I finally found a venue that celebrates the pun in punchline. After reading Away With Words, an exploration of the world of pun competition, I googled the Punderdome. Located in Brooklyn’s Park Slope, where the pundits play, the next monthly competition would be held during the three days I happened to be in New York City with my younger daughter and her boyfriend. Score!
I knew from my read that it filled up quickly, but when we arrived at 7:20 for an 8:00 pm performance, the seats were already filled and the atmosphere was electric. “It’s like a concert!” my 22-year-old daughter exclaimed. Indeed, the excited anticipation of a certain good time was contagious. The DJ was the rocking Chair of old favorites using a pair of turntables, and we were having a blast standing against the side wall.
At 8:00 Fred Firestone, the founder of the Punderdome welcomed the crowd, and explained the set up for us few newbies. Three heats of six contestants, each set given a (hot!) topic and 90 seconds to prepare their bit. During the 90 seconds, people performed a song or a quick ditty to entertain the crowd. After each heat, a human “clap-o-meter” would then be blindfolded, and the audience would rate each performance by applause with the top three moving on to the quarter finals. The top four from these nine advanced to the semis and the top two faced each other in a head-to-head pun off. We practiced what a 10 sounds like, with whoops, hollers and whistles piercing the air. Next we practiced an 8, so that the clap-o-meter would be able to gauge where to move the colorful cardboard dial. It’s one time that it’s good to get the clap!
There were a number of multi-time champs (22, 11, and 5), like Punder Enlightening, whose experience and creativity made them clear stand-outs. The first topic was cats and dogs, perfect for tall tails and those of us seated on fur-niture. Some created a story line. A woman could make us howl with a single paws, or subordinate claws before someone might whisker away. Even the crowd outside waited to pay in a feline so they could sit and stay. Other contestants tossed out one liners: Did you know that any country that loves lentils is a Dal-mation?
Joe Berkowitz (a.k.a Punter S. Thompson) points out in his hilarious, informative book that delivery is important. Indeed a performer’s delight is infectious, whereas a particularly dry punchline may need explanation to land (leeching out the fun). Stand-up comedians who pun are better e-quip-ped than punsters who do stand up for this very reason: delivery.
Phraser Crane, who ultimately prevailed the night we were there, tended toward less obvious puns. When colors was the topic, she asked “Who really wins? It’s hue!!” she exclaimed, extending her arms toward the audience. Discussing a thorny problem, she described it as a prism of her own making.
What a delight to attend an event that celebrates the oft scorned pun. I considered whether I could compete, the courage it would require, even in front of even a friendly and encouraging crowd like this one. These are my people, but could I stand up in this Punderosa where one gets horse with excitement? It’s something to dream about. If ever I find myself back in Brooklyn on the first Tuesday of the month, I will skip over to the Punderdome. It could be my puns in a lifetime opportunity.