The spectators’ enclosure was packed with enthusiastic supporters throughout this thrilling battle, and the competitors all basked in the adulation or shrank in despair as the crowd reacted to each round. The format of the games is simple: the judges read out the synopsis of a news story, and the contestants had to come up with a witty pun-based headline within the specified time limit. Points are given for humour, with extra marks added for the appropriateness of the source of the pun. In the ring, defeats were crushing and victories were sweet. I looked on with amazement at the wit and intelligence of the writers, those modern day gladiators in rhetoric and verbiage.
This year’s competition contained no small amount of controversy, unlike previous years. Most shocking for many was the sudden disqualification of fan favourite David Proctor, of the San Francisco Daily Hermes. Rumours had been circulating for a while that he was under suspicion for a misdemeanour, and after a few hours of competition it was announced that he had been found to be in possession of some performance-enhancing rhyming dictionaries. The judges’ decision was unequivocal. He was removed from the contest.
Dwelling on the bad sportsmanship of the tournament would be a gross disservice to the competitors, though, and it really was a joy to see such wonderful writers at the height of their game. Particularly worthy of mention was Jacob “Big Pun” Marley of the Weekly Thrust (a local publication in the town of Medicine Hat). The highlight of Marley’s puns was in the second round, during which he was required to write the headline for a light-hearted story about a woman who had a heart attack while giving her husband oral sex. Marley’s entry, “Last Night a BJ Slayed my Wife”, earned him high praise from the judges. Sadly, Big Pun was eliminated in the quarter finals on a technicality, after mixing more than the permitted number of metaphors.
Jacob "Big Pun" Marley, who performed well and was appreciated by the audience, who applauded him as well they might.
2008’s competition will probably go down in history as the year of the underdog, with many first-time entrants surprising the crowds with their skill and perseverance. Take “Little” Jimmy Fraser, a high school student currently at the Finchley Frotter newspaper on a work experience program. His inclusion in the competition had been a practical joke played upon him by his employers, but he made it to the semi finals with some deft wordplay. Sadly, Fraser was let down by his youth and inexperience, and was eliminated due to basing a pun on a musical group that was too modern for many of the judges to understand the reference. His entry, “Puppyfat Dolls” - relating to a story about a toy manufacturer releasing obesity-themed playthings for overweight children – failed to propel him into the final round.
As surprising as Jimmy Fraser’s success was, this year’s competition was also marked by disappointing performances from some highly-ranked wordsmiths. Samantha Bagshott of the Chatterstoft Plectrum, winner here two year ago, fell at the first hurdle with the awful “My Fart Will Go On”. The crowd were amazed at the lack of imagination being shown by Bagshott in this headline, written to accompany a story about a man who broke wind constantly for three months.
The prize was eventually won by Gordon Spatula of New York’s Weekly Funbag. In the final round, Spatula and his fellow remaining contenders were asked to create the headline for a news story about TV show host Kelly Ripa turning into a giant super hero live on screen before being overpowered by a group of scientists. The winning headline, “Super Kelly Goes Ballistic, Experts are Ferocious,” has been engraved on a plaque and sent into space.
Upon claiming his prize, Spatula said that his trophy was an added bonus, as, in his words, “a good pun is its own re-word”. The crowd politely pretended that it wasn’t the 453rd time they’d heard that particular joke in the course of the competition.
This year’s Pun Headline Writing Competition was a great event, fun for anyone with an interest in wordplay and language jokes. There was a worthy winner, valiant losers, and a lot of groaning. Next year’s event promises to be even better, with the introduction of several new classes of competition, including Student Writer, Blogger, and Welsh Journalist. Writers in this latter category will be given bonus points for including more than eleven Ls in a single sentence.