A day or two after legendary comedian Joan Rivers died last month an old quote of hers resurfaced in Kansas City newspapers and online blogs: “I just played Kansas City…The only time you want to visit there is if you’re going to make an emergency landing in a plane crash. They are really dumb there. Americans are smart on both coasts, but then as you move to the center of the country, the people get dumber and dumber and dumber. And the apex of stupidity is Kansas City.”
While it’s certainly among the most caustic riffs a comedian has made about KC, Rivers’ quote (from a 1985 London performance) wasn’t the only time a well-known national comedian has mocked KC’s shortcomings. In a 2012 episode of his edgy, often brilliantly funny semi-fictional show Louie, New York-based comedian Louis C.K. vents about Kansas City:
Louie (on the phone with his agent): “Why’d you book me in KC? They hate me there.” Louie’s agent talks him into doing a live phone interview with a Kansas City radio station, which turns out to be one of those inane shock-jock shows with a blathering DJ exchanging indecipherable patter with a braying sidekick. Frustrated with the interview, Louie half-jokingly says “Kansas City is the worst town I’ve ever been in…What a dump! It’s the worst city in North America, and that includes Canada and Mexico.”
Louie’s Kansas City slam probably stemmed from a real-life bad experience Louis C.K. had headlining at Stanford’s comedy club. He related the incident to Jay Leno in 2011 on The Tonight Show, on which he called Kansas City “a terrible place.” And Jay Leno himself has taken a few potshots at Kansas over the years. During the summer 2012, in the midst triple-digit temperature heatwave, Leno quipped: “It was so hot in Kansas yesterday, the people there were glad there is nothing to do in the entire state.”
Meanwhile, New York comedian Jerry Seinfeld has aired views similar to Rivers about comedy and the coasts—only Seinfeld maintains that people become less funny the farther away they live from the East Coast (New York City). So, following Seinfeld’s rule, Los Angeles would be the least funny city.
Kansas City, like many other cities, states and areas will always remain fodder for comedians, but Kansas City’s reputation for being a city full of rubes has become dated. After all, the KC metro area boasts a host of comedy clubs (including the Improv Comedy Club at Zona Rosa and the Legends’ Stanford and Sons), an annual improv event (the KC Improv Festival) and a crop of highly successful homegrown funnymen (actors/comedians Paul Rudd, Jason Sudeikis, Rob Riggle and Eric Stonestreet).
Kansas City’s culture has evolved to become much more diverse over the past 30 years or so, particularly during the booming economy of the 1990s. Much like KC cuisine has improved over the years to include ethnic delights, so has KC culture grown to foster comedians and support comedy clubs.