer Prize-coveter John Hodgman, Chris Ware and his beautifully sad art, Bob Sabiston (of Waking Life fame), the Neo Futurists, Chicago Reader’s Michael Miner, the Guerrilla Girls, and 151 other presenters that you’ll probably want to see.

CHF has literally changed peoples lives, my own included, and I’ll be attending from now through mid-November and sharing some of my experiences with you. Maybe this year I’ll explode.

The Festival runs through November 14th. For more info and tickets, visit http://www.chicagohumanities.org/.

Picture 28

Picture 31


Picture 30

Damien James is a self-taught artist and writer living (barely) and working (constantly) in Chicago. He has contributed to Chicago Reader, New City, Saatchi Gallery Online, Art Voices, and the general goodwill of mankind, among other things. His art has been seen in Chicago’s Around the Coyote Gallery, Brooklyn’s 3rd Ward Gallery with Art House Co-op’s Sketchbook Project, various apartments in Berlin, London, and a tiny village in Romania.

Without the good sense and inspiration of his paramour, Cassandra, he would most likely be a small blot of dirt about to be washed away by an only slightly larger puddle of inky water in some back alley.