April 20, 2014

Moynihan's Law of Civic Funniness

Two U. of Colorado professors have attempted to quantitatively rank America's 50 biggest cities on funniness:
His findings were drawn from surveys of residents (on the prevalence of humor in their daily lives) and of comedians, number of visits to comedy websites, tweets, radio stations, comedy clubs per square mile and native-born comedians per capita.

This seems like a hopeless effort. Yet, the topline finding -- Chicago is the funniest city in America -- seems not unreasonable. Off the top of my head, I probably would have picked Chicago #1 (although I might guess Toronto if North America was the category). I'm not exactly sure how I would have arrived at Chicago as my guess, but it's certainly reasonable. Los Angeles, of course, has a gigantic abundance of comedy professionals from all over the country, and there is more goofy stuff in Los Angeles than anywhere else. But I'm not sure if Angelenos on average as aggressively get the joke as Chicagoans.

Interestingly, this map with red dots for the ten funniest cities and black dots for the bottom ten looks a lot like the usual Moynihan's Law of the Canadian Border, such as lists of America's most well-read cities (Atlanta does well there, too).


Anonymous said...

But humor has such variety!

Personally I find absurdist humor the best (Monty Python and the Holy Grail), but my wife finds slapstick the funniest (The Pink Panther). I am a former New Yorker and my wife a Midwesterner.

Chicago and the Midwest in general, to me, are not very absurdist. They never struck me as Kafkaesque. NYC used to reign supreme in this regard, but I find that lately DC has clawed to the top in the absurd department ("Veep" is the perfect rendition of DC).

Anonymous said...

LA always struck me as "fart" jokes. That is to say, juvenile humor.

Dave Pinsen said...

Here is a story about a 40 year old IT guy from Peoria who tweeted jokes as a hobby and got hired as a TV comedy writer based on his Twitter feed. Reminds me of that episode of 30 Rock where they went trawling for talent in 'real America'.

Grey Enlightenment said...

SF seems too stuck-up to be funny

Perhaps there's a lot of clubs there because the residents and patrons have a lot of money

Anonymous said...

The civil war was about who would be making fun of whom.

Black vs L in the UK

Christian nursery worker claims unfair dismissal over dispute with gay colleague


Michael Deloatch said...

Many, many years ago I once lost something of some nominal value in Virginia Beach. In retrospect, it was hilarious. Therefore I think the dude's data must be incomplete.

Anonymous said...

LA, where even comedians take themselves seriously.

Gilbert P

Semi-employed White Guy said...

Funny "haha" or funny flaming queer. With that list, it looks to be the latter.

Anonymous said...


If you haven't seen Alan Zweig's documentary "When Jews Were Funny", I highly recommend it. Not only is it very funny, but many of the interviewees are refreshingly candid about their ethnocentrism.

I suspect Zweig would agree with you about Toronto, too.


Anonymous said...

If this can be the artsy-craftsy thread...

Following on the heels of my discovery last year of Celibidache, I just stumbled upon Walter Gieseking.

Holy Cow, that dude was trying to be Glenn Gould back before Glenn Gould was Glenn Gould!!!

A quick glance at his Wikipedia page tells you all you need to know as to why a student of music in the USA [who has listened to classical music practically 24x7 his entire adult life] would never have heard of this man's obvious genius:

By January 1947, however, he had been cleared by the U.S. military government, enabling him to resume his career although his U.S. tour scheduled for January 1949 was cancelled owing to the protest of a number of organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the American Veterans Committee. Although there had been other protests (in Australia and Peru, for example), his 1949 American tour was the only group of concerts actually cancelled due to the outcry.

PS: Does anyone in the iSteve-o-Sphere know anything about Ward Swingle?

[Youtube here.]

He came out of Mobile, Alabama, and studied with Gieseking after the war.


pat said...

I get it. This study like the one you published before on the ranking of 'well read' cities is a joke. Certainly the methodology is laughable.

Asking the citizens themselves how much humor plays a part in their lives only gives you a measure of their self image not their actual behavior.

It's the difference between asking people if they like ballet versus examining box office receipts. There is something that's changing with latitude here but it may just be the way people respond to surveys.

