I just spent the last four days in Austin, TX and although I saw some great music and ate BBQ until my veins ran thick with BBQ sauce, the true reason for this trip was to compete at the 36th Annual O.Henry Pun-Off World Championship.
There are two categories to the competition. You can perform a rehearsed, 90 second pun-filled song or story like Diana Gruber's superhero tale.
"I'm Punderwoman!!" Diana shouts, dressed in her Punderwoman costume as the audience claps and laughs. "I just blew in from DC. It's a Marvelous place!
Then there's the Punslinger competition where 32 participants go head-to-head, two at a time, flinging puns back and forth on a single topic. Each person has only 5 seconds to get a pun out. Here, the topic was bugs.
"I flew Spirit Airlines. It's my favorite Locust carrier."
"Anybody who becomes an elected official, you have to watch out because your termite end."
"Did Michael Jackson leave a black widow?"
Combined, these two competitive word battles went on for 5 hours straight, no breaks, and the winner of both competitions was Benjamin Ziek, who flew in from Glendale, CA. Ben, a hotel night auditor and improvisor, has found a community and a lot of trophies in the Pun-Off.
"I've never been an athlete," said Ben while gripping his two trophies, each adorned with a horse's behind. "I've never had any awards in sports. But I found this thing that I'm really good it. Just to find something you're really good at and then you can to win, it's just a wonderful thing. It makes me feel like I've done something with my life, although I'm not quite sure what."
Gary Hallock has been the lead MC and producer of the event for the past 23 years. He says punning is an actual affliction.
"Paronomasia is the actual term for the condition of the propensity to pun. It's a blessing and a curse. It's a curse mostly for other people who have to live with you. It's a blessing for us because, if you are one of us, you know that you hear a word or you see a word and you see other words inside of it, around it, between it. So it's distracting to you. It's very much like dyslexia in that they won't be quiet. The puns will not be ignored."
These punsters were amazing. Sean and I didn't even have a chance. We both went out embarassingly quickly. Sean's topic was photography.
"At Christmas I enjoy looking at the negativity scene," Sean punned to a clapping crowd.
But he couldn't get his last pun in before the 5 second bell.
"I'm gonna flash you all," he said as the bell rang.
"Sean, sorry you didn't last longer," said the emcee. "I shudder at what you would have come up with next."
I didn't fare much better on the topic of flowers.
"As Bill Clinton once said, read my tulips." I punned.
"I knew you would arose to that occasion." Punned my opponent, Jay Rosenberg.
"Well, I am a member of this great carnation." I punned back.
But I only got out one more pun before freezing up.
Anyone who thinks that punning is the lowest form of humor, would have their opinion changed by this event. You have to be quick, witty and smart. Two of the finalist punned back and forth for over 20 minutes on the topic of diseases.
As for me, I want to go back next year, and I am obsessively thinking of flower puns that I didn't come up with on stage. Maybe I was in a daze-y but I hope they'll violet me compete next year so I can take home the marigold!
We wanted to thank everyone who contributed to our Kickstarter campaign, who helped fund our documentary, which will be out in September 2013.
Donors who we thank with big Internet hugs:
Nurse Andy, Joseph Hawkins, Mike McCawley, Ron Upshaw, Jake Uitti, Laurel Kate Sittig, Louis Melancon, Jami Nettles, Paul Strauss, Melissa Gray, Jeff Nachbaur, Nathan Adams, Melissa Heilman, Kristin Leigh Anderson, Cathy Tuttle, Sara Hayward, Robb & Darla Benson, Emily McLongstreet, Jon Allgood, Greg Stackhouse, Cynthia Lair, Matthew Amster-Burton, Robin Mannick Burr, Cassandra L Ervin, Sheila Reakes, Christopher Wang, Rachel Mae, David Bickham, Kim Berardi, Jennifer Gregerson, Michelle Melnar, Chris Davis, Matthew Bisch, Gary Raskin, Colleen Peterson, Nathan Halley, David James, Rachel Thibodeaux, John Pinkus, Cody Peck, John Comes, Jeanne Denkmann, Janne Song, Tina Nole, Jesus Areyano, Vieves!, Julia Massey & Jared Cortese, Sarah Mackay, Jen Chiu, Stuart Lofthouse, Michael Mallahan, Mike Sievers