The O. Henry Pun-Off celebrated 40 years of crazy pun-and-fun last Saturday at Austin’s downtown O. Henry Museum. The Pun-Off has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning and most recently in Smithsonian Magazine.
The Pun-Off always attracts a large crowd to the backyard of the O. Henry Museum. Everyone sits in the shade beneath the large oak trees to watch the contestants compete on the stage under a large white tent.
Bill and I arrived early to get a good spot and to hear local band Shinyribs. Their leader, Kevin Russell, is quite a character, which fit in nicely with the goofiness of the Pun-Off.
Although long-time organizer Gary Halleck had officially retired last year, he still did most of the set-up and introductions. He also led the day’s first event, Punniest of Show. Each of the 32 contestants had up to two minutes to deliver a prepared speech full of puns. This year’s topics were: carpentry, Wisconsin (lots of cheese puns), cars (2 times), cattle, rock bands, cereal, movies, meats, superheroes, birds (also 2 times!),Greek gods, meats and vegetables, Michael Jackson, Mother’s Day, Texas, technology, clothes and health care, geography (2 times), wines, volcanoes, politics (3 times, not surprising), and Disney.
A two-way tie for first place was resolved via an audience clap-off. The winner for Punniest in Show was Southpaw Jones, an Austinite who had won second place in last year’s competition.
Toby Micali-Gwiazdowski was awarded second place for his political lawyer routine.
Toby’s brother, Jerzy Gwiazdowski, wowed the crowd with his routine and earned 10s from all judges. However, he did not hear the warning bell (probably because the crowd was laughing so loudly), and so he was disqualified when his routine exceeded the two-minute time limit. Although Gary tried to offer him third place, Jerzy graciously refused.
This resulted in a six-way tie for third place. After a rather-confusing clap-off, Annica Eagle won the third-place slot. The other contestants were great, but I agreed with the crowd that her routine was just slightly better.
Here’s the board with the Punniest of Show final scores for the 32 contestants. Six judges’ scores were recorded for each person. The highest and lowest marks were dropped and the remaining scores were totaled.
During the break, I visited the Susanna Dickinson Museum (next door to the O. Henry Museum) to see their exhibit honoring the Pun-Off’s 40th anniversary. It was aptly titled Once-a-pun A Time.
Bill and I stayed for the first half of the next competition, Punslingers, where pairs of contestants took turns making puns about topics such as sounds, metals, cosmetics, photography, rock music, bodies of water, and musical instruments. This contest required quick responses (by the time the judges counted to five), and puns could not be reused. We were pleased to read that Jerzy Gwiazdowski won first place in the Punslingers competition.
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