In your previous blog posting on reading the study came from a newspaper (USA Today) and measured newspaper readership. Imagine that. They also measured library attendance. I used to haunt public libraries as a teen but I haven't been in a library in more than ten years which was also about the time I cancelled my newspaper subscription. I don't read magazines anymore either. But I still read and I can prove it. I know I read more than two books a week. I have the dates and titles right here on my Kindle.

In fact the only person I know who still reads newspapers is you Steve Sailer. You get a lot of ideas for your columns from The New York Times. Then I and your other followers read these newspaper items at once remove by reading your blog. I read Drudge in much the same way. Drudge reads all those web sites for me. Some of those web sites may have their own people reading newspapers too.

In any case, reading ain't as simple as it once was. Nor is humor. Bill O'Reilly could have his man-on-the-street Jesse Watters go to all these cities and have him challenge passerby's to tell him a joke.


Anonymous said...

hired as a TV comedy writer

If he is going to work as an EMPLOYEE of The Frankfurt School, then the joke is on him.

He'll never see a fraction of the revenue which the purchasers of his Intellectual Property will realize.

BTW, may I assume that everyone in the Dark Enlightenment is aware that you only ever sign for a percentage of the GROSS, not of the net?




Anonymous said...

LA always struck me as "fart" jokes. That is to say, juvenile humor.

Have you seen what The Frankfurt School is doing with their Nickelodeon subsidiary?

You've just described about 100% of their content for the li'l chilrun'.

Sometimes I wonder whether this culture war onslaught is designed to force our kids to become so screwed up in the head that, once they grow up, they will shell out the big bucks for psychiatric "help" to rid themselves of all their demons.

"You will pay us to sell you the rope with which you will hang yourselves."

Chip said...

I think Chicago's has the edge partly because of earlier exposure to Canadian broadcasts of SCTV and Monty Python.

Anonymous said...

California was considered by Tom Wolfe as the epicenter of people who were "beyond" irony. When I get out of the South, especially the deep South, I find that love of give and take conversational humor pretty much diminishes. I suspect that the influence of black folks has made that type of humor a more southern thing in general.

department 11 said...

I don't see how Atlanta can be funny. Unless they're comparing themselves to Detroit.

Anonymous said...

Moynihan's law seems strange to apply here because black people have long been well-represented in the world of comedy, especially stand-up. This is borne out in the map by the high representation of Atlanta with its large middle class black population and comedy clubs.

irishman said...

Universities waste their time on so much worthless crap these days you'd think all the great problems of the world had been solved.

countenance said...

Moral of the story

Hispanics aren't very funny.

Sean said...

Moynihan said that Reagan's military build up was actually aimed at curbing the increases in welfare spending by getting the country into so much debt that further social spending would be impossible. He said this was not an interpretation; he heard it in so many words from a administration insider. Now that's funny.

Auntie Analogue said...

New Orleans's absence from the map is conspicuous. Perhaps there's nothing funny or unfunny about deeply ingrained corruption & vice? Only John Kennedy Toole found the things in New Orleans worth laughing about, and then only through what is a penetratingly misanthropic, sad, grim lens.

Las Vegas is not funny because it's nothing more than an enormous, garishly lit, machine for maximum extraction of cash from the human moths it attracts.

Anonymous said...

Humor is a function of culture. I intuit that my ideass of what is funny and what not are essentilally orthgogonal to the ideas shared by the authors of this "research". Based on personal experience, the "red" cities contain very high proportions of folks whose standard response to non-PC humor is "I don't find that the least bit funny."

Anonymous said...

Moral of the story

Hispanics aren't very funny.

Many of the "least funny cities" on this list are whiter than most of the "funniest cities".

Tulsa, Arlington, Ft. Worth, Jacksonville, Tucson are whiter than the "funniest cities" save Portland, Seattle, and Denver.

Chicago is about 40% white and about 30% Hispanic.

Anonymous said...

Tell a homo joke and funny cities will not laugh but burn you at the stake. So much for funny.

Anonymous said...

"Chicago is about 40% white and about 30% Hispanic."

The last time I was in Chicago I was shocked.

There's a movie theater called Music Box and next to it, a school.

Long ago when I used to live there for a time in the 80s, the school was mostly Hispanic, had some blacks, and few white kids.

Passing by it recently, it was like 90% white kids of affluent whites in the playground.

It was like What the Hell moment.

Anonymous said...

University labels conservative areas lame and liberal areas hip and with it.

Whoa color me shocked.

Anonymous said...

Texas is not funny.

