All this week, cast and crew of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah have ventured away from their New York studios to take their brand of political satire on the road. Dubbed The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: Undesked, the team of correspondents chose Chicago to host the first installment of the show’s travelling format. When I found out about this in July, I got tickets to the taping as soon as they became available. Despite having been in New York twice during the years Jon Stewart helmed the show, I missed out both times to see the show. Now that it was happening in my own backyard, there was no way I was going to miss this show.
Tickets guaranteeing entry were acquired back in July, and demand was hot. Even though I had passes that would guarantee us entry, we still had to show up early. This is a television production after all. The crew would tape that afternoon and the program would broadcast later that evening. Protocol had to be followed and punctuality was everything. So, I met with six of my friends and we enjoyed pleasant conversation waiting outside on a beautifully sunny and warm October afternoon.
When it was time to go inside Athenaeum Theatre, the show’s home away from home in the Windy City, we followed all the necessary procedures to get to our seats. Police officers searched bags, we walked through metal detectors, heard about the show’s rules once seated, and all the other little things that ensure the taping goes well and that we were a respectful and cooperative audience.
After some time waiting, one of the show’s crew members gave us the run down on what was expected from us which was common sense; no cell phone use, stay in your seats, and make a big noise when prompted. After that, the show’s opening comedian Angelo Lozada came to perform. Lozada is a Puerto Rican man in his 50s whom I had seen open for Trevor Noah last year when Noah performed a stand-up set at the Chicago Theatre. Lozada engaged with members of the audience and was playful so he could build up our excitement.
After Lozada’s set, Noah came out and went over the show’s format with the audience. He also took two questions from the crowd; one of which came from my friend Jean who asked which guest had inspired Noah the most (the answer: President Barack Obama). Noah left and the monitors played the show’s special opening clip. Parodying his iconic role in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ben Stein stood beside Noah’s desk calling “Trevor, Trevor, Trevor.” Cut to Trevor Noah performing on a parade float in the Loop until realizing he had a show to do. Committing to completely referencing all the memorable scenes from the classic movie set in Chicago, Noah and the show’s correspondent team are running through the streets and backyards of suburban Chicago set to the Beat’s “March of the Swivel Heads.” There were even incredibly hilarious takes on this scene such as Roy Wood, Jr. stopping in a yard and saying that he, as an unannounced black man, was not going to go up to some stranger’s house in Chicago and decided to call a cab. The crowd absolutely loved the satirical take on a Chicago classic.
Trevor took the stage after the introduction clip and greeted an explosive and jubilant audience. Very much promising an “undesked” program, the set lacked a desked and was designed to resemble the city’s famous L tracks. Under this format, Noah felt like he was performing stand-up which is ultimately what his show is but with a desk.
After greeting the audience, Noah launched into the show’s theme of the night: violence in Chicago. He talked about the reception he received when he was going to do a week’s worth of shows in Chicago and that he should be careful if he didn’t want to get shot. Noah discussed how Chicago had become a talking point for conservatives to address gun violence. While Chicago may have the most murders by numbers, there are other cities where the murder rate is higher.
Noah continued to explore this theme in the opening segment and what those criticisms actually mean. He played clips of Donald Trump talking about Chicago and what a mess it is and that something should be done about it. Essentially, these clips just represented that Trump was full of hot air and used the city as a scapegoat to push an agenda because constantly repeating a false narrative to his supporters allows it to become increasingly real to them.
Clips of various conservative pundits were also played with each one commenting that the city’s violence belonged to President Obama or going out of their way to note that Obama was from Chicago. That therein lies the heart of this narrative. For Trump, Chicago is a target because the city didn’t vote for him. For the larger conservative base, it is a racist talking point. It is much easier for them to spew their bigotry under the guise of controlling gun crime than it is for them to actually come out against the city’s minority population. Noah even joked about this saying “I get it. When there’s shootings, Obama is from Chicago. All the other times he’s from Kenya. Now it makes sense. These people don’t care about Chicago’s murder rates. They care about how they can use Chicago to score political points.”
However, Noah pointed out that this narrative has long existed since before Obama occupied the Oval Office. He played a clip from the children’s television series Sharkey & George, a French and Canadian cartoon where fish shoot each other in the underwater city of Seacago. While the violence in Chicago is the current hot button issue many conservatives use to disrupt gun control legislation or to rally against people of color, all their information is wrong and has been for a long time. In recent years, violent crimes have reduced across the city. And not only that, and I cannot reiterate this enough, there are several other cities that have a higher murder rate but do not get criticized the same way that Chicago does. This is a level of racism that has been brewing for a few generations which has become so ingrained in our dialogue.
While the white men in suits continue to degrade Chicago with their racism and misinformation, there are those who have successfully worked towards reducing violent and gun crime in the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. In a produced segment, Roy Wood, Jr. visited with the Cease Fire community anti-violence group that operates in the South Side. These are dedicated individuals who believe that mediated dialogue is the key to reducing the violence in Chicago. The members of Cease Fire directly engage with gang members drug dealers, and other young men in these communities with the goal of deescalating violence and finding a peaceful resolution. In his report, Wood noted that violence had gone down in all the areas where Cease Fire is active. Those are amazing results and it is great that The Daily Show used their national platform to provide visibility to such an amazing organization while also actively working against the misinformed narrative about Chicago.
For the third segment, a small riser was brought out with a table and two chairs. The guest that evening was Common. As an activist and rapper, Common has used his platform as a celebrity to address that Chicago is a beautiful and diverse city that has more to offer than crime statistics. Common’s interview was very serious considering the show’s comedic tone, but the message was real and sincere. Common spoke candidly and honestly about his work inspiring young black people and supported his belief that understanding and support was the way to stop violence in black communities. He even shared that the support he was given at a young age was what motivated him to succeed and to use that success to suggest others.
Common is such an eloquent and passionate speaker. I remember, back in 2011, working with him at Corliss High School in the South Side. At that time, I was working for a black history non-profit and we had held an annual event where black leaders would go back to their school, or a school in their area, and talk to middle school and high school aged students of color about the importance of committing to their education which can elevate their community as well as their well-being. Many of the same things Common said back then came out during last night’s taping and still ring true. The violence facing the people in these communities are incredibly serious. A lot of work has been done in the last six years since I saw Common speak, but more must be done to reverse the damaging effects perpetrated by the current administration and conservative pundits.
Common also spoke about his music and using it as a platform to share his message. Before he came to the stage, a clip from Andra Day’s song “Stand Up for Something” played. Featuring Common, Day’s song is the signature track from the soundtrack for Marshall, a film about Thurgood Marshall who served as the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. Common discussed the song and how, like earlier soundtrack contributions that earned him a Golden Globe and Academy Award, he uses music as his platform to share enlightening ideas and to highlight the achievements of those who stand up and do good for all.
Andra Day is relatively new on the music scene debuting in 2015. With the message she shares in her music, and with the support of Common, she’ll continue doing great things. “Stand Up for Something” is an anthem that inspiring and what this country needs right now. We are currently in a dark time for this country with an administration that is determined to silence many voices. I have lived in Chicago for seven years. It has become my home. I am tired of hearing this great city put down for bigoted and unfounded reasons. And that’s why I try to help and fight against that vitriol. For those with the power to do so, we must stand behind and elevate those voices. They stand for something and we need to give them the room to do so. With that understand and support, we can make that change we long to see.