Living in the comedy scene of Chicago can be isolating when you’re a “wrong-thinker.” I lived that life for about five years and learned to keep my mouth shut when it came to political topics, for fear of being blacklisted in the community. And I’d just roll my eyes at the thousandth “nyehhhh, Trump is bad,” low-hanging fruit of a joke that I had heard that day.
I didn’t understand the terror that so many felt when Trump was elected in 2016. While I had my opinions that differed from the rest (I considered myself a little L libertarian, mainly just someone who just wanted smaller government and more autonomy), I didn’t pay much attention to anything political anymore. My comedy interests lay in more absurdist and silly styles, rather than topical humor.
So when I had a female comedy instructor mention after the election how concerned she was about what would happen to women now, I could only stare blankly. And my employer, The Second City Comedy Theater, required us to attend an all-team meeting. As we all sat at the tables of the E.T.C. Theater, we were asked to stand if we felt our lives were affected by the election. I don’t remember what everyone’s positions were, but I recall, glancing around the room, being one of the only people toward the front who remained seated.
A friend who sat behind me, whom I always had an inkling was more of an individualist and didn’t care what others thought of him, was the other who remained seated in my area. As an aside, he was always one of the top servers who had the highest sales on the night staff. Other servers hated him and made up reasons to do so. Obviously, they were just envious and bitter. But my friend was one of the nicest people around and more than willing to offer advice on his tricks to get higher sales. I used what I learned from him and became the top server myself for a year. It struck me even back then how people would rather tear others down than work hard to grow and become more like them instead. Odd for a community of people who did a lot of improvisation, which is all about building up your scene partners.
As the years went on, I didn’t really notice things getting much worse. I still thought it was just that big city people and especially comedians tended to be more “liberal.” At one point a little over a year ago, though, I got back into climate change news. I was irked by people on Facebook spouting off misinformation during arguments. In one conversation I happened to be reading from the sidelines, I saw a friend confuse carbon monoxide (CO) with carbon dioxide (CO2). That was when I decided to jump in there and explain to him how vastly different those two things were. He thanked me but didn’t realize how the rest of his argument fell to pieces when his basic understanding of carbon monoxide was utterly incorrect.
I rarely chimed in during conversations like that. I had also learned to keep quiet on social media years ago, as the political arguments were just too frustrating and too time consuming. Now everyone is just block-happy, so I guess it’s less of an issue these days.
Eventually, I came across a YouTuber, Daisy Cousens, who not only spoke of climate change issues but a variety of political and cultural topics. From her, I came across other YouTubers and eventually, Unsafe Space. After powering through 400+ episodes, from the first episode to the most recent one, in the course of two months, I joined the Unsafe Space community in the live chats. It was such a relief to find others who didn’t just buy into the propaganda from the media. And the hosts and even community members were able to put into words inward struggles I had been having lately about the “left” vs. “right” dynamic, too.
But having this community, even though virtual, came at a time that had just felt so isolating. For a long time, I only had my dad and my boyfriend to talk to about my thoughts on the world. Now I had dozens of people I could talk to honestly, without fear of losing opportunities or friendships.
Through befriending these people, I was even able to get life advice from them to figure out what to do during this past year of lockdowns, rioting, and media propaganda. When it seemed like things would only get worse staying in Chicago, my boyfriend and I decided to move out. Eventually, we chose to go back to Pennsylvania, around the area where we grew up. I’m still in the transitioning stage of moving, but our time here in PA is already leagues better than Chicago.
This rural part of PA has many individualists who hate being told what to do, and business owners either just accept that or agree with it themselves (as far as the “mandates” go). It’s been refreshing to be back here and feels like being in the real world again. I now have my virtual community and a real-life community, where I feel more able to express myself. And as I write this article and look out the window at my 6 acres of land, alone in the country, I couldn’t feel less isolated.