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Last night's somewhat tame debate drove Gail Collins into a speculative reverie ("McCain: Bearish on Debates", 9/27/2008). Her ending:

Imagine what would happen if a new beetle infested the Iowa corn crop during the first year of a McCain administration. On Monday, we spray. On Tuesday, we firebomb. On Wednesday, the president marches barefoot through the prairie in a show of support for Iowa farmers. On Thursday, the White House reveals that Wiley Flum, a postal worker from Willimantic, Conn., has been named the new beetle eradication czar. McCain says that Flum had shown “the instincts of a maverick reformer” in personally buying a box of roach motels and scattering them around the post office locker room. “I can’t wait to introduce Wiley to those beetles in Iowa,” the president adds.

On Friday, McCain announces he’s canceling the weekend until Congress makes the beetles go away.

Barack Obama would just round up a whole roomful of experts and come up with a plan. Yawn.

Apparently Ms. Collins thinks of Willimantic as the only place in America more remote and intrinsically funny than Wasilla, Alaska.

This does strike me as funny, in a different sense, since I grew up in Mansfield Center, and Willimantic, just four miles away, was the local big city. It was where we went to buy whatever we couldn't find at the local general store, Barrows & Burnham. Some of my school friends' parents, the ones that weren't farmers, worked at what everybody called the "tread mill", the American Thread Company's factory that we were always told was the world's largest producer of thread.

I seem to be fated to live in places that other people find intrinsically funny. I worked for 15 years at Bell Labs in a bucolic area of northern New Jersey, and there are dozens if not hundreds of jokes whose punch lines depend entirely on the concept that New Jersey is in and of itself amusing. For example,

Q: Why are New Yorkers so depressed?
A: Because the light at the end of the tunnel is New Jersey!

On a train trip south from Boston, I once sat next to a group of high-school students from Bristol, CT, who were going to New York for the weekend. One them fell asleep, and as the train approached Penn Station, the others teased him about missing his stop and waking up in New Jersey. This stimulated a massive outbreak of group glee, with one after another gasping "New Jersey!" and falling down laughing in the aisle of the train. That's the only time I've ever seen anyone literally fall on the floor laughing.

Now I live in Philadelphia. W.C. Fields proposed for himself various versions of an epitaph suggesting that Philadelphia is marginally superior to death ("Here lies W.C. Fields. I would rather be living in Philadelphia." or "On the whole, I'd rather be in Philadelphia."). His other witticisms include "I once spent a year in Philadelphia, I think it was on a Sunday." and "Last week I went to Philadelphia, but it was closed."

What New Jersey and Philadelphia have in common, apparently, is being near New York, which makes them candidates for exclusionary disdain on the part of insecure residents of the metropolis. I guess that Willimantic's misfortune is being a small city out of commuting range of New York, with a polysyllabic name of non-Indo-European origin that starts with W. (OK, Wasilla comes from Russian Vasili, but via Tanaina.)

Are there intrinsically funny places in California, or in Britain, or Japan, or wherever? I've heard that the French regard Belgium as being intrinsically funny, in a similar way, but I don't think I've ever heard any good Belgium jokes.


  1. David said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 7:37 am


  2. Amy Stoller said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 7:43 am

    "Are there intrinsically funny places in California[?]"

    Fresno has long been the butt of many jokes within California. And of course outsiders make fun of the state of California itself.

    On a smaller scale, any American old enough to remember Johnny Carson will remember what to do when you get to the Schlossen cutoff; those who remember Laugh-In will also remember beautiful downtown Burbank.

    Valley and Surfer cultures provide fodder for a whole 'nother set of jokes. I also remember Marin County taking a lot of heat in the late 70s.

  3. Harry said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 7:47 am

    Essex stands in relation to London in much the same way as New Jersey and New York. Particularly, there are lots of jokes about Essex girls being sexually available and not especially bright, but it's a broader image problem. And I lived for a year in Saitama, a bit of the urban sprawl outside Tokyo, which has a similar image.

  4. Steven Messamer said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 7:57 am

    Lompoc California is high on my list of funny names; but maybe that's because of the Firesign Theatre.

  5. Yuval said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 7:58 am

    Belgium jokes – enjoy them while there's still a Belgium.

    (I live in Israel, well outside the Francosphere, yet I've heard several Belgium jokes, and in Hebrew. I wonder how they got here).

  6. Jonathan said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 8:07 am

    "I lost my heart in San Francisco
    I lost my legs in Timbuctoo
    I lost my head in Auchenshuggle
    But what is left belongs to you".

    I think Aileen Paterson, author of the 'Maisie' children's stories, may have written that.

    Auchenshuggle, a district in far east Glasgow which was formerly the terminus of the no.9 tram, is said by Wikipedia to be the home of "the rare 'Auchenshuggle' orchid". It denies the folk-story that "Glasgow Corporation Transport Department invented the name so that curious tourists and city dwellers would travel there thus increasing revenue".

  7. Bob O'H said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 8:08 am

    I was brought in in (well, actually near) Scunthorpe in the UK, which has rightly been the butt of many jokes (it's such an awful place, even the stray dogs have to go round in pairs).

    I guess nowadays Slough has a similar reputation. Which might explain why my brother moved there.

  8. JanetK said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 8:29 am

    I come from Saskatchewan, which is sometimes used as a joke for the 'end of the earth'. In Saskatchewan there is Saskatoon and Moose Jaw. There is a joke about someone asking where they are to a passer-by who answers Saskatoon Saskatchewan. So the man turns to his companion and tells him that they must not speak English this far north. Moose Jaw used to have some jokes about it but they were rude and I have forgotten them.
    I once knew someone from Australia who felt that Alice Springs got bad press for really being the 'end of the earth'.

  9. Hedgie said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 8:34 am

    There are lots of intrinsically funny places in England. Slough, for example, or Milton Keynes (which is actually a nice place, just a bit silly). Belgium is funny as a whole and in the same way.

    I think that's different from places with intrinsically funny or striking _names_ – for those you just refer to any Ordance Survey map. Lower Peeover and Upper Peeover come to mind. I seem to remember they are somewhere on the journey between Manchester and Jodrell Bank Observatory. Or any of the places in the North that end in "-bottom".

