When I listened to quiz shows on the radio as a child, it always puzzled me that whenever someone mentioned being from Brooklyn the audience would laugh. The people of Brooklyn, I gathered, had a reputation for naivete, or perhaps even for stupidity, and the rest of the country found these Brooklynites humorous.

But I never figured out what the "Brooklyn joke" was, nor was I - a boy who had seldom been outside of Michigan - even certain exactly where the city of Brooklyn was. Somewhere near New York City was all I knew.If there was a story that explained the poor reputation of Brooklyn, I never heard it. Since I haven't heard anyone laugh at a mention of Brooklyn for many years now, perhaps I'll never know why it was once considered a funny place to be from.

What might be called "dumbtown legends" continue to exist, though. They're stories about some alleged silly act of the past that forever branded the local residents as dodos. Recently I heard of two such legends about European towns - one German, the other English.

Perhaps there are similar dumbtown traditions with American settings that readers can report, or are Johnny Carson's jokes about the mediocre restaurants and nightlife of Burbank, Calif., all that's left of this vein of folk humor in the United States?

The German dumbtown legend concerns the small Black Forest town of Hornberg. I learned about it from a speaker at a recent folklore conference. He said the town is famous for the time its residents fired a cannon salute prematurely, using up all their gunpowder.

The Hornbergers had saluted the wrong person, a mere cowherd returning to the village. When the expected visiting dignitary arrived, the villagers were forced to greet him shouting in unison "Bang! Bang!" (or, in another version, "Piff Puff! Piff Puff!").

Since that time, even though the misfiring incident is completely unverifiable, many Germans describe a planned event that goes wrong by commenting, "It went off like (or it fizzled out like) the Hornberger Schiessen" ("the shooting at Hornberg").

Far from burying their silly legendary past, the people of Hornberg nowadays promote the cannon story and even stage an annual re-enactment of it for tourists. (Maybe Burbank should bring in fun buses and put on food fairs.)

The other European dumbtown legend I recently learned concerns the town of Hartlepool on the northeast coast of England. As the local newspaper, The Mail, summed it up, "The story goes that during the 19th century a monkey was washed ashore and mistaken for a French spy by the inhabitants of Hartlepool, who decided to take the precaution of hanging it."

The Napoleonic-era townsfolk presumably could not tell a monkey dressed in a military-style uniform from a French soldier.

This peculiar story - which turns out to have less famous counterparts in at least three other British towns - is the subject of a recent booklet called "Who Hung the Monkey?" written by the Hartlepudlian journalist and folklorist Paul Screeton.

Hartlepool, like Hornberg, celebrates its local legend, despite the negative image it projects of the town's early inhabitants.

The story, although very doubtful as actual history, has been told and retold in popular songs and poems, on postcards and in numerous articles. The best-known composition on the theme is a comic song composed in the 1860s that began: "In former times 'mid war and strife when French Invasion threatened life, an' all was ready to the knife, the fisherman hung the monkey O!"

More recently, residents of Hartlepool have depicted the legend in brick, wood and even in a glazed sugar tableau made by local members of the British Sugarcraft Guild. In 1989 a local pub sponsored a Monkey Beer Festival and introduced "Monkey Hanger Ale."

Hartlepudlians may as well accept their image, since, as the Mail once remarked, "Like it or loathe it, Hartlepool is stuck with its monkey-hanging legend."

But can anyone explain to me why Brooklyn used to be thought of as funny?