Maxwell Power said...

This is a commercial map of where The Comedy Biz does well as an industry, proving nothing about sense of humor. Atlanta is the regional power with lots of infrastructure, black and white, so of course it would be listed here. Why would any booking agent or HBO producer send you to Tulsa... Which brings up the only interesting thing about the study, the poor showing of Las Vegas

ben tillman said...

Texas is not funny.

Mexicans aren't funny.

amateur night said...

I can picture some aspie libertarian-Vulcan economists putting their heads together on this one: "What if we performed a study to reveal the workings of this human phenomenon known as 'comedy?' Naturally where there's a popular demand for it the local market will supply as many bars, theaters, and civic auditoria to meet it at a price congenial to consumer choice -- it is a truth universally acknowledged by all comedy club owners"

David said...

Gieseking-Gould connection: never thought of it that way. Both were eccentric in their interpretive approach, though.

I believe it was Celibidache who said to Cortot, "How many women does it take to screw in a light bulb?" Since the answer isn't funny in the USSA's swpltopias, I will omit it.

Speaking of what passes for culture, has anyone noticed how wit and today's dummies don't mix when it comes to adventure and sci-fi movies? For example, there used to be humor in the Bond films. But the later ones are simultaneously grimly humorless and ridiculously unbelievable. Like in the one (I believe it was a Bond) where they're running on foot so fast they can suddenly run up the sides of skyscrapers! Just DUMB, completely unrealistic even for Bond (imagine Connery doing that?) but presented seriously, and in a manner of self-important earnestness. This applies to many such movies, not just Bond. ("Salt" is another example.) The dumber people are, the less able they are to perceive absurdity and hoot at it. In the old days, when, say, a comic book hero did something impossible, there was at least some tongue-in-cheek feel in the presentation. Now, characters do the most ridiculous, laughable CGI crap - and nobody laughs. Because they are too dumb to laugh. Forget about audiences, this applies with even more force to the makers of such schlock. They apparently really think it's serious and deep. Is this nerd autism or just increasing dumbth or what?

Anonymous said...

Mexicans aren't funny.

Arlington and Ft. Worth are whiter than most of the "funniest cities".

Anonymous said...

Boston is much less funny than it used to be. Hot new comics used to come out of Boston on a regular basis, but I can't recall one over the last 10 years.

Rigorous PC has no sense of humor.

Anonymous said...

Moynihan said that Reagan's military build up was actually aimed at curbing the increases in welfare spending by getting the country into so much debt that further social spending would be impossible.

How's that workin' for ya?

Miguel S. said...

My off the top of my head conjecture about why the South isn't funny (with Atlanta as the exception that proves the rule) is that humor requires a willingness to seem silly; a funny man doesn't make an impressive bully; and white southerners didn't want to look silly in front of the black man. This might go a little way to explaining why Germans have such bad senses of humor.

On the other topic, when Gould agreed to substitute for Michelangeli, Karel Ancel exclaimed, "Michelangeli, Gould, where do they find these kooks!" But Gould had the better line, "It's the rarest case of the best substituting for the second best."

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Rigorous PC has no sense of humor.

That's why, contra Steve, Toronto doesn't spring to mind for me. Making so many subjects off-limits would seem only to leave room for stuff like "Boy that Sarah Palin sure is stupid!"

Anonymous said...

Moynihan seems to be a favorite among White guys who want to appear educated and respectable.

Bill said...

This is total BS. Seattle isn't at all funny. It's the least funny city I've ever been to, and I've lived in it for almost 40 years.

Portland isn't funny, either.

The Pac NW is where jokes go to die. This place is about as funny as the Spanish Inquisition (and they wouldn't get that joke here).

Anonymous said...

The Pac NW is where jokes go to die.

Pac NW? Humor of the Midwest, phoniess of SoCAL, goodiness of NorCAL and the self-regard of Cambridge, MA.

As far as I am concerned, they have the most beautiful landscapes (ocean, rain forest, high desert, alpine mountains) in the country and the worst people.

Or, as someone once told me pithily "techno-hippie rednecks."

Anonymous said...

Cambridge in the late 70s/early 80s was ground zero for comedy. Jay Leno, Steven Wright, Jimmy Tingle, et al came out of what was essentially a Cambridge, as opposed to Boston, scene. But that was when Cambridge still had a good number of working-class ethnics.