Arecent survey of 1,000 Americans by an advertising agency voted New York the most humourless city in the country. Sometimes I can believe it - visit another major city like Chicago and often you are shocked at how polite and relaxed people can be. But, to someone who calls New York home, the guy in the cafe who asks 'How you doing?' is not being nice: he is wasting your time when he could be pouring coffee. Then you have the often stiflingly politically correct demands of a typical office in New York. In that environment, laughing at the wrong joke can easily get you into trouble with the human resources department. It's all about compliance-this and legal-liability-that. It was not so many months ago that a securities analyst got fired for putting a picture of his own face on an image of a woman's body on the front of a report. Last weekend there was even less reason for being lighthearted: our mayor and police chief had declared a terrorist alert - which turned out to be a false alarm. But hang on a second: New York is nothing if not a city of massive contradictions. Last weekend, apart from the terrorist alert, I had the chance to attend dozens of performances of comedians at the NYC Underground Comedy Festival. More than 300 acts appeared in over 400 shows in the city's clubs, libraries and hospitals. Mayor Mike Bloomberg, known for his pungent, sometimes off-colour jokes before he got into politics, delighted in the dangers of the festival. 'We urge New Yorkers to exercise caution when drinking in the embarrassment of comedic riches,' he declared. Certainly, nothing was off limits. There were jokes about the city government's complaint hotline 311 ('should you dial this number instead of the emergency number 911 when the mugger demands only one-third of the money in your wallet?'); the ethnic makeup of the city ('I am a foreign-language teacher in a New York high school. I teach English.'); and even 9/11 ('I got married two weeks after September 11th. My wife told people one horrible disaster deserves another.'). Many jokes couldn't possibly be repeated in a family newspaper. Established by a Wall Street trader turned comedian only two years ago, this laughter feast has grown from a three-night performance in a theatre basement into the country's biggest showcase of humour, sarcasm and pranks. As for the 'humourless' tag, comedian Sharon Simon offered a serious answer. 'New Yorkers have a great sense of humour. But they also read more, know more and are serious on many things,' she said. 'It takes more to make New Yorkers laugh.'