Monday is sure to be a punishing night at the Republic Bar, with groans likely to punctuate the proceedings.
That’s because the Twin Cities’ first Pundemonium contest will unfold at the West Bank watering hole. Concocted and organized by Art Allen and co-sponsored by the Loft Literary Center, the event will assess the puns-manship of 20 contestants, with help from a live audience.
“It sort of follows the poetry slam model, where there’s a lot of audience participation,” said Allen, 28, of Minneapolis. “One thing I really hope happens is that the audience is very vocal, not just with groans but to the extent of booing.”
The new show resembles the long-running O. Henry Pun-Off in Austin, Texas, and the newer monthly Punderdome in Brooklyn, but Allen said “the poetry-slam, audience-participation aspect” makes it distinctive.
A longtime pun lover, Allen also has organized the Minnesota Beard-Off (an annual event selecting the best beard among women with fake beards and men with real ones) and co-produced a monthly video game tourney called Tipsy Pixels at Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis and Amsterdam in St. Paul. Allen said he’s been pun-dering the idea for a few years. “I never really thought anyone would want to do it,” he said. “And then I mentioned it to some friends and they all said, ‘You have to do it.’ ”
Once Allen organized the competition, the Loft decided to get involved, said marketing coordinator Courtney Algeo. “We haven’t done anything pun-centric,” she said. “It just felt like a good fit for us, since it involves words and writing and quick wits.”
Punching it up
Local writer Maggie Ryan Sandford, the event’s emcee, will feed Allen’s “prompts” to the contestants, who must sign up at the event on a first-come, first-in basis. Allen said these prompts will be topics such as “a day at the beach” (shore-ly, someone would start with “life’s a beach and then … ”) and “astronauts in space” (which should launch some Tang-y quips).
The competitors get 30 seconds to put on their pundit caps and then up to 2 minutes to deliver their punch line(s), “in case it requires setup and context,” Allen said.
Five judges will score the witticisms on a 1-to-10 basis. After three rounds, five finalists will vie for the grand prize (a secret, although there’s a good chance it involves cash).
Allen said he probably won’t give many instructions to the judges, who will be chosen from the audience. “I think it should be: What does their gut tell them?”
One potential problem: Many puns work better, sometimes only, on the written page. At the event’s Facebook page, for example, one wag wrote “Atheism is a non-prophet organization.” Even with puns such as “Can we sing ‘The Girl From IPUNema’?” enunciation will be key.
Allen acknowledged the difficulty, explaining: “Sometimes you need to say a pun louder and slower, over and over, until people laugh,” he said. “That’s another reason they get 2 minutes.”
But he expects the contestants to be accustomed to making themselves understood.
“These won’t be pun amateurs; in fact, I predict that all the contestants will, like me, be people who make puns to their friends in conversation all the time.”
Bill Ward • 612-673-7643