Decoding the Funniest Cities in America

Are these the funniest cities in America?

What does that question even mean?

Ay, there’s the rub.

The fellas behind the new book, The Humor Code, tried assigning data to the question, though, nevertheless, irregardless of how many qualifiers I put in this sentence. They still went ahead and tried to quantify it.

In a separate study led by CU-Boulder professor Peter McGraw, who co-wrote “The Humor Code” with journalist Joel Warner, McGraw’s Humor Research Lab (HuRL) created a Humor Algorithm to rank America’s cities. But what numbers did they use?

Specifically, they looked at:

  • Frequency of visits to Cheezburger comedy websites, such as Lolcats and FAIL Blog
  • Number of comedy clubs per square mile in each city
  • Traveling comedians’ ratings of each city’s comedy-club audiences
  • Number of famous comedians born in each city, divided by city population
  • Number of famous funny tweeters living in each city, divided by city population
  • Number of comedy radio stations available in each city
  • Frequency of humor-related web searches originating in each city

“A city’s humor score isn’t just a measure of historic reputation or big-name productions,” said Adrian Ward, a senior research associate at UC-Boulder’s Leeds School of Business who worked on the project. “It’s a way of looking at the day-to-day lives of people in that city. A city’s sense of humor is a living, breathing thing, created by everything from coffee shop conversations to Web videos shared between friends to the laughter that erupts at comedy clubs.”

So they also talked to locals in the top 10 cities (as depicted above).

Of course, it’s all moot. It’s all bunk.

If some people are great, some become great and others are born into greatness, then cities have nothing to do with that metaphor in terms of their relative senses of humor.

Rather, Chicago and Boston head the list because they both suffer from inferiority complexes to the bullying Big Apple. They are second cities who have used humor as a self-deprecating and/or satirical weapon to prove their worth. And then begat breeding grounds for comedy.

With Chicago, it’s literally The Second City that has attracted three, and now four generations of our nation’s funniest people to its blustery climes on the shores of Lake Michigan. Second City’s roots begat branches upon branches of comedy learning and training out to Del Close and Charna Halpern and ImprovOlympic, then out further to the Annoyance Theatre, and beyond.

With Boston, you find the nation’s preeminent stand-up comedy incubator and its dominant college town. Mixed liberally.

To think that the statistics the Colorado lab HURLed up have an intrinsic value suggests that a “comedy radio station” makes or breaks your sense of humor, or that any one of us would feel more comfortable in a room with someone who bookmarks LOLcats and makes their own GIFs.

If anything, you can rest easier knowing that these researchers may have proven, once more, that coming up with a Top 50 List of Anything will guarantee you 50 times the number of clicks you would have gotten with a list of One Thing.

Either way, enjoy making sense out of this for yourself (if you can read the fine print!):


Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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