  10. Maria said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 8:42 am

    This reminds me of Karl Rove naming the cities that were larger than Richmond, VA:

    And, again, with all due respect to Richmond, Virginia, it's smaller than Chula Vista, California, Aurora, Colorado, Mesa or Gilbert,Arizona, North Las Vegas, or Henderson, Nevada. It's not a big town.And, again, with all due respect to Richmond, Virginia, it's smaller than Chula Vista, California, Aurora, Colorado, Mesa or Gilbert,Arizona, North Las Vegas, or Henderson, Nevada. It's not a big town.

    It seems likely that he chose those cities because he thought their names to be intrinsically funny. It wasn't to give viewers a frame of reference.

  11. Black Yoshi said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 9:07 am

    I've never heard Alice Springs being paid out, although it is more or less exactly in the middle of nowhere. Tasmania is usually the butt of jokes, which generally involve a reference to inbreeding.

  12. John said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 9:10 am

    "Are there intrinsically funny places in California, or in Britain"

    Well, as has been mentioned, Britain excels in the funny-name department. Aside from the well known town of Arnold, I have always been fond of the pair of villages called Upper Thong and Nether Thong (clearly, a bikini!). And in the South West, we have such splendours as Bessie Beneath, Playing Place and Queen Camel!

  13. fred lapides said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 9:11 am

    amused by your rhetorical question but have you ever been to Willimantic? go and then you will KNOW.

  14. Trent said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 9:15 am

    While growing up in Montana, I heard many North Dakota jokes. Montana, of course, is sparsely populated, but ND is even more so. I'm not sure if we thought ND was even more rural than MT, and thus ripe for jokes, or if we found the name of the state funny. Certainly we didn't tell jokes about Wyoming, which is even less populated than ND.

    Here's an example: Why did the North Dakotan cut a hole in his umbrella? So he could tell when it stopped raining. (I didn't say they were good jokes.)

    I remember a local radio station putting out an annual North Dakota joke book.

    When I lived in the Dallas area, we told jokes about Aggies, who were students and staff of Texas A&M, located in the relatively small town of College Station.

    Example: How many Aggies does it take to screw in a light bulb? One, but he gets three hours credit.

    Most places I've lived the residents joked about people from smaller places nearby. Often, the jokes are the same old jokes, just with different targets.

    One exception that comes to mind. Jokes about the French don't assume they are rural morons.

    Here's a ditty I learned while quite young:

    "The French, they are a funny race.
    They fight with their feet and fuck with their face."

    (Hey, more left dislocation!)

  15. Benjamin Massot said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 9:18 am

    my favorite Belgium jokes are the remakes that actually make fun of us French. One example:
    Why do Belgians have a full glass of water and an empty one besides their beds?
    The full one is in case they're thirsty during the night, and the empty one, well … to give the French an occasion to make fun of the Belgians!

    A comparable case I know is in Germany, where people from the Pfalz (Palatinate) make fun of the Saarländer (people from Saarland). I experienced it as an exchange pupil in the Palatinate when I was 16. Know I live in Stuttgart (neither in the Palatinate nor in Saarland), and when I introduced the topic in the conversation with my roommate from Saarland, well, she was not very relaxed.

  16. Nick Lamb said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 9:29 am

    For those of us in Southampton the nearby Isle of Wight (just "the Island" in local speech) is the target of such jokes. People from the Island are assigned all the usual exaggerated characteristics, inbred, technologically backward, bigoted etc. – and those who've moved to the city talk of having "escaped" and pretend that they dread having to return to visit relatives, all this, as with New Jersey despite the fact that it's practically a stone's throw away by ferry.

    Or another example, the town of Basingstoke, between Southampton and London is sometimes termed "Basingrad" a reference to drab industrial Russian cities I think. Having also lived near to Slough at one point, I can vouch for that area's reputation too, but I hardly need to since John Betjeman famously wrote last century:

    "Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough, it isn't fit for humans now".

  17. Benjamin Massot said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 9:31 am

    And concerning funny place names in France, the last one I've heard of is "Poil", which means "(piece of) hair". Even the people from there like to say "it's so pleasant to live in Poil" ("qu'il fait bon vivre à Poil"), which also means "it's so pleasant to live naked".
    An example of a phonetically funny name is Bourgougnague.
    And just follow the first link to discover a whole list.

  18. Alex Gajic said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 9:36 am

    I don't know where it all started, but an ongoing joke in Germany is that a smallish, rather boring city north of Germany's centre called Bielefeld (it even has a university, so I don't really know why it is considered so dull) does not exist and that there is a huge conspiracy. Whenever someone mentions the town, someone is sure to point out that "Oh, but Bielefeld doesn't even exist, it's just what they want you ro believe."

    Bielefeld seems to be a perfect butt for jokes about cities who think they have some importance when in fact they don't. The German copy of Saturday Night Live used to announce clips of upcoming made-up movies not as "World Premieres" or "German Premieres" but as "Bielefeld Premieres".

    My dad is actually from Bielefeld and I've been there a couple of times. So I guess I'm part of the conspiracy.

  19. Lynn Kendall said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 9:41 am

    In addition to the places already mentioned, California has Pismo Beach and Cucamonga. I once spent a night in Pismo Beach just because Bugs Bunny had mentioned it. (It was also on our way.) Ukiah is amusing, probably because it has a K in it.

    My personal favorite amusing names in Californa are Aromas, which is between San Jose and San Luis Obispo, and Happy Camp, which is in the far north.

  20. Katyroo said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 9:51 am

    When I lived in Nantes, France, for year abroad in the 70s, I heard this joke and variant versions many times:
    Q: How do you get 12 Belgians into a Deux Chevaux (teeny car, half the size of old VW bug)?
    A: Throw in one pomme frite (french fry)

    And there are entire books of Texas Aggie jokes, especially from alumni of A&M's biggest rival, University of Texas Longhorns (called "T-sips" by Aggies). Their big football game at Thanksgiving gives bragging rights for the year, and is the cause of many family feuds around here.

