So what’s the funniest town in America?
In April, the Daily Beast published its list of the 30 funniest cities. The analysis was based on self-assessment (Do you consider yourself funny?) and the percentage of the population that watches primetime and syndicated comedy shows on TV. According to the Daily Beast, Austin, Texas is the funniest town in the United States, followed by New Orleans, Waco, Atlanta, and Baton Rouge.
According to this analysis my hometown, Denver, doesn’t even make it into the Top 30. But then, we have a lot of things to do in Denver and don’t sit around and watch a lot of TV. Still, it beggars belief that a Baptist town like Waco would be rated funnier than Denver.
Now there’s another ranking of funny towns, based on a more “scientific” algorithm. It’s published by the Humor Research Lab (HuRL) at the University of Colorado. (So that’s where our marijuana tax dollars go). According to this ranking, Chicago is the funniest town in America, followed by Boston, Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and Portland, Oregon.
Denver ranks eighth on the HuRL list. Four of the ten least funny towns are clustered in Texas, including Arlington, El Paso, Fort Worth, and San Antonio. Somehow, this seems a lot more logical to me than the Daily Beast analysis. (However, the governor of Texas, Rick Perry, did generate a lot of laughter in the last presidential election).
So what makes a town funny? The HuRL researchers looked at variables like types of entertainment supported in the town, and a “need for levity” personality test. They then rolled these measures into a supposedly impartial “humor algorithm” that they could use to rank cities.
Is the algorithm really impartial? Does it really measure how funny a city is? Does it actually measure anything meaningful? I’m not so sure but I think we could put it to the test. We learned a few weeks ago (here and here) that humor promotes health by reducing stress, blood pressure, and general paranoia. (Humor, however, doesn’t seem to promote longer lives).
If humor promotes health then there should be a correlation between funny towns and healthy towns. I don’t have the data yet I think we should correlate the HuRL list to a healthy cities list to see if there’s any relationship. If there is, then maybe the HuRL list actually provides something meaningful. We might even use such data to lower the cost of healthcare in America. Instead of investing in new pharmaceuticals, we might invest in better jokes.
I should mention that the University of Colorado researchers produced a pretty good book along the way. It’s called The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny. You can find jokes from the top 10 cities here.