Every year at this time, a unique group of people who share an odd sense of humor venture to Austin, Texas, for the annual O. Henry Pun-Off competition. It has been five years since I’ve reported on this event — probably because the contest attracts so many people who believe they are punny, but they’re not.
English poet and essayist Samuel Johnson, who lived during the Revolutionary War, once described puns as “the lowest form of humor.”
Puns remind me of the little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead. When they are good, they are very, very good. But when they are bad, they are horrid. (See the blog “Destiny-land” for the full poem.)
I’ll tell you more about the O.Henry Pun-Off in a moment, and you can check out the videos on this page. But first let me share a few water-related puns that have been circulating on the Internet for years and are worth repeating, I think.
- If we don’t conserve water, we could go from one ex-stream to another.
- All the waterfowl kept their eyes closed except for one. He was a Peking Duck.
- A friend told me he dug a hole in my backyard and filled it with water. I thought he meant well.
- For plumbers, a flush beats a full house.
- The building inspector said whoever installed the water pipes was plumb loco.
- There was a big paddle sale at the boat store. It was quite an oar deal.
- The soundtrack for the killer whale movie was orcastrated.
- To spot a glacier, you have to have good ice sight.
- What keeps a dock floating above water? Pier pressure.
- I used to be a tap dancer until I fell into the sink.
The O. Henry Pun-Off features two types of competitions. In “Punniest of Show,” competitors, sometimes in elaborate costumes, arrive with prepared puns strung together in a story focused on a theme. They have a minute and a half to tell their stories with as many good puns as possible.
In “Punslingers,” two contestants are given a theme as they go on stage. Their goal is to take turns making up puns, going back and forth without repeating any of them. The first punslinger who fails to toss out a pun within a short time is eliminated, while the winner goes on to another round.
The first three videos are the top winners in the “Punniest of Show.” The first features Southpaw Jones, who took second place in the contest. I guess I liked his story the best, because he was quick and talked about all sorts of birds that I could recognize. He edited the original video to count the birds in his talk. (Be sure to go full-screen.)
The second video features Jerzy Gwiazdowski, the first-place winner who takes us across Europe and the Middle East with his word play. The third-place winner, Michael Kohl, has some fun with vegetables.
For an example of “Punslingers,” I’m featuring a semi-final round in which Janani Krishna-Jha goes up against Jerzy Gwiazdowski on the topic of “hair.”
Credit for these videos goes to Brian Combs, who produced them in a way that makes it easy to pick out the various competitions. For all the videos, go to his YouTube website. Winners of both competitions are listed on Facebook under “The O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships.”
John Pollock, a former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, talks about the anatomy of puns and what it is like to compete in the O. Henry contest in his book “The Pun Also Rises.” Read or listen to a 2011 interview with National Public Radio, which includes an interesting excerpt from the book.