We travel to relax, or for thrills, or to be educated – but what if we just need some good cheer? Some places, frankly, are funnier than others. Of course there is always the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (about to finish) or the Sydney Comedy Festival (about to begin), but what about outside Australia?
An English friend of mine has a theory: it’s all in the weather. Britons (like the Irish and Canadians) have miserable, wet, cold days, so they develop a good sense of humour. She added that Iceland also has a terrific comedy scene. So what are the world’s funniest places? Let’s not suggest places just because they have silly names. However amusing it is to see a sign for Gobbler’s Nob or Titty Hill (yes, those are real), they are basically one-joke places. Weird places like the Creation Museum and the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets sound like funny concepts, but don’t quite make it. And while everyone might like to pick on places like Belgium, Poland, or Geelong, the places themselves aren’t immediately funny. If you want a real laugh, or at least a different glimpse of humour (see Gabrovo), you’d have more luck in these places.
It seems almost too obvious to include a place where you can be married by an Elvis impersonator, or chat up strangers in a bar made entirely of imported ice (Eskimo suits provided), but Vegas is a good place to take the kids for a laugh. No, really. You can stay at Circus Circus, a resort-hotel with a free daily circus, featuring family-friendly acts from around the world. You can see so many Cirque du Soleil shows that anyone would assume that the troupe’s home is Vegas rather than Montreal. (While most of them focus on spectacle and acrobatics, some have good clowns.) It’s also a hotspot for stand-up comics and magicians, such as Murray (no surname, apparently), who produces Ferraris from thin air at the famous Laugh Factory stand-up venue.
Bulgarians, like their Russian neighbours, are not known for their sense of humour. The central town of Gabrovo, however, is known as “the merry capital of Bulgaria” (which, depending on your taste, is either a fitting description, or pretty funny). Gabrovians have long been the butt of jokes for their alleged stinginess. (A Bulgarian joke: A man from Gabrovo is crying bitterly at a funeral. “How were you related to the departed?” asks someone. “He owed me money,” weeps the man.) Recognising a profitable idea, they have turned their town into the joke centre of Eastern Europe, focused on the House of Humour and Satire, a museum taking us from mediaeval clowns to recent political cartoonists. It stands out in its bright colours, like an oasis in Gabrovo’s post-industrial greyness. Gabrovo has also hosted an international humour carnival since 1929.
Northern Ireland’s second-largest city, Londonderry – just Derry, or “Legen-derry”, to its denizens – has suffered centuries of upheaval, culminating in the civil rights riots and the Bloody Sunday tragedy of 1972. How does this city carry the weight of its past? The same way that any sane people would do: they joke about it. Here is a place where everyone is a comedian, from the tour guides who tell you all about their marriage (“We’ve been married for 28 years. It seems like 50, but that’s beside the point.”) to the café waitresses who recommend a dash of whiskey with every meal or in every coffee. (Perhaps you had to be there.) It’s like entering an Ealing comedy, except with even sillier accents.
Disney's Magic Kingdom might be “the happiest place on earth”, but BonBon-Land in Holme Olstrup, Denmark, might be the funniest, if cartoon characters with disgusting bodily functions are your idea of great comedy. From the Dog Fart Coaster (one of four roller-coasters) to the toddler ride Hestepærerne (Horse Droppings), this has plenty to keep certain people amused for hours. As there are many such people (most under 15, though obviously not all of them), 450,000 people visit every season.
While Canada’s second city is obviously worth visiting even if you don’t have a sense of humour, it also offers the Just for Laughs festival, the world’s largest comedy festival, in July. Montreal’s role as a creative mecca, and its surfeit of comedy venues, make it a perfect comedy hub. (Two other comedy festivals rival its scope: Edinburgh and Melbourne. But Montreal is still the champion – and besides, Melbourne’s weather is too damn sunny!) In the same month, if you want a break from standup and improv shows, Montréal Complètement Cirque draws the cream of international circus performers to the city. An embarrassment of riches.
Here is the world’s movie-making capital, but though Bollywood films seem pretty funny to me, the best time to visit Mumbai for a laugh is during the biannual International Clown Festival in May and November. Started by a local resident, Flubber the Clown (possibly not his real name), it is like a Just for Laughs festival for more traditional clowns. As India is also a magnet for spiritual seekers, Mumbai is also a prime spot to learn the art of Laughter Yoga, which uses laughter as form of meditation and therapy. Even if you are so miserable that the clowns can’t lift your spirits, Laughter Yoga can teach you to laugh (sincerely) at nothing – and to do so as a spiritual discipline.