One of the unexplained aspects of Buentoilliçan folklore is the belief that if you were born in April, you have a good sense of humour. This isn’t to say that people born in other months lack something, but instead that April babies are somehow more prone to laughter and comedic careers. Whether this belief caused or is caused by today’s festival is a question for the scholars.
There is usually a big waiting list of babies to participate in today’s festival. In order to be considered for the prestigious position of Comedy Assessor, the babies have to have been born in the April of the previous year, and must have never seen any of the contestants before in their short lives. The breaking of these two rules has caused more than one upset in the past. The names of the babies are drawn out of a hat, and five of them are arranged onstage looking out at the audience in such a way that they cannot see their parents, who stand behind them. As they are carried into their special, supportive Assessor’s high chairs, their names and an interesting or funny fact about them is read out to the Audience:
‘This is Kimi Gulch, give a nice round of applause for Kimi everyone! Kimi’s favourite food is mushy peas, and she was once sick over the Chastise Church Hierarch!’
The contestants themselves are unannounced, but are given the time to announce themselves before their three minute timer begins to tick down, the time in which they must try to make all five babies laugh. They are not allowed to touch the babies, get too close, or take any props onstage with them to help in this endeavour. They are even given a regulation grey jumpsuit to ensure that any laughter produced is down to their natural comedic skills rather than assistive colourful outfits. At the end of their three minutes, any babies who either laughed or cried are taken offstage and a new baby is announced. Obviously parents are permitted to remove their babies from the competition at any point if they become distressed. Babies who fall asleep for longer than five minutes are also replaced.
There tend to be three main approaches to this momentous task: the ‘face-pull’, the ‘prance’ and the ‘stand-up’. The first two are relatively self-explanatory, and are often used in combination; the contestant draws attention to themselves with quick movements, then either jumps around like an animal or pulls silly faces, blows raspberries and makes laughter sounds to encourage replication from the babies. This approach usually centres in on one baby at a time, but hits major pitfalls if the baby’s attention is drawn elsewhere (by, for example, an errant dove), or if the baby is instead scared by the outlandish sight before them.
With the third option, the contestant tries to affect all the babies at once, but it tends to be less certain to produce any results. The ‘stand-up’ is, once again, relatively self explanatory; contestants perform a comedic stand-up routine for the benefit of both the babies and the audience. Some attempt to do this via jokes they believe babies would find funny, whereas others try primarily to make the adult audience laugh, hoping that the contagion will spread to the babies, who look out at them. Again, a mixture of the two tends to be a common approach, and the jokes themselves tend to be baby-themed and normally observational in nature, from the baby’s point of view (‘have you noticed how the service around these parts keeps getting worse? They expect us to chew our own food now?!’), although they do frequently breach into the surreal of bizarre.
The fastest ever contestant was Jill Damean, a nursery leader from Tallboys district who chose the ‘face-pull’ technique with a smattering of ‘prance’ for good measure. With this method she had all five babies laughing in 32 seconds, although there was some controversy as the contestant she pushed into second place claimed that the fifth child was actually laughing at a loose balloon. The contest was over that year within an hour, although on some occasions it has taken rather longer.
In one particularly memorable instance the contest took over four hours. This was in part due to poor weather (the festival was held outside that year, on a stage in Revolution Park, but has since been moved inside to The New Municipal Heinbrow Theatre), but was the primary cause was one single baby: Urtham Verdin, whose favourite food was fish paste and who was apparently very particular with their choice of spoon, with which they ate the paste. Despite valiant attempts to make this seemingly humourless child laugh, attempts which encompassed all three approaches, the baby maintained a serious stony-faced grump throughout, a fact which actually led to raucous laughter from most of the audience. Urtham stared out thirty six contestants before they eventually fell asleep.
In an interview with The Buentoilliçan Record, Verdin’s parents, Sal and Myte expressed their surprise at their baby’s lack of humour: ‘Maybe he had a bit of wind, who knows! He’s not usually like that, he laughed yesterday when the cat fell off the table […] They gave us a special certificate and everything. Yes, I’m sure we’ll bring this one up a lot when he’s older!’
Other festivals happening today:
- The Festival of Untimely Crops
- The Day of the Draughty Soul
- The Oat Cake Festival