  21. Arnold Zwicky said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 9:57 am

    Re Amy Stoller and David on Fresno: the 1986 television comedy Fresno (only one, long, show), a spoof of prime-time soap operas, was set in the "raisin town" of Fresno; the town was considered automatically funny. The show was great, with a fabulous cast, including Carol Burnett, Dabney Coleman, Teri Garr, Charles Grodin, and Gregory Harrison as the perpetually shirtless and smoldering Torch.

    As for Britain, let's not forget Peter Sellers's routine "Ballham, Gateway to the South", with Ballham pronounced like a compound noun Ball Ham.

  22. Eyebrows McGee said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 9:57 am

    I think everywhere has one of these. I live in Peoria, IL (which is intrinsically funny to some Chicagoans — lord knows it was to me when I lived there), and our "New Jersey" is Pekin, a town just down the river. Allegedly home to all kinds of backwardsness and hick-ness and awfulness, though not really any different from a dozen other towns nearby. Statements like, "I thought about moving to Pekin to be closer to work, but then I'd have to live in PEKIN," will get a laugh.

    My sister reported from Dublin that County Leitram was "like, the Mississippi of Ireland — it's the butt of every uneducated hick joke!"

  23. Kathryn said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 10:07 am


    Growing up in Louisiana, Bunkie was the out of the way, hick town in all generic comments and jokes. I always thought it was just a funny name; I didn't realize it was an actual town until high school.

  24. Kate said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 10:16 am

    Benjamin and Alex:

    I've lived in Hamburg for a while, and I've heard people making fun of the concepts of both Bielefeld and the Saarland.

    The one example of this phenomenon that really stuck with me, though, is exemplified by this song about Brandenburg: http://de.sevenload.com/videos/9jIysgV-Lied-Brandenburg-von-Reinald-Grebe

    I didn't listen to it all the way through just now, but as I remember he basically says there's nothing to do there besides get drunk and have a head-on collision with a tree.

    Brandenburg also seems to fit nicely into the pattern of places that are percieved as backwaters in contrast to a nearby metropolis, as it's right by Berlin. I'm pretty sure this cliche was one of the major reasons Berlin voted to remain a city-state rather than merge with the province that completely surrounds it!

  25. Steve said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 10:23 am

    As an insecure resident of the metropolis myself, I'm not so sure you're right about New Yorkers being responsible for whatever reputation Philadelphia may have. I've heard tons of New Jersey jokes in my time, but never one about Philly, and since Fields himself was from Pennsylvania, I think you have to look elsewhere for the source of Philly jokes.

  26. Catanea said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 10:33 am

    And back to Johnny Carson – he used always to feature a "tribute" to Puyallup, Washington (where I went to High School) on the occasion of its annual Daffodil Festival. Who could resist? I shall resist the temptation to provide any phonetic transcription.
    Meanwhile: More dreaded than Wasilla: Spenard. When I lived in Anchorage, "Spenard divorce" was a euphemism for marital murder. Just mentioning Spenard would make us all laugh. But that was long before the present political developments brough Wasilla to national prominence. Skagway was thought to be somewhere no one admitted to being from, as well.

  27. HP said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 10:57 am

    I grew up in Kokomo, Indiana, which is always good for a mild chuckle.

    Fans of vintage music will recognize Kokomo from its being mentioned in the verse of every tenth Tin Pan Alley song ever written.

    I suspect that a lot of these "hilarious" place names in America date from the days of the touring vaudeville shows. Guaranteed applause in one town; guaranteed laughs on the rest of the circuit.

    Besides Peoria and Kokomo, another such midwestern city is Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

  28. Morgan said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 11:18 am

    Norway is regarded in this way by Swedes, several of whom have told me that Norwegian sounds like a Swedish hick or retarded Swedish child recorded phonetically (since Norwegian and Swedish are essentially dialects of the same language this is a defensible position, but it's also a defensible claim in the other direction of course). Interestingly, Norwegians have a similar feeling about Sweden, despite its being far larger: their jokes revolve around Swedes being pretty but dumb, whereas Swedish jokes about Norway are more in line with New Jersey jokes.

    I can also confirm that Belgium is mocked in the same way by the Dutch as by the French, with the primary targets of scorn in the Dutch case being Belgian speakers of French, and in the French case being speakers of Dutch.

    Amusingly enough, I grew up in Alabama, which doesn'ẗ have a single truly big metropolis in it at all, but Mississippi is looked down on the same way there.

  29. onosson said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 11:43 am

    Canada has lots of funny names. Saskatoon and Moose Jaw have already been mentioned. My home of Winnipeg, Manitoba is often dubbed "Winterpeg, Manisnowba", because it is *that* cold. There's always Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump, Alberta, for a cheap and easy laugh.

    Back to Saskatchewan: the funniest line I've heard lately, and I can't claim credit for this, is "Regina, the city that rhymes with fun".

  30. Ryan Denzer-King said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 11:53 am

    I just moved to Montana a year ago, but I've gotten the feeling the Idaho is somewhat of the Willimantic of the area. Of course, lots of people go to Idaho all the time, so it's a little different.

    I'd say it's the same with Georgia (where I grew up): we make fun of Alabama, but on the other hand, lots of people have family or property there, so there's only so far you can go in making fun of it.

  31. Michael said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 11:53 am

    More Belgian jokes than anybody could care for:
    They really aren't that funny.

  32. Luis said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 11:54 am

    In California? Lompoc, as someone has said. I grew up near there and even lived there for a couple of months. Fresno and Bakersfield are the left and right armpits of the state, respectively. Terra Bella might be our Willimantic. Porterville is probably our Wasilla.

    The Bay Area has its own special geography of contempt. Far be it from me to try to parse it out — I'm a southerner.

  33. Faith said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 12:00 pm

    In British Columbia New Jersey is Surrey, once an enormous, distant, semi-rural suburb, now half an hour away at the end of the commuter train line and the second biggest city in the province. But we still consider them hosers. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoser)

  34. Micah said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 12:02 pm

    Ta mère est belge!

