Eugene’s Gross Domestic Laughter Index is Rising

The Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce and The Register-Guard hosted their annual Economic Forecast this week, bringing some of the state’s top economists together to assess Lane County’s recent history and future prospects.

I wasn’t at the event on Monday. I joined a different panel of experts the night before, as one of a half dozen judges for Lane County’s 20th Annual Laff Off, choosing the area’s funniest person.

As it turns out, both panels came to the same conclusion.

Economists look at reams of data — unemployment numbers, construction permits, vacancy rates, airport traffic. These and many other factors were considered before they stepped onto the Hilton stage.

They pronounced our region healthy and thriving in ways unseen in their 21 years of analyses. As long as we continue to gain, train and retain talented workers, they see a bright future ahead.

The night before we confirmed there’s plenty of talent here. The two surveys should be taken together. Quantity of output and quality of life — who’d really want one without the other?

Economists quantified our area’s productivity and efficiency. As Laff Off judges, we did something similar. Our scoring can get quite technical, so don’t worry if it sounds overly complex. After 20 years, we’re trained professionals. We determined whether everyone was having a good time.

“Right now, Eugene is a hotbed of comedy and tonight’s Laff Off proved it,” announced organizer Leigh Anne Jasheway. “So many comics were equal to, or better than, those anywhere in the country!”

We deemed the local comedic workforce so talented that we gave the “funniest person” honor this year to two people instead of one.

Zachary Fish confessed that he’s unable to keep up with all the characters his daughter tracks during “My Little Pony” episodes, choosing instead to preserve his finite mental resources for doing his job at Lane Transit District and paying household bills.

“Sometimes I feel like the Apollo 13 crew, trying to get home on limited power: ‘We can turn everything off and just barely get back to earth. Or we can microwave a Hot Pocket. Mmmm! A Hot Pocket sounds pretty good right now.’” I’ve never heard a better metaphor for modern man’s daily dilemma.

Then there was Fish’s co-champion, Lucy Glass, who wished she had the skills of a ventriloquist, only so she could carry on a conversation with her dentist during her checkup. She added gratuitous difficulty to her five-minute routine by structuring some of her jokes as haiku, just to show she could — or almost could.

In 20 years of evaluating local comedic talent, I’ve never seen a stronger line-up. One third of the 22 comedians who took the stage could have been crowned funniest in any other year. We saw both depth of insights and breadth of styles.

More importantly, the audience loved it. I’m not talking about polite laughter, tossing chuckles at craven beggars holding microphones. This was spontaneous, involuntary, physically contorted laughter. The full house at Actors Cabaret left exhausted from appreciation.

We heard how hard it is for a lesbian who is over 6 feet tall and built like a lumberjack to find love in Lane County. We were asked why it’s considered necessary to wash our hands after — but not before — using the restroom. Or why yelp.com doesn’t offer recommendations for vasectomies.

Sometimes you can see the edginess better than the edges themselves. We’ve definitely widened our scope of discourse over the past 20 years, but it cannot easily be quantified. If it was tallied and shown as a pie chart, it should land on somebody’s face.

We laugh harder, and at more things, than we used to. We take ourselves less seriously. That makes everything a little bit easier.

Whether it’s getting incorrect change at McDonald’s, feeling offended by somebody’s political incorrectness, or losing your turn at a busy four-way stop sign, life is easier if there’s a smile somewhere in it. That preserves our energy — expressed here in haiku:

More for what matters — building our collective wealth — not that Hot Pocket.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs