O. Henry Pun-Off World Championship In Austin, Texas, Is Jest Pun And Games

Usually, people who enjoy peppering their conversations with wordplay get the "punaround" from their friends and colleagues.

But on May 18, the O. Henry Pun-Off World Championship in Austin, Texas, those who enjoy "punning off at the mouth" have a safe haven to do it without feeling ashamed. Just ask organizer Gary Hallock, a former winner -- he feels their pun, er... pain.

"People with this ability are shunned by polite society," he told The Huffington Post. Hallock recognizes that people who insist on punning at the expense of, well, normal conversation can be annoying.

Now in its 36th year, the Pun-Off attracts punsters from all over the world to compete in two categories.

In "Punslinging," esteemed "com-pun-iters" face off two at a time to see who can make the most puns on a single topic, such as "politics," "food" or "body parts."

In last year's championship round, contestants riffed on farming with groaners like, "if my wife left me, I'd marry a hoe;" "when a farmer's wife leaves him, does she send a John Deere letter?" and "you can always find cowfish in a corral reef."

It's not as easy as it sounds: Puns can't be reused and the contest ends if no one makes a pun within five seconds. However, as the clip below demonstrates, some punsters can last upwards of 15 minutes before "punning up empty."


In the second category, "Punniest Of Show," contestants present a pun on stage in any format, be it visual, musical or stand-up routine and get scored on 10-point scale.

The top punster in each category receives a trophy shaped like a horse's ass. It's the highest honor a practitioner of the lowest form of humor can receive.

Along with the contest awards, the person chosen "MVP" -- "most volatile punster" -- gets a trophy of a turkey.

Hallock said the Pun-Off amounts to a kind of support group for those afflicted with high amounts of "paranomasia," the ability to use words that sound similar to other words, but have different meanings.

"Puns are the bane of everyone's existence if they're not prepared for them," he said. "People tend to abuse it by offering them in venues that are inappropriate or unexpected. If all you do is offer puns, you're highjacking a conversation. It's the opposite of communicating."

Dave Wallace, last year's top "punslinger," said the skills he learned punning have made him quick on his feet, and said that a great punster has two outstanding qualities.

"You have to be somewhat intelligent with a disdain for social graces," he told HuffPost.

The honor of being the best punster isn't as prestigious as, say, the Nobel Prize, but punsters like Jerzy Gwiazdowski, the 2012 winner of the "MVP" (Most Volatile Punster) and "Punniest of Show" honors is happy to have his awards on his mantel.

"For 29 years, it was like, 'sorry, I have a problem.' Now, it's like 'sorry, I have an award-winning problem," he told HuffPost.

Gwiazdowski, a New York-based actor and writer, will be defending his title this year and said he's been keeping in fighting shape through monthly competitions with other Empire State punsters.

"It would seem there is a certain part of the linguistic brain where puns live," he theorized. "After competing with like-minded punners, it's like you're living in that corner and can't stop. It's like working a certain muscle group."

Conventional wisdom suggests that someone adept at punnilingus is just as happy to get a groan as a giggle, but Hallock said that's not the case.

"We [punsters] have to be stoic when a pun receives a groan," he said. "It's not as off-putting as when someone groans at a joke. It means that I have succeeded in annoying you, but I don't think it's as good as a laugh.

"We fall into the trap into embracing the groan. It's our lot in life."



International Pun-Off