  35. rootlesscosmo said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 12:19 pm

    A running gag on the Jack Benny radio show in the 40's was a train announcer whose list of stations ended "Anaheim… Azusa… and Cuc-amonga," with the "Cuc-" heavily stressed and followed by an extended pause.

  36. Eveningsun said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 12:22 pm

    Reseda, California is not so much funny as terminally boring. As Tom Petty puts it in "Freefallin": "It's a long day / living in Reseda / There's a freeway / Running through the yard…"

  37. onosson said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 12:29 pm

    Oh, almost forgot to mention "our" New Jersey here in Winnipeg: it's Transcona, situated at the far east side of the city, separated by train tracks and a vast industrial blight. Apply all the characteristic of your New Jerseys, Surreys, Essexes, North Dakotas, etc. etc.

  38. Doug said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 12:31 pm

    I live in Ashtabula, Ohio, the butt of jokes from George Burns, Bob Dylan, and 90% of Cleveland.

    Wouldn't trade living here for anywhere that makes fun of it.

  39. anna said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 12:40 pm

    As town names go, Weed, California and Manteca, California always get a snicker out of me. But yes, Fresno is definitely considered a good place to make fun of. Also Bakersfield.

    That said, I was once searching for French jokes about Americans, didn't find many, but found at least 50 about Belgians.

  40. John Cowan said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 12:45 pm

    As a New Jerseyan who moved to New York City as fast as he could, I found the above joke to be LOL-quality, and indeed laughed at it more than once.

    Mencken has a huge list of the joke towns of the U.S.; unfortunately the online second edition doesn't have them yet, and my fourth edition isn't to hand. Hoboken is one of the ones listed for New York City, though I think that's out of date. At one time, Kalamazoo was apparently a joke town for the entire country, enough so that there are at least nine songs mentioning it.

    For Canada, it's Newfoundland, which not only speaks English funny even by Canadian standards, but didn't even join up until 1949. So there are vast repertoires of Newfie jokes, and even a very few anti-Canadian (mainlander) jokes that turn the tables.

  41. Greg said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 12:56 pm

    In Douglas Adam's Life, the Universe, and Everything the word "Belgium" is widely regarded as the most offensive word in the galaxy. Arthur Dent doesn't realize this, and is left to speculate as to why the saying the name of this "perfectly innocent if slightly dull European country" produces such an unexpected reaction in everyone he meets.

    Scroll down for the relative passage.

  42. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 1:20 pm

    It's been a while since I've watched David Letterman's show, but he used to always introduce his Top Ten list as coming from "the home office in [insert intrinsically funny town name]". For a while, it was Wahoo, Nebraska.

  43. Bill Poser said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 1:28 pm

    Another such place in Canada is Canmore, Alberta. The Royal Canadian Air Farce used to have a running gag about "Mike, from Canmore". After having driven past Canmore quite a few times, I finally stopped there for the night a few years ago and found it rather pleasant.

    My impression of Surrey is that it is not viewed as a hick town so much as crummy. The kind of jokes that I know are like the following: (1) What do you say to a man from Surrey in a three-piece suit? Will the defendant please rise. (2) What does a Surrey girl do when she gets out of bed in the morning? Puts on her clothes and goes home. That is, Surrey is reputed to be a place where the men are criminals and the women are slutty.

    The big news to me in the comments here is the fact that Karl Rove has a sense of humor. I never would have guessed.

  44. Stephen said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 2:26 pm

    My favorite place name is "Eskdaleside cum Ugglebarnby", in Yorkshire.


    I worked briefly in New South Wales in the early 1980s, where/when the equivalent of New Jersey was Dubbo, especially anything to do with the (mythical) University of Dubbo.


  45. Nick Lamb said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 2:51 pm

    Bill, those jokes work exactly if you replace "Surrey" with "Essex" and tell them in many parts of of England (perhaps including Essex). Indeed I have heard both of them, or very similar, with Essex as the topic. This is all the funnier because Surrey and Essex are both English counties, separated only by London – but for blind chance the Surrey jokes could work equally well in both countries.

  46. Andrew Pendleton said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 2:58 pm

    I think the other funny thing is that people seem to think Wasilla is actually funny-sounding, by Alaska standards. I think compared to Yakutat, Poorman, Dead Horse, Savoonga, Chicken, or Unalakleet, it's not doing so bad.

  47. Zeno said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 3:09 pm

    I grew up in California's central valley, the big San Joaquin. Peculiar placenames abound. Someone thought it would be a good idea to dub a small town near Bakersfield "Weed Patch." (Up in northern California, there is a more economically titled "Weed.") Also near Bakersfield is Oildale. That's honestly descriptive of the one-time principal local occupation, where hobby-horse oil derricks would bob up and down twenty-four hours a day sucking crude oil out of the ground (and spreading its gentle reek throughout the environs). And what could beat "Coalinga"? It sounds like an unnatural practice but is merely a partial conflation of "Coaling Station A", a key stop on the railroad line of olden times. "Coaling A" survives, but not as a coal station.

    And let's not neglect Toolville, happily ensconced near in the Sierra Nevada foothills in Tulare County. Perhaps we should sponsor a retirement home for state politicians in Toolville.

  48. Amy Stoller said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 4:12 pm

    I second Hedgie regarding Milton Keynes. It's an automatic punchline.

    The origins of most of these are lost in the mists of time, though somebody, somewhere, must have been the first to mock Peoria. But "suicide in Buffalo is redundant" can be traced to Neil Simon, play doctor on A Chorus Line. I don't think Buffalo was a punchline before then.

    Regarding Peoria, Sheboygan, Kokomo, Kalamazoo, and even Saskatoon, I agree with HP: it seems likely that some of these became punchlines, or more widely-known punchlines, via various vaudeville circuits, and other aspects of the entertainment industry. (Kalamazoo got some respect with "I Got a Gal … ," you can "Mention my Name in Sheboygan," and latterly the Beach Boys rescued Kokomo.) Pocatella, Idaho becomes vaudeville's everytown in the lyrics (by Leonard Gershe) to "Born in a Trunk." "But will it play in Peoria?" apparently dates from vaudeville but was popularized in film. And The New Yorker was, in Harold Ross's vision, not written for the old lady in Dubuque.

