Star-studded line-up speaks at Northwestern for Chicago Humanities Festival


Gideon Pardo/The Daily Northwestern

Chicago Humanities Festival brings its Fall Festival to Northwestern’s campus.

Gideon Pardo and Christine Holtgreive

Campus visitors discussed topics ranging from public art and culinary exploration to American extremism as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival fall event, hosted in part at Northwestern on Saturday. 

Founded in 1989, the Chicago Humanities Festival has expanded into a year-round program that hosts authors, performers, artists and more to speak throughout the Chicago area. Hosted across campus, the festival returned to NU this year after a COVID-19 pandemic hiatus.

Actor Jeff Garlin, who plays a leading role in HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” discussed his time as a young comedian in Chicago’s Second City improv troupe, as well as his experience working with “Curb” co-star Larry David and his recent mental health challenges. 

Garlin also mentioned he is currently developing a new project, which will be filmed in Chicago and partially set in Evanston. 

Phil Rosenthal, creator of “Everyone Loves Raymond”, shared his experiences traveling abroad for his Netflix documentary series, “Somebody Feed Phil.”  

For Rosenthal,exploring new countries and eating great food with his family, who are featured throughout the series, were among the highlights of the filming process.

Rosenthal joked that the furthest he ever traveled as a child was from his home in New York to Atlanta for a bar mitzvah. But while filming the show, he visited countries around the world including Japan, Vietnam and Italy.

He said encouraging the audience to travel is one of the show’s goals.

“The world would be better if we both got to experience a little bit of each other’s experiences,” Rosenthal said. 

Elsewhere, reporter Andy Campbell and former Capitol police officer Michael Fanone sat down with history Prof. Kathleen Belew for a moderated discussion on the threat of radicalism to American democracy. 

Campbell detailed his experiences covering the rallies of far-right extremist groups, and Fanone spoke about the trauma of guarding the Capitol Building during the Jan. 6 insurrection. 

Both men also described the numerous threats they have received for speaking out about extremism — and the safety measures they have taken in response. 

Fanone also publicly testified in front of the House of Representatives about the Jan. 6 attack.

“I’ve spent a lot of time looking over my shoulder,” he said. 

During the “Innocent and Behind Bars” speaking event, Northeastern law and criminal justice Prof. Daniel S. Medwed explained how innocent people are often convicted by the justice system.  

In identifying leading issues with the justice system, Medwe pointed to the misconception that DNA evidence will always free the innocent, plea bargains that coerce the innocent into accepting jail time and an overemphasis on the importance of the trial. 

Medwed then outlined possible solutions, including passing criminal justice reform, electing progressive prosecutors and changing police confession procedures. He also emphasized the need for empathy for people behind bars, especially as incarceration rates have continued to rise in the United States. 

“There’s not any difference in crime rates — there’s a difference in policing,” Medwed said.

He added that incarcerated people are not fundamentally different from anyone else, and incarceration is often a function of circumstance, including racial and social inequities.

Chicago Humanities Festival member Julie Hanna said the variety and strength of the day’s discussions affirmed the festival’s importance.

“They have all kinds of amazing speakers. A lot of it is cultural, it’s not necessarily all hot-button political stuff,” Hanna said. “It’s really a great and important civic organization.”

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