America’s first laughing championship comes to America’s Finest City
Alex Owens | Downtown News
San Diego is known as America’s Finest City. On April 6, it could also be the funniest, when the Westin Gaslamp hosts the country’s first-ever national laughing championship –no joke.
Between 10 and 14 of the best chortlers, guffawers and gigglers will be competing against each other to see who has the most contagious laughs, according to contest organizer Albert Nerenberg.
“How much you can get an audience laughing is key,” according to Nerenberg, a Montreal-based filmmaker who started organizing laughter contests a few years back while working on “Laughology,” a documentary about the power of laughter.
“Doing the film changed my life,” he admitted. “I was a very grim filmmaker, but working on this documentary showed me how serious laughter is.”
The contest is being held as part of the 26th Annual Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor (AATH), taking place April 4-7 also at the Westin.
The organization promotes how humor and laughter can improve health and happiness, but Nerenberg said one aim of the contest is to demonstrate the very distinct difference between humor and laughter.
“Laughter is universal, but humor differs between countries and cultures,” he said. “Comedians are not usually laughers, and are often miserable, but when you laugh at things, things become funny.”
Nerenberg actually got the idea for the contest while watching Ultimate Fighting Championship bouts.
“Before all these fights, there is a stare-down, and many times, the fighters begin to spontaneously laugh,” he said. “They triggered laughter through eye contact and their proximity to each other. This is not uncommon.”
The laughter contest is very serious to Nerenberg, who did a statewide competition two years ago before attempting a national event this time around.
Contestants are prequalified and the event is highly structured around some basic laughs, such as the belly laugh, the best Alabama knee-slapper, the maniacal laugh and the diabolical laugh.
The last one is the most challenging to Nerenberg.
“It’s a solo laugh that requires a good diaphragm,” he explained. “Whereas the other laugh styles require someone to get the audience laughing, a good diabolical laugh requires the laugher to infect himself and start laughing naturally.”
Just like basketball favors the tall, gymnastics the flexible and wrestling the brawny, laughter contests also favor certain types of people.
“It does favor people who laugh at everything,” Nerenberg said.
Holding a laughter contest at a Humor Therapist Convention is a natural, but Nerenberg believes San Diego is the perfect location for such an event.
“A lot of breakthrough phenomenon comes from the area, such as Jason Mraz and the Kony video,” he said, referring to some of San Diego’s newsmakers.
The winning guffawer will win bragging rights over lesser laughers and a giant “Cup of America” to take home.
“We’re not at the point where we can get cash,” he laughed.
Doors open for the laughter contest at 5:30 p.m. in the main ballroom of the Westin Gaslamp Hotel, 910 Broadway Circle, Downtown. Tickets are $20 at the door. For more information or presale tickets (it may sell out according to Nerenberg) email firstname.lastname@example.org. Interested contestants must prequalify by submitting a tape to email@example.com.
Alex Owens is a San Diego-based freelance writer.