    Of course, If you want an illustration of the New Yorker's view of the world, you need only look at the Saul Steinberg New Yorker cover (painted long after Ross's demise) of that title:

  49. Amy Stoller said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 4:13 pm

    Sorry, I don't know how to post links in a blog! Just do a websearch on "Steinberg cover" and you'll find it.

  50. Molly said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 4:27 pm

    Oh Fresno, the armpit of California…

    @Lynn Kendall: I actually grew up thinking of Ukiah as the local big… well, not city, but definitely town. Within the admittedly small context of Mendocino County, though, the laughing stock was Laytonville:

    I want to be a Laytonville Legend
    Sleep with all the high school freshmen.
    I don't care if I get arrested
    'Cause I'll be a Laytonville Legend!

    This even though our county also contained Boonville, CA.

    One of the themes of E. Annie Proulx's The Shipping News was "Newfie jokes" as the main character left his urban home to move back to his family homestead in Newfoundland.

  51. Benjamin Massot said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 4:51 pm

    @Morgan: I don't personally confirm that we Frenchies make espacially fun of the Flamish speaking Belgians, because I mocked Belgians far before I got to know that there aren't only French speaking Belgians.

    @Michael: no, those anti-Belgian jokes aren't that funny, I totally agree with you. But I'm still inclined to tell a not so bad one from time to time (shame on me…).

  52. Des Power said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 6:44 pm

    I'm surprised that no-one has mentioned the Daddy of them all — Polish jokes :-)

    My favourite Australian town name (not necessarily joked about) is "Come-by-Chance". It says it all for remoteness.

  53. George Amis said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 7:23 pm

    A. Cucamonga's name is funny in itself, but it gained considerable exposure as part of a running gan on the Jack Benny show. Those of a certain age will remember Mel Blanc, as a railway station announcer, calling out, "Anaheim, Azusa, and Cuc [long pause, during which several lines of dialogue might be spoken] amonga!"

    B. I'm surprised no one has mentioned Boring, Oregon, which is near the Boring Lava Field. But of course it's not a very interesting place.

  54. Rick S said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 8:34 pm

    Lynne Kendall beat me to the punch with Bugs Bunny's Cucamonga (I had forgotten the Jack Benny joke), but she forgot the other Bugs funny city: "I knew I should have turned left at Albuquerque". (To me it's funny for the double-q and prevalence of u's.)

    Some years ago here in "tiny" Richmond, VA, we used to snicker and sneer at the residents of nearby Short Pump (named after its central and only landmark—yes, an actual short pump). Unfortunately, we had to stop when it became the place to build planned and gated communities. Now all the mucky-mucks live there.

  55. Simon Cauchi said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 10:05 pm

    The archetypal (imaginary) rural small town in New Zealand is Waikikamukau. The phonetic spelling is meant to look like Maori and sound like English.

  56. dr pepper said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 10:06 pm

    Well i live in Santa Maria. That's a half hour drive to Lompoc, a bit longer to Pismo Beach. There are no jokes in particular about either of them here. In fact the only local place to make fun of is Tanglewood, a subdivision on the western edge that's sort of isolated. It has a reputation for being rural, poor, ignorant, etc. But i've been there, it's a quiet place full of family homes.

    For California in general, there's really nowhere to designate as "hickville". In California you're only a hick if you have to drive more than an hour to find a mall.

  57. Ric said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 10:19 pm

    Ridicule about regions, cities, and their inhabitants seem to be a universal phenomenon. In Germany, almost every region has their image, and jokes make it flourish.

    One of the most productive regions is Eastern Friesa in the north of Lower Saxony. (Example: Why does an Eastern Friesian take a gun and a match when he goes to bed? – With the gun, he shoots the light out, and with the match he checks if he hit.) Bavaria is singled out for jokes, too, the Northeners refer to it as Dunkeldeutschland (dark Germany), which is a reference to the social conservatism of the region.

    On Brandenburg: The jokes about it are fairly recent and show in my opinion the prejudices of the west Berliners against the formerly socialistic east. Brandenburg stands for "ostalgia", the nostalgia for the socialistic times, and for the success of nazi parties is eastern Germany. In fact, the nazi football hooligan from Brandenburg is a cliché that is joked about regularly. And to correct Kate, it was Brandenburg that refused the fusion with Berlin, less than 23% of the electorate voted, and 63% voted no.

    Hamburg has its own New Jersey, Pinneberg. The regional code on number plates is PI, which is said to stand for provincial idiot.

    As for intrinsically funny names, I'd go for Buxtehude. It features in several humorous poems, and of course Wanne-Eickel and Castrop-Rauxel, two non-descript cities in the Ruhr Area. One joke says that Castrop-Rauxel is Latin for Wanne-Eickel. It appears the letter x is intrinsically funny.

  58. Dan T. said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 10:39 pm

    I grew up in Poughkeepsie, New York, a place that's sometimes joked about in pop culture. New Yorkers know it as the end of the line on the suburban commuter train leaving from Grand Central on the Hudson Line.

  59. Spectre-7 said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 11:14 pm

    I simply can't believe that no one has mentioned Oxnard, California.

  60. Joshua said,

    September 28, 2008 @ 12:29 am

    In Jewish humor, the city of Chelm is portrayed as a town populated entirely by fools. The real-life Chelm is a city in eastern Poland; I don't know how this particular city got that reputation.

  61. Östen Dahl said,

    September 28, 2008 @ 5:29 pm

    Wikipedia says about Bielefeld: "With its population of 326,000, it is the biggest city of the Ostwestfalen-Lippe Region" — this makes it at least 30 times as big as Wasilla, Alaska. So one can wonder why Alex Gajic calls it "smallish"? It is not the first time I have seen Bielefeld (where I once spent a semester) being referred to in this way — John Le Carré ("The Constant Gardener", ch. 16) calls it "the little town of Bielefeld near Hanover" – actually the distance to Hanover is 100 kilometers.

  62. Kate said,

    September 28, 2008 @ 7:49 pm

    Ric, I stand corrected – I was sure that it was the snotty Berliners refusing to merge with the Brandenburg hicks! Fairly sure that's the way that an old roommate of mine who was born in Berlin told it to me though. Although in the context of this thread that's not very surprising.

