War Of Words A Battle Of The Punniest

Originally published on May 22, 2011 1:49 pm
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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

Punsters went toe to toe yesterday at the annual O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships in Austin, Texas. It was a barrage of clever and corny fighting words, all for the honor of Punniest of Show - like this contestant, who told a punctuation-themed story.

U: I've got a question, Mark. Can you fix this back-slashing gut pain? He said with exclamation, point to where it hurts. This backspace here, I said. Lean forward, slash that. Command: Get on the table.

HANSEN: To learn more about this war of words, we got the event's emcee and coordinator, Gary Hallock, on the line from Austin. Good morning, Gary.

M: Good morning.

HANSEN: Who won Punniest of Show?

M: Punniest of show was won by a rank newcomer, a cute little gal named Gracie Deegan, who came up on her first try and really blew us away.

M: I know it's Kandahar, but this is Mecca important. And if Ayatollah once, I'll tell ya twice, Palestine to get to the Beirut of this problem. Hussein we can't bring peace to the Middle East once Afghan. It just can't Kuwait. Now, can I get a challah Fallujah?

M: She also competed in the head-to-head competition, where we put the two punsters together on stage - what we call pun slingers. And we give them a topic, and then they go back and forth on the topic. And she did really well, for a newcomer, on that as well.

HANSEN: Who judges these puns?

M: We actually have a panel of six judges that score it - Olympic style, you know, on a scale of one to 10, based on originality and presentation. And our judge panel is made up of sometimes-vocal celebrities and quite often noted people, like John Pollack, the author of the pun book "The Pun Also Rises" that - you talked to him last week. And not-so-noted celebrities - like this year, we put my mother on the judge panel 'cause she's lived and breathed puns all of my life. And she's been to more pun-offs than most of us.

HANSEN: Can you give us an example of some of the puns?

M: Well, I'll have to give you an example of one of the things that I do. I traditionally wear a shirt that is a red, white and blue American flag shirt. And during halftime, I change my shirt into a Texas flag shirt, so I do a traditional changing of the garb. And while I was changing my shirt, the judges were rating my unshirted torso. And I said, well, I guess they're going to rank me with zeroes. You can Betsy Rose.

HANSEN: And, of course, you're referring to Betsy Ross, right, the flag maker?

M: Yeah, that's kind of a stretch but, you know.

HANSEN: Aren't most puns kind of a stretch?

M: I like the ones that stretch and bounce back.

HANSEN: Gary Hallock is emcee of this year's Pun-Off World Championships at the O. Henry Museum in Austin, Texas. Thanks a lot, Gary.

M: Thank you so much, Liane. And you have a good retirement. We love the show.

HANSEN: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.