Talking to Jo Firestone, PUNdit of Park Slope

Talking to Jo Firestone, PUNdit of Park Slope

photo credit: Paul Logston

It’s all happening tonight: Jimmy Cliff kicks off Celebrate Brooklyn in Prospect Park. The Daily Show’s Hallie Haglund is telling stories (along with esteemed others, including FIPS’s Kerri Dougherty) at Union Hall. And at Littlefield, comedian-about-town Jo Firestone takes the stage to emcee this month’s Punderdome 3000, an evening of (very) competitive punning. Competitive punning that she cohosts with her father, Fred. Who flies in every month. From St. Louis. Where he moonlights as a Rodney Dangerfield impersonator. Really.

The premise of the Punderdome is pretty simple — 24 teams pun head-to-head on a given topic (the night the New Yorker was there, there was a “technology” round; when Capital New York went, categories included “Popular Allergies” and “The Periodic Table.”), the crowd votes on the winners via “Clap-o-Meter,” and the top two teams advance to the quarter finals. By then, celebrity judges start chiming in with feedback (Michael Showalter and Ophira Eisenberg have both been Punderdome panelists.) Finally, the competition’s winnowed down to two. Both win mystery prize boxes. One wins glory. [Note: fellow Brooklyn blogger Tim Donnelly is a longtime Punderdome champ]

photo credit: Paul Logston

We caught up with Jo, a semi-Park Slope resident herself (south-South Slope?), to get the rundown on the pun-down (sorry).

How did you and your dad end up getting this thing started? I know it was inspired by the O. Henry competition in Austin, but how did you get from there to “I will fill Southpaw” or now that Southpaw’s closed, “I will fill Littlefield with people and my dad and I will make them pun”?

I booked the space at Southpaw, sort of unsure of what I was gonna do there. That’s kinda the way I do stuff, book it and then figure it out.  So then I was talking to my boss who used to live in Austin and she was telling me about the pun competition there, and i thought, Brooklyn should have a pun competition, no question! And so it was to be a live game show-style pun competition. I was going to try and host it on my own, and I kept calling my dad asking him for advice — he’s somewhat of an amateur game show host. He owns a buzzer system that he keeps in the garage.), and then I just thought, why not have him come up and do it with me!? And so he did!

So did you grow up punning around the dinner table?

Neither my dad nor I can pun worth a damn. Maybe I could come up with a couple shitty ones with 3+ cups of coffee in me, but I don’t have the natural skills. We did spend a lot of time around the dinner table making conversation from those cards that have suggested conversation topics on them…I think they’re called “Table Talk”?? That may have inspired some terrible game show host conversation, but that’s a real stretch.

What’s the best pun you’ve heard? Not an audience favorite, necessarily, or a winner — just a personal favorite, something that struck you as hilarious?

Best pun may have been when the topic of the round was “OK Cupid.” This guy turned to the side and said “this is my online profile.” Wooey, that was a doozy!

Any tips for prospective competitors? What makes a Punderdome winner?

It’s all in the delivery. You can have a terrible pun, but if you can sell it, the audience will almost certainly vote you onto the next round.

Okay, last question: Why Park Slope?

We do it in Park Slope because we really love the crowd we get in Park Slope. If we were doing an underground music show, we’d probably go to Williamsburg. But we’re doing a pun show. We planted ourselves in book-writin’, crossword-doin’, literature-lovin’ Park Slope.