Saturday, September 15, 2012

Chicago: Not Just for Blustery Politicians

Of late I’ve been replaying Season Four of Top Chef. And because I'm known for my intuitiveness, I know what you are thinking, “Who watches a season of Top Chef  for a second time?” What can I say, I love cooking challenge shows and Top Chef is pretty much the gold standard. Anyway…Season Four was set in Chicago and I love that the producers included Chicago themes in several of the challenges. From Top Chef my mind instantly jumped to other entertainment that hails from or is set in Chicago.

Roxanne Roberts, Mo Rocca, and Poundstone

One of the first things that jumped to my mind is the number one reason to be in Chicago on a Thursday night: to catch a taping of the radio show Wait…Wait…Don’t Tell Me. If you have not heard of Wait…Wait you are missing out. The weekly show, produced by Chicago Public Radio, bills itself as a news quiz show but is so much more. Where else will you find a crop of comedians acting as panelists constantly quipping one-liners and guests ranging from Bill Clinton to Kevin Bacon and Leonard Nimoy. From the “Not my job” segment with the always willing celebrity guests to the “bluff the listener challenge” Wait…Wait offers the most consistent laughs in radio since Car Talk. All of the past shows are in their archives, and I challenge you not to laugh through Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings’ spot as the “not my job” guest. The same goes for the exchange between panelist and Hostess Cupcake enthusiast Paula Poundstone and the “not my job” guest Michael Pollan. I can’t believe I’ve never put my name in the pool for a chance to play and win Carl Kasell’s voice on my home answering machine.

Roberts and Mulroney on the Chicago River
And what about movies set in Chicago? My Best Friend’s Wedding, in rotation on the tube lately, is one of my favorites because it turned the romantic comedy formula on its’ head. Sure, you know a Julia Roberts film will employ a certain tone but (spoiler alert!) the fact that she doesn’t get the guy makes it all the more relatable. And not only does it take place in Chicago but it also shows off the city with visits to Comiskey Park, Union Station, and the Drake Hotel. Not to mention the bread truck race down Michigan Avenue.

I also caught Chicago-set Vice Versa this morning and was reminded that Fred Savage and Judge Reinhold should be national treasures. You wouldn’t think that an adolescent Fred Savage sipping a martini and cursing like a sailor would be the makings of a great movie, but you would be wrong (okay, “great” may be stretching). This comedy did body switching before body switching was cool. Admittedly, Chicago does not play as big a part in Vice Versa as in other movies, but who can pass up the chance for a Judge Reinhold shout out?

Image:David Greedy/Getty Images 
And let’s not forget that one of the biggest pop culture icons calls Chicago his home: President Barack Obama. He may not be a Chi-town native, but he has adopted the city as his own. Though it does seem strange to put a sitting president in the category of pop culture icon, there is no denying that he is as popular as any performer or entertainer in a traditional sense. Obama’s image alone has been the impetus for art and design in a way that no other president has in the past. Not to mention the fact that, no matter the politics, he has captured the attention of the United States and the world.

Despite the message of this post, this is not an advertisement for the city of Chicago. Heck, I don't even live there or work there so I'll reap no benefit if you decide to make the trip, but there is no denying that Chicago is a pop culture powerhouse.

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