Once the cameras were turned off Thursday night, Trevor Noah told the audience at the final “Daily Show” at the Athenaeum Theatre that Chicago has been “one of the friendliest cities I’ve been in.”
But that wasn’t all. Moving beyond the pleasantries, he acknowledged the city has problems but said he believes solutions exist. And then, a plea, that everyone make some friends outside their race and drop into some neighborhoods nothing like their own. “Step out of your comfort zone,” he urged.
The words were in keeping with the four episodes taped this week in Noah’s first televised road trip since the 2016 political conventions. His team endeavored to work some substance into the comedy, to balance the “Ferris Bueller” spoof and the oversized rat with some fairly trenchant (and only minimally funny) observations about crime prevention and public schools.
Thursday’s farewell episode actually was the week’s breeziest about issues in Chicago. In part that’s because Noah couldn’t resist goofing on the hot national political topic of the moment and devoted most of the first segment to Donald Trump’s calls to the families of fallen troops. But not before talking to a vision of Oprah Winfrey’s face above the skyline and showing footage of the Cubs relief pitchers’ herky-jerky dance moves in the bullpen, comparing their choreography to “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Earlier in the week, correspondents Roy Wood Jr., Dulce Sloan and Ronny Chieng had been dispatched to file reports from the field. On Thursday, it was Hasan Minhaj’s turn in the spotlight, but the show’s current golden boy didn’t have to go anywhere. Noah turned over the Athenaeum stage to Minhaj, whose stand-up segment began with news footage about a North Korean missile capable of reaching Chicago. Don’t worry, Minhaj said: “It’s just gonna be a five-hour layover at O’Hare on the way to New York.”
Keeping the hometown concept going, Minhaj observed that Kim Jong-Un is obsessed with Chicago basketball and never seems to threaten other countries when he’s in the company of Dennis Rodman. Thus, the key to peace is more visits by 1990s Bulls. After theorizing roles for Toni Kukoc, Scottie Pippen and Luc Longley, he concluded the only solution was for Michael Jordan to let Kim dunk on him: “You gotta take one for the team, MJ!”
The responsibility for heavy Chicago commentary on Thursday fell on the night’s guest, rapper Vic Mensa, who joked that he and the biracial Noah shared the distinction of “being Halfrican.” Only snippets of the interview would make it on-air, but at the theater Noah let Mensa hold forth at length. For more than 10 minutes, the Chicago native sounded off on the South Side as “a hotbed of culture,” his trip to Palestine and the time he’s pretty sure he ran from the police across the Obamas’ backyard in Kenwood.
The neighborhoods most tainted by crime, he said, are rooted in the redlining of decades ago. “What do you expect to see,” Mensa asked to loud applause, “when you create a toxic situation?”
Comic one-liners were few, but the crowd didn’t seem to miss them — not from the host who had a person of color in the guest chair on each of his four broadcasts from town, and who succeeded in his vow to discuss “issues that are near and dear to Chicago on a micro level.”
Though the TV run is done, “The Daily Show” will retain a presence through the weekend by presenting its spoofy museum exhibition, the Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library, at Union Station through Sunday. And Noah himself will perform live at the Chicago Theatre on Friday and Saturday — and again at two shows Oct. 28.
4 NIGHTS OF QUIPS
Each night, “The Daily Show” opened with footage of a famous Chicago symbol and a brief definition of the city.
• On Monday, the “Cloud Gate” sculpture: “A city with a giant, bean-shaped mirror people seem to be into.”
• On Tuesday, Barack Obama: “America’s leading manufacturer of black presidents.”
• On Wednesday, the leaping Michael Jordan statue: “The home of a man who can almost do the splits.”
• On Thursday, a slice of deep-dish: “The city that’s apparently too good for normal pizza.”