“Did you get me a ticket??” I texted my friend, who was already inside. Clearly I had underestimated the extent of the monthly event’s cult following.
This month’s competition was a long one, showcasing 22 competitors. The night began with a wordplay warm-up, during which co-host Fred Firestone volleyed some question-and-answer puns, throwing out candy to the audience members who answered correctly or cleverly. After some banter between Fred and his co-host (and “alleged” daughter) Jo, the first group came up to receive their theme: B-list celebrities.
First-time participants and veterans had 90 seconds to come up with their material, during which guests led TV-theme-song sing-alongs. Competitors were ranked by applause from the audience, measured by the carefully calibrated Human Clap-o-Meter. There were four rounds in total.
As someone who couldn’t even muster up one pun for the announcement of the event, the whole thing was incredibly impressive. Competitors worked the audience in different ways, often playing on Brooklyn tropes. During the “Things That Upset Your Roommate” round, one punner played around with terms for weed, blaming his roommate’s poor oral hygiene for the “dirty pot” and talking about “roaches everywhere.” The crowd loved it, and as celebrity guest judge Eileen (I-Lean) Reynolds pointed out, “Pothead jokes are really safe here.”
Some participants weaved their puns into intricate and coherent narratives; one of the finalists, Punderdog, was praised highly for his tale of a friend and his loopy Vietnam-veteran uncle. Other times, the delivery came in quick, efficient punches. The biggest laugh of the night came from first-timer Bartoon’s (Bar Tune?) opening joke in the “Inventions” round:
“I met Alexander Graham Bell at a party but man, that guy is such a f*cking phony.”
By the final round I had realized what was so infectious about this unlikely punning competition: in a culture that relies so heavily on irony and nonchalance, here was a place of pure earnestness. Every punner up there cared about what he or she was doing, and every audience member was serious about electing the punmaster. And still, there was this sense of complete support from the audience of everyone who had the guts to get up there. Even the guest judges were hesitant to criticize too harshly. It was refreshing. More important, it was just really, really fun.
The reigning champion of the month was returning competitor Punda Express. Both finalists were given mystery prizes; Punda Express picked the Mystery Box which was hiding a “Ping-Pong Everywhere” set, and Punderdog went home with a painted portrait of Rodney Dangerfield.
Throw away any misconceptions you may have– punning is a skill. I would maybe even say it’s an art. I can’t wait to do it all again next month.