Pop Goes Alicia
a new comedy show takes a closer look at pop culture

by The Urbaness | photography by Benjamin Goodman


To Chicago performer, writer, and activist Alicia Swiz, when it comes to pop culture, there’s more than meets the eye. “It isn’t just entertainment that’s passing us by,” she says. “It’s imprinting, it’s telling us who we are and how to be, and assigning value to those things.”

Each month, Alicia hosts Pop Goes Alicia Live, gathering together local writers, comedians, and thinkers to talk about the intersection between pop culture and gender. A talk show sprung to life in the middle of a bar, Pop Goes Alicia is lighthearted and fun--but gives the audience a space to think critically about the media they’re consuming.

With its third show taking over The Hideout tomorrow evening, we caught up with Alicia to talk about the genesis of Pop Goes Alicia, where she hopes it’s headed, and what we can expect from her and her guests tomorrow.


Q: Tell us a bit about how Pop Goes Alicia Live came to be.

The show came out of this idea to create a space where the dialogues I was having privately could have a common space. I got into stand-up and storytelling in Chicago and I’m also a teacher, so I thought, ‘how can I use these talents I have in a way that is entertaining and that also allows a space for critical dialogue?’


Q: How does the audience play into the show?

Not in any organized way just yet. There will be moments where what is being said on stage [inspires me to] look to the audience and say, ‘well, what do you guys think?’ Last month we were talking about street harassment so we asked the audience, ‘who has this happened to?’ and of course everyone raised their hands. I ran out with the mic Oprah-style [laughter] and was like, ‘okay, let’s hear from you!’ It was super fun and people seemed to really enjoy it.


We had [comic] Adam Burke on last month and he had some really sharp things to say about being a male feminist and also feeling like it’s not his place.
Q: Who does the show attract?

Well, I started off billing it as a comedy show with the hope of getting people in the door and then being like, ‘Ha-ha, it’s feminism!’ [laughter]. Part of my activism is just saying I’m a feminist and letting people see this is one version of that. The audiences are female-heavy, but not alarmingly so--and mostly, audience members have a draw to pop culture.


Q: Let’s talk about the panelists for each show. How do you choose them?

At first, there were people that I knew I wanted to ask. Mainly I’ve been picking people whose work I’m familiar with, I know their writing and I know that they can be comfortable on stage talking about these issues. I don’t need people to identify as feminists, but I’m not interested in arguing or defending myself, or the topics we’re talking about. I want people who already have an interest and an opinion that at least is grounded in knowledge.

There’s something about having these conversations with people who already have access to understanding, which is very different than trying to cultivate understanding.


Q: What are some of the issues the show has been bringing up?

There’s been a lot around street harassment, victim blaming, and slut shaming. That’s just really in the narrative now and those words are being thrown around. I think people still don’t understand what they mean and they don’t see this disconnect between pointing your finger at a girl dressing in a very scanty Halloween costume, for example, and being able to dial it back and say, ‘but these are the only costumes we make available.’ The biggest thing has been getting people to look beyond what they view independently and try to see how it fits into the bigger cultural landscape. I’ve also really been trying to open up the conversation to men--straight men. We had [comic] Adam Burke on last month and he had some really sharp things to say about being a male feminist and also feeling like it’s not his place.


The goal is to create the space and to have this community sense of dialogue. I want people to feel like they can talk and they’ll be heard and that these issues are important.
Q: Are you looking for solutions?

The show asks people to come here and think about these issues for an hour and a half a month, take something with you, feel safe… When I first started the show, I really hoped that people were coming who didn’t feel like they had other spaces where they could have these conversations. I remember my first women’s studies class in college and I was like, ‘oh! There are words for these things I’ve been thinking?’ The show is more about opening up a place for dialogue, even for people to just listen to things they’ve thought or wondered about.


Q: Can you give us a sneak peek of tomorrow’s show?

We’re going to be talking about challenges to liking things we know aren’t feminist, what we can watch and what we can’t, where we draw our own lines. We’ll also be talking about the new Joseph Gordon Levitt film, Don Jon. It’s a really interesting study in masculinity and femininity, about a guy who’s addicted to porn and his girlfriend’s addicted to romantic comedies. We’ll also reflect on Halloween a little bit, touching on the whole blackface issue with Julianne Hough.


Q: At the end of the day, what do you hope to accomplish with Pop Goes Alicia Live?

My ultimate goal is to give someone new knowledge. The goal is to create the space and to have this community sense of dialogue. I want people to feel like they can talk and they’ll be heard and that these issues are important. And I would love to see it grow!


Pop Goes Alicia takes over The Hideout tomorrow, Tuesday, November 5, at 6:30 p.m. Find all the details for the show here.
Photography by Benjamin Goodman
Photography by Benjamin Goodman
2013-11-04