The 39th Annual O. Henry Pun-Off was held in the backyard of the O. Henry Museum in Brush Creek Park. Unlike last year’s competition, the weather cooperated this year. Even so, I arrived early and was happy to get a prime spot in the main tent.
The festivities began with a lively performance by Emily Gimble & the Free Range Playboys. Long-time organizer Gary Halleck has retired, but he was still running around setting everything up and also serving as an emcee. In keeping with tradition, the audience recited the definition of a pun: “A pun is the humorous use of a word or words in such a way as to suggest different meanings or applications of words with the same sound, but different meanings.”
The first Pun-Off competition was Punniest of Show. Each of the thirty-two contestants had up to two minutes to deliver a prepared speech. A panel of judges rated their presentation on a scale of 1 to 10. The lowest and highest scores were thrown out, and the remaining values were added together to determine the contestant’s score.
This year’s speeches were heavy on food and beverage puns. Other topics included Austin, sports, super heroes, pets, musical groups, and of course, politics. The most unusual subjects were Greek gods and Game of Thrones.
After all 32 contestants had finished, there was a three-way tie for first place. The winners were decided by an audience clap-off. Sometimes these clap-offs can be misleading if rowdy friends are in the audience, but this year I completely agreed with the results.
Third Place went to Tim Donnelly from Austin, who dressed as Donald Trump and gave an in-character political speech laced with puns.
Another Austinite, Southpaw Jones, nabbed second place with a clever piece about birds.
First Place for Punniest of Show went to Jerzy Gwiazdowski from New York. His winning routine was an extremely complicated speech using the names of countries. Gary Halleck commented, “We could have saved a lot of time if he (Jerzy) had gone first.” True…but then we would have missed 31 other punny performances!
I could not stay for the head-to-head Punslingers competition, but I read that Ben Ziek (above center) was again the winner. You can watch the entire 2016 competition, both Punniest of Show and Punslingers, on Youtube: 39th Annual O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships.
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