2021 Homecoming Headliners foster connection among Huskies


Students gather in Matthews Arena to see Homecoming Headliners Ali Wong and Jonathan van Ness. Courtesy of CUP and Kyle Daudelin Photography.

Katie Mogg, deputy lifestyle editor

In-person homecoming events are back and better than ever. Northeastern’s Council for University Programs, or CUP, invited comedians Ali Wong, Jonathan Van Ness and Sheng Wang to tell their best jokes live on stage at Matthews Arena Nov. 10.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Northeastern hasn’t hosted an in-person homecoming event since 2019. Students, eager to be members of a live audience again, reveled in the opportunity to truly connect with the comedians. 

“I think the audience makes a huge difference. Zoom [events] can be so awkward … even with the fun celebrities,” said Carolina Franco, a fourth-year combined business administration and psychology major. 

Fifth-year mathematics and business administration combined major Darcy Zhang was also grateful to make the transition away from online events.

“For school, it’s really hard for me to focus if it’s online, so I think it’s the same for [virtual] concerts,” Zhang said. “You just don’t feel the connection with the artist. You cannot have eye contact with them.”

The excitement of finally being able to attend an event that doesn’t require looking at a computer screen put a lot of pressure on CUP President Victoria Pacheco. She said she felt a need to coordinate an extra special performance that would truly resonate with college students. 

To make the perfect headliner selection, Pacheco distributed a wide array of surveys to gauge the preferences and interests of Northeastern students. In previous years, CUP coordinated panel discussions and Q&As as the main homecoming event. This year, Pacheco said surveys showed that students overwhelmingly wanted stand-up comedy. 

After over a year of loneliness and isolation, students wanted to laugh together.

“There were raised anticipations for this event,” said Pacheco, a fifth-year business administration major. “We saw this as an opportunity for the community to really come back together after being all over the place over the past year and a half.”

Doors to the 8 p.m. event opened at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, and excited students immediately began trickling in. To protect the intellectual property of Wong, Van Ness and Wang, students were required to lock up their cell phones upon entering Matthews Arena.

Temporarily losing access to their mobile device for a few hours was a small price to pay for students who eagerly awaited their first on-campus live event. 

“I’ve actually never been in the arena before, so it’s very exciting,” said Annabelle Paradis, a second-year design major. “Having events that we can go to safely definitely makes me feel more connected to the school.”

“I think we see a lot of people reaching for comedy and for that kind of comfort of connection after the pandemic.”

— Victoria Pacheco, CUP President

Not only did students feel more connected to Northeastern by attending the live comedy performance, but also they felt more connected to each other. Wong and Van Ness cracked many jokes about common experiences people faced during the pandemic including weight gain, infrequent personal grooming and increased laziness.

“I think we see a lot of people reaching for comedy and for that kind of comfort of connection after the pandemic,” Pacheco said. “Real life news was like watching a drama movie.”

Waves of laughter filled the air of Matthews Area as the comedians made an effort to cater their jokes to the audience. Wong, famous for her Netflix comedy specials “Baby Cobra” and “Hard Knock Wife,” made several jokes at the expense of her husband, Justin Hakuta, to encourage Northeastern students to enjoy their sexual and romantic freedom as young singles. 

Wong’s sexually explicit jokes took students by surprise, but they were well-received and appreciated.

“I thought the show was really good. It was not what I was expecting, but I thought it was really funny,” said first-year combined criminal justice and history major Julia Baron.

First-year theatre major Halle Brockett felt a similar sentiment. 

“The shock factor of [Wong’s jokes] was really fun,” she said. 

Pacheco said this year’s lineup of comedians was particularly special because Wong and Van Ness respectively shed light on unique perspectives of being an Asian woman or non-binary person within the comedy industry. 

During her time on stage, Wong used humor to address darker societal issues like gender roles, gender inequality and sexism. Meanwhile, Van Ness, known for the hit Netflix series “Queer Eye,” directly confronted traditional gender norms through fashion.

Homecoming events have always fostered connection and relieved stress among the Northeastern community by providing an opportunity to sit back and enjoy a show while temporarily forgetting the routine stress of the semester. But Pacheco thinks witnessing a live performance after 18 months of virtual events made this year’s comedy show particularly memorable and more appreciated than ever before. 

“Knowing how special and how rare it is to be able to get together with 3,000 or 4,000 people all in the same room, we were just all so aware and savoring that moment and being grateful for our health and for our friendship,” Pacheco said. “That just added an extra layer of specialness.”