    I had actually considered mentioning Pinneberg. So deeply have I had the regional prejudices of Hamburg ingrained in my subconscious, though, that I just thought, "Nah, Pinneberg doesn't really qualify, because Pinneberg really IS a joke."

    Terrible huh? In my mind the suburban horror of Pinneberg is best conveyed by the number of shiny new cars on the streets of Hamburg with custom Pinneberg license plates that read "PIMP". Photographic evidence, as well as classic Pinneberg bashing: http://www.mattwagner.de/2008/08/du-hast-es-geschafft.htm

    As for Bielefeld… I have no idea why it's considered so provincial, Östen. Maybe it's because "Bie" makes people associate with "bieder" and "feld" with farming? It's a mystery.

  63. Nathan Myers said,

    September 28, 2008 @ 8:04 pm

    In Hilo, Hawaii (that's "hee-loe"), we had plenty to choose from, but we usually chose Hakalau (rhymes with "wow"). Evidently the "k" wins in Hawaii, too. In Honolulu (which ought to be intrinsically funny, itself, but escaped by being near noplace bigger), it was Waianai.

  64. Chris said,

    September 28, 2008 @ 11:16 pm

    Let's not overlook in the UK, Hampton Wick ("I come from Hampton Wick, so I'm used to innuendo" – a line in The Knack that I went for a decade thinking was absurdist surrealism rather than rhyming slang) and in Australia, Moonee Ponds (honoured by Dame Edna as the choice of her birthplace)

  65. Francis Deblauwe said,

    September 28, 2008 @ 11:58 pm

    Being a Dutch-speaking Belgian a.k.a. a Fleming even though one that has lived for two decades in the US, I have to rectify what Morgan said about Belgium. The Dutch (inhabitants of the Netherlands) make fun of the Flemings (Dutch-speaking Belgians) while the French make fun of the Walloons and Bruxellois (French-speaking Belgians). In both cases, it's basically making fun of the small neighbor who speaks a "provincial" version of your cherished, "cultured" language. I'd think that the Germans feel that way about German-speaking Swiss too. Actually, for a while now, Belgium/Flanders (the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium) has seen a bit of a reversal in the way it's seen in the Netherlands. Now they think that it is a good place to live, to retire because the food is great, the people are friendly. There are quite a few popular songs that reflect that, e.g., "België (Is er leven op Pluto)" by Het Goede Doel, in which the singer ponders a wide range of countries, even planets to live and finally settles on Belgium. Another example is "Vlaanderen" by Paul van Vliet: "if I want to be free, I go to Flanders"; "if I want to have a laugh, I go to Flanders because they don't laugh as quickly there but when they do, it's a real laugh"; etc. Regarding the Belgian French-speakers, the moment they are successful they are automatically "annexed" by the French, e.g., Jacques Brel. It must be said that the Flemings love to tell silly jokes about the Dutch too, depicting them as penny-pinchers, e.g., Dutch housewives hanging out used toilet paper to dry after having washed it… I never understood this Belgium bashing by the Brits though. During World War I, Belgium was the great symbol of German ignominy: they destroyed a cultured, small country by for example burning down the centuries-old university library in Leuven (Louvain). Our king Albert I was considered quite a hero for "heroically" continuing the fight, I've seen British books on the topic.

  66. Trevor Stone said,

    September 29, 2008 @ 12:16 am

    In addition to making "Belgium" the most offensive word in the universe, Douglas Adams wrote two books about funny placenames: The Meaning of Liff and the Deeper Meaning of Liff. They matched names like Throcking and Wetwang to everyday concepts that needed words like the act of jiggling the toaster to get the bread back up and, naturally, a moist penis. Most of the places are in the British Isles.

    In Colorado, Utah is often found to be inherently funny, but that's mostly a surrogate for making fun of Mormons. They do have a town named Moroni, which sounds pretty funny to me in a 7-year-old way.

  67. baylink said,

    September 29, 2008 @ 12:25 am


    And nobody mentioned Schenectedy…


  68. Laurent C said,

    September 29, 2008 @ 5:25 am

    I think French equivalents for New Jersey would be Picardie and Nord (from which you can commute to Paris). We make a lot of silly jokes about the Belgians, but they are generally viewed as kind people, and Belgium as a nice place. What's more, these jokes aren't about the Belgians being (supposedly) rural.

  69. Richard Sabey said,

    September 29, 2008 @ 5:38 am

    Hedgie mentioned Lower Peeover and Upper Peeover. In fact the names are Lower Peover and Over Peover. Peover is pronounced as if "peever".

    Another name Hedgie mentioned, Milton Keynes, is interesting in that this new town was named after a small village in the area encompassed by this town. Like some other villages (e.g. Cheriton Fitzpaine and Acton Beauchamp), its name has two elements, one of which identifies the Norman family that owned the manor. So now we have a town of some 200,000, with a name that suggests a small village.

    For those who like references to pee, there's the river Piddle which flows through the villages of Piddletrenthide and Piddlehinton.

  70. greg said,

    September 29, 2008 @ 8:22 am

    I grew up in Durham, NC and one of the small towns nearby was Bahama. With a long second A. That got lots of jokes about the country bumpkins going on their honeymoon and/or vacations there. Of course, North Carolina is also home to the town of Bat Cave. And Cherryville, which is pronounced Churvul. And you can't forget the towns near the state border with Virginia named Norlina and Virgilina.

  71. Ralph Hickok said,

    September 29, 2008 @ 10:59 am

    The train station PA announcer on Jack Benny's show was Mel Blanc. The announcement would typically be heard three or four times and, after the final iteration, Blanc would plead, "Doesn't anyone want to go to Cucamonga?"

    During the Sixties, "Cucamonga" became a slang term for "crazy," as in, "He's totally Cucamonga."

  72. Ben Teague said,

    September 29, 2008 @ 11:01 am

    Tennesseans run down people from all other states. And natives of my homeland, East Tennessee, hold Middle and West Tennesseans in scorn.

