Though it seems like most sitcoms, famous comedy venues, comedians, improv schools, humor writers, and cartoonists exist in New York City and Los Angeles, a professor says these two places are only the sixth and seventh funniest towns in America, respectively.
The top two, instead, are Chicago and Boston, based on an algorithm that takes everything from tweets to the number of comedy clubs per square mile into account, according to a duo at the University of Colorado’s Humor Research Lab (no joke — the University of Colorado has a “Humor Research Lab”).
“I think what ends up happening is that the nature of New York City is at a bit of an advantage when it comes to humor, but it’s also at a disadvantage because there’s a lot of things to do in new York that pulls the population in different directions,” said Peter McGraw, the professor who created the algorithm as part of “The Humor Code,” a new book about what makes things funny, and why.
New York, McGraw said, did rank highly as a city that prized humor to cope with stress, and its comedic institutions — like “Saturday Night Live,” the Upright Citizens Brigade improv school, the New Yorker caption contest, and “Late Show” — are legendary. And McGraw said that New York City was probably the best place to start out as a comedian for the sheer number of its comedy stages.
“‘If you want to continue training, go to New York,’” McGraw recounted comedian Marc Maron telling him. “‘If you think you’re ready to get in the ring, go to L.A.’”
But New Yorkers just don’t love comedy in broad swaths like some other cities do, he said.
“We wanted to look at not just what are the commercial and entertainment aspects of the comedy but how much the locals value it,” McGraw said, adding that though Boston doesn’t have many famous comedy clubs, touring comedians gave the town rave reviews as to the quality of the audience.
And in Chicago, improv comedy theaters like The Second City, iO, and The Annoyance are beloved by locals, along with satirical newspaper The Onion, which moved from New York City to Chicago in 2012.
The rankings were not compiled without a good deal of debate. In particular, McGraw wrestled with how to measure comedy clubs — by the raw number of clubs in the city? The number of clubs per person? Or the number per square mile? He ultimately decided that going by the number alone gave large cities too much of an advantage, while going by the number of clubs per person penalized those cities for the same reason — in other words, Los Angeles might have a lot of comedy clubs, but it also has a lot of people, making its comedy club per person ratio extremely low.
McGraw also wanted to get beyond the professional comedy scene, and so he polled people about how much their workplaces valued humor, or if they enjoyed funny TV shows and movies.
McGraw, along with “The Humor Code” co-writer Joel Warner, is confident in the rankings, but he hopes that people continue to argue over them — perhaps in a bar after a good stand-up set.
“I want people to want to be number one because this is such an important part of life,” he said. “Who wouldn’t want to live in the city that is ranked as the funniest?”
The Funniest Cities in the Country, Ranked
- Portland, Ore.
- New York City
- Los Angeles
- San Francisco