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D.C. Goes From Butt Of The Joke To Comedy Powerhouse

Politicians make D.C. a big target for comedians, but the city has quite the sense of humor in its own right.
Phil Shirley: https://www.flickr.com/photos/phil_shirley/6245396979
Politicians make D.C. a big target for comedians, but the city has quite the sense of humor in its own right.

As the seat of the federal government and seasonal home of the country's most prominent politicians, Washington D.C., has been a gold mine of easy jokes for most of its history.

"I always like to go to Washington D.C.," comedian Bob Hope once remarked. "It gives me a chance to visit my money."

New research from the University of Colorado’s Humor Research Lab, however, finds that Washington is actually an underrated hub for comedy. D.C. was ranked fourth funniest among the 50 largest cities in the country, according to the research lab's "humor algorithm."

The study includes measures like native-born comedians per capita, comedy clubs per square mile, visits to comedy websites and surveys of residents. D.C. fared particularly well for the sheer number of top comedians it produces, one for every 158,000 residents, according to the Humor Research Lab's numbers.

At the top of the list is improv comedy "mecca" Chicago, home of the The Second City, a sketch and improv comic troupe that has spawned legends from John Belushi and Dan Akroyd to Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey. Also ahead of Washington are Boston and Atlanta.

Speaking with The New York Times, University of Colorado professor Peter McGraw described Washington's position as "surprisingly high," saying "politics and politicians provide plenty of fodder for cynical jokesters" in D.C.

Elahe Izadi, a local stand-up comedian (and former DCentric blogger for WAMU), disagrees with the latter characterization.

"That doesn't ring true to me at all," Izadi said in an email. "Very few D.C. comedians talk about politics."

Izadi said D.C. is "full of very funny comedians" and noted that some big names, like Dave Chappelle, Martin Lawrence and Wanda Sykes, got their start in the D.C. area. And the city itself has all the right ingredients to bring out the laughs.

"Well, given this is the nation's capital, the city is full of very hilarious things," she said. "And D.C. audiences are smart, and appreciate smart humor."

Whether the rest of the country will admit that D.C. is a comedy champ remains to be seen, but Washington topped entertainment powerhouses New York City and Los Angeles, so we may have the last laugh after all.

WAMU 88.5

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