    The settlers of Georgia, where I now live, were nothing if not inventive namers. If we ever get gasoline again we will be just a short drive from Split Silk, Between, and Social Circle.

    Texas has a town called North Zulch (but no contrasting Zulches which it is north of).

  73. DaiBando said,

    September 29, 2008 @ 1:53 pm

    Puyallup here in Washington state has already been mentioned (pee-all-up or pew-al-up or any of several other versions). But my favorite is the little town of George, followed closely by Pe El.

  74. Bryn LaFollette said,

    September 29, 2008 @ 2:18 pm

    Being a Californian with many generations of Californians before me, I always had the impression of hicksville being where much of my family hailed from: Corning, which is near the bigger city of Redding. I don't know if it's just me, but it seems like my friends and family from California seem to hold the same impression of Redding (most have never heard of Corning). Most of the time I don't think anyone even thinks about Redding much, but it seems to evoke that deep-seated sense of rural isolation.

    As for the places that are the butts of jokes, the clear winners are Fresno and Bakersfield. But something that hasn't been touched on yet is that this idea of places that are inherently funny (or just jokes in of themselves) is something that scales to any locale. New York City certainly seems to have this idea not just about New Jersey be even places with itself, like Brooklyn or Queens versus Manhattan. In Los Angeles there's plenty of jokes about the "beautiful" San Fernando Valley (where one can find Reseda, as already mentioned). For example: Why is it always so much hotter in The Valley? Because it's very close to Hell.

  75. Olga said,

    September 29, 2008 @ 2:23 pm

    A. Bielefeld.

    I lived for several years in Bielefeld, and I can confirm that it doesn't exist. @ Östen Dahl: ~300,000 people makes it a medium-sized town; I'm surprised that it is that big though. Seems smaller. "Near to Hannover" is of course rubbish; 100km is not near by German standards.

    B. Wanne-Eickel
    The non-existing Kreis Wanne-Eickel definitely should be mentioned. I think Wanne-Eickel used to exist as a Kreis (an administrative unit in Germany) and then it got re-arranged together with Herne into Herne-Wanne and Herne-Eickel. "Wanne" means tub, as in bathtub. And Eickel is funny because of the after the ; an unusual spelling that doesn't haave an impact on the pronunciation, as far as I know.

    C. North Pole, Alaska
    North Pole is to Fairbanks what Wasilla is to Anchorage: The place where the civilized people don't go because that's where the rednecks are.

  76. Bryn LaFollette said,

    September 29, 2008 @ 2:26 pm

    I forgot to mention, as for funny names in California, I always thought Firebaugh sounded pretty funny, but on that same trip (from Santa Cruz to Los Angeles) I would also pass through Castroville, self appointed artichoke capitol of the of world.

    Also, there's Chico. Where one can find Chico State (one of the California State Universities). This is a place that sounds like Bugs Bunny or Jack Benny should have poked fun at, even if they didn't.

  77. mollymooly said,

    September 29, 2008 @ 2:39 pm

    In Ireland: a terrible TV comedy show picked on Ahascragh, Co. Galway (hometown of the host); but while there are places used in the standard jokes (Kerry for stupidity, Cavan for miserliness, etc.) I don't know any placename that can invoke a set of stereotypes just by being mentioned.
    There are Irish placenames often quoted as sounding funny: these include the towns of Muff, Ballybunion, Termonfeckin, Tubbercurry, Nobber, and Hackballscross; the Rivers Suck and Inny; and Macgillycuddy's Reeks, the highest mountains in the land. Foreigners find Dingle, Kilkenny, Stepaside, and Stillorgan funny, but they don't work for natives as they're too well known.

  78. Martyn Cornell said,

    September 29, 2008 @ 3:03 pm

    Nick – Essex girl and Surrey girl jokes are NOT interchangeable, since the stereotypical Essex girl is (and one set of my ancestors comes from Essex, so I'm allowed to say this) a thick working-class slag, while the stereotypical Surrey girl is (and another set of my ancestors comes from Surrey, so I'm alowed to say this too) a thick upper middle class Sloane.

    Mollymooly – I thought Dubliners joked about Stillorgan by calling it "Mickey Marbh" (ie "Dead Dick")?

  79. Ric said,

    September 29, 2008 @ 3:25 pm

    Kate, thanks for the Pinneberg bashing, almost made me feel homesick.

    As for Bielefeld: The Bielefeld Conspiracy was actually a satire on conspiracy theories rather than on Bielefeld. But I always thought that Bielefeld was the perfect choice, though I'm hard pressed to give a reason. I've never been there. (And I've never missed it.) It's in fact the 18th largest city in Germany. (I looked it up.) I was surprised to hear it, which may explain why it ended up the butt of this particular joke.

    On the net, I found some older jokes on Bielefeld. A Carl Zuckmayr quote: "Sehn wir uns nicht in dieser Welt, dann sehn wir uns in Bielefeld." (If we don't meet in this world, I'll see you in Bielefeld.)

    And a headline in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: "Bielefeld – The Queen of Non-Cities".

  80. Forrest said,

    September 29, 2008 @ 6:59 pm

    Wow … I grew up in Lebanon, Connecticut; Willimantic was the next town over. In its heyday, a century ago, it was a happening place. There was a railroad, a mill on the river, etc. Today, it's a small, failed town, with a few artifacts, and a lot of drugs.

  81. doglove said,

    September 29, 2008 @ 7:09 pm

    That's probably one of the nicest things anyone has ever said about Willimantic!

  82. doglove said,

    September 29, 2008 @ 7:11 pm

    Climax, Colorado!

  83. doglove said,

    September 29, 2008 @ 7:15 pm

    Roach motels? They do know Willimantic!

  84. Will said,

    September 29, 2008 @ 7:39 pm

    California town jokes, other than the ones to the detriment of Central Valley cities, can always capitalize on the state's national reputation as being "the land of fruits and nuts"–and the general derision that cynical non-Californians take of the state's gooey-happy-hippy feeling. The outsider, then, can get special glee out of driving through the town Harmony, on the central coast, population 8.

  85. Sandra Wilde said,

    September 29, 2008 @ 7:58 pm

    Drain, Oregon.

