You are now entering Carlisle, a town with a joke on every corner

David Lister,Media,Culture Editor
Thursday 20 April 2000 00:00 BST

Sunderland is the unfunniest place in Britain. But it is a close-run thing. They might be just as humourless in Coventry and Bristol, if they sobered up in time to attempt a joke.

Sunderland is the unfunniest place in Britain. But it is a close-run thing. They might be just as humourless in Coventry and Bristol, if they sobered up in time to attempt a joke.

Carlisle, previously unsung as a hotbed for humorists, is the country's comedy king.

A nationwide search for Britain's best amateur pub joker has unearthed some surprising results about regional comedy. Judged on their willingness to get up on stage; the number of jokes told; the originality of material; and laughter/reaction of audiences, the most humourous towns and cities were Carlisle, Liverpool, Southampton, Aberdeen, Newcastle upon Tyne, Portsmouth, Hartlepool, Nottingham, Oxford, Leeds, Norwich and Sheffield. They all produced local characters who exemplified pub humour at its best.

Also revealed were comedy blackspots (Glasgow, Manchester and London), areas with the bluest jokes (Brighton and Glasgow), friendliest audiences (Leeds and Norwich), most hecklers (Swansea and Wolverhampton). Too drunk to stand up and tell a joke were locals in Coventry and Bristol. Pub customers in Blackpool and Maidstone were too shy.

Throughout the past two months, the Batchelor's Cup A Soup Extra Comedy Challenge undertook the task of finding Britain's best undiscovered pub joker. The search kicked off with regional heats at 77 Yates Wine Lodges and was followed up by 10 regional finals. The winner of the national final in London next week will receive £10,000, Britain's biggest comedy prize.

The typical regional jokes are somewhat indicative of the cities where they are told. Liverpudlian humour remains self deprecating, as in: Why do women go out with scousers? To get their handbags back.

But Carlisle, too, seems to see itself as the butt of its jokes, to judge from two told at the regional heats: What do you call a Carlisle man with 500 girlfriends? A shepherd. The other was: Carlisle's so small, the first thing you buy is an A to C.

Common trends have emerged, with the most evident being that pub jokes are not always terribly funny; they also rely on stereotypes, which even the rise of alternative comedy has clearly failed to banish. A joke repeatedly told at the heats was: A brunette and a blonde jumped out of a plane. Who hit the ground first? The brunette. The blonde stopped to ask for directions.

David and Victoria Beckham were easily the most frequent celebrity targets for jokes. One gag that presumably sounded funnier after a few drinks than it does in the cold light of day, goes: Beckham and Posh are in their private jet and Posh says to Becks: "I'm going to throw a £50 note out of the window and make someone really happy". Beckham says: "Well, why don't you throw five £10 notes out and make five people happy?" The pilot, hearing all this, turns round and says: "Why don't the both of you throw each other out of the window and make everybody happy?"

More than 2,000 amateur comedians have taken part in the Comedy Challenge, with almost one in five a woman. The entertainer and professional clown James Lovell, who organised the judging, said: "The women tended to come on towards the end of the evening when they had plucked up Dutch courage. They would often have one great joke, tell it and then leave. I can honestly say that the jokes told by women were far ruder than those told by men." Only one woman has made the finals.

Mr Lovell described British pub humour as a key element of the nation's social interaction. "Pubs are an essential part of British life and every pub has its resident funny man or woman," he said.

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