    I always thought Winnipegosis, Manitoba and Athol, New Brunswick were funny, but the locals didn't get the joke.

  86. Mark Liberman said,

    September 29, 2008 @ 9:09 pm

    Sandra Wilde: I always thought Winnipegosis, Manitoba and Athol, New Brunswick were funny, but the locals didn't get the joke.

    A joke that I've heard about several Massachusetts politicians, from families old enough to have had a city or town named after them:

    "X is the only person in the state to have had three separate towns named after him: X, Marble Head, and Athol."

    It helps the joke if you over-articulate "Athol" so as to rhyme with "path mole" (though I think the locals reduce the second syllable).

  87. Paul said,

    September 30, 2008 @ 7:39 am

    Not so much the butt of jokes, but amusing place names nevertheless: County Durham (in the north of England) has villages called Pity Me and No Place. And I did once see a bus driving through Durham City which was carrying advertisements for a local police anti-crime initiative, on its way to Crook.

  88. Stephen Jones said,

    September 30, 2008 @ 8:12 am

    I guess nowadays Slough has a similar reputation. Which might explain why my brother moved there.

    Slough (which is where the original British version of The Office was set) has always had that reputation.

    Betjeman's poem, Slough, springs to mind.

    Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
    It isn't fit for humans now,
    There isn't grass to graze a cow.
    Swarm over, Death!

  89. Stephen Jones said,

    September 30, 2008 @ 8:16 am

    And seeing PC seems to have gone out the window, here's my favourite Irish joke.

    "Why are Irish jokes so stupid?"
    "So the English can understand them."

  90. Joanna said,

    September 30, 2008 @ 10:19 am

    Yes, Kokomo is funny, but I submit for your inspection Gnaw Bone, Indiana.

    In Central Florida where I grew up, it was always (a) Bithlo, and (b) Mims. One didn't really need to make a joke, just mentioning the names was enough.

  91. John Mark Ockerbloom said,

    September 30, 2008 @ 2:01 pm

    When I moved to Pennsylvania, I first lived in Pittsburgh (also featured in a few Bugs Bunny quips, and a famous Calvin and Hobbes cartoon), before relocating to Philadelphia. I've mostly heard Philly jokes from folks in other parts of the state, many of whom think that Philly is a hellhole that's sucking up everyone else's tax dollars.

    West Virginia was also a common butt of jokes about narrow family trees and the like. (And I suspect that wasn't just the case in western PA.)

  92. Matt said,

    September 30, 2008 @ 9:27 pm

    All right, the Southern Californians may or may not know Cudahy, a place name I've always laughed at while driving (slowly through traffic) through it. It's near the cities of Commerce and Industry, so they didn't exactly have inspired neighbors. I don't know anyone who's ever stopped in Cudahy, and many SoCal natives probably don't know it exists.

    My favorite isn't intrinsically funny, but it's funny once you know a little about it: Harbor City is not a city – it's a district of Los Angeles – and it has no harbor in its boundaries. (It does, however, have a lake made famous by the feral alligator Reggie.)

  93. Kate said,

    September 30, 2008 @ 9:49 pm

    Mark L: Athol, Massachussets???

    That is too weird – there's an Athol in Idaho, and they do pronounce it to rhyme with "path hole".

    When I was on road trips with my parents, any sign with Athol on it was good for about 10 minutes of improvised comedy.

    (Same deal with Grand Coulee, Washington – "Look at this dam town! Wonder if the people here ever get tired of their dam jobs?" but I digress)

    Anyway, I figured that some overbearing Mr. Athol gave his name to all those Athol towns, but I looked it up on Wikipedia and found that there are no less than 12 towns named Athol or some variation. 15 if you count towns named Atholl. From Nova Scotia to South Africa, Athols everywhere.

    The original Atholl is Scottish though, and the name seems to derive from the Gaelic. There's even a Scottish military regiment called the Atholl Highlanders.

    Wow. Who knew.

  94. Achim said,

    October 1, 2008 @ 11:02 am

    a) Bielefeld: In a way, Bielefeld is near Hannover, as there isn't much to see on the way. That it's a conspiracy is quite clear – I never have met anyone who has an idea of what Bielefeld should be like and where it is. But "they" went to some extent: a fake railway station where I changed trains more than once, and a fake university with a considerable reputation in linguistics (in my time, at least). It is situated in a very ironic region: Ostwestfalen – East West Phalia. (Reminds of my wife telling about her high school exam in Geography: She was so stunned by the phrase "West Siberia" on the task sheet that she lost about half an hour to sort out where that might be.)

    b) Dunkeldeutschland: I use that term ("dark Germany") to refer to the East, not Bavaria. The connotation is one of a region populated with boring, bureaucratic, xenophobic ex-Communists. And the region is full of weird placenames, especially in Saxony. Just look on the map…

  95. Sam said,

    October 2, 2008 @ 7:49 am

    @dr pepper

    I dunno, it always took me more than an hour to get to the mall, and I lived in LA.

    For intrinsically funny California places, I'll second Fresno, Bakersfield, Azusa, and (now Rancho) Cucamonga.

    But I would have to add Hollister, which is a one-horse town south of Gilroy that has been successfully positioned as a clothing label.

  96. Alan Shaw said,

    October 6, 2008 @ 12:30 am

    The Mass. politician joke as I heard it in the late 1960s was about Endicott Peabody, who of course had _four_ towns named after him: Endicott, Peabody, Marblehead, and Athol.

    Johnny Carson used to speak of the _Slauson_ Cutoff, not Schlossen.

    Newfoundland has a town named Dildo.

    And jeez, what about Ho-ho-kus, New Jersey?

  97. M. Oxley said,

    October 6, 2008 @ 11:46 pm

    In my experience, Waco is the butt of many jokes in Texas.

  98. Aaron Davies said,

    October 16, 2008 @ 12:01 pm

    I'm probably revealing more about my political leanings that I ought to in this crowd by mentioning Rio Linda….

  99. Amy Stoller said,

    November 13, 2008 @ 7:48 pm

    Ooops! Alan Shaw is absolutely right – Slauson cutoff, not Schlossen.

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