At the World Pun Championships, Victory Is Easier Said Than Punned 

Thursday, Jun 5 2014
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In the semifinals, Ziek dispatches Wallace in "groups (human & animal)." Wallace: "Next year this category should be band."

Meanwhile, Pollock goes round after round churning out puns so well-crafted you'd swear he's reading straight from a pile of candy wrappers. On "medical devices": "I made a new machine to call my sibling. It's a dial-a-sis." On "cleaning": "What does a Japanese person clean their ear with? A wa-swab-i."

He wins a marathon battle with Petri on "correspondence." Petri: "I work with graphs, but they don't listen to me. You can't TELL A GRAPH anything." Pollock: "The port-a-potties over there will not let my wife in. DEAR JOHN, LET HER." Every time he hears a gem, whether his or an opponent's, he does a little leprechaun jig.

click to flip through (5) PHOTO BY TED SOQUI - Ben Ziek
  • Ben Ziek

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The flaw of Punslingers is that it occasionally feels more like a test of vocabulary than one of punning ability. Competitors such as Ziek and Pollock can take the syllables of just about any word or phrase, change those sounds into a new word or phrase, and then reverse-engineer a sentence to justify its existence.

Yet just enough comedy emerges to make the competition feel artful. The best punsters may be so used to making puns for humor that they can't avoid it, even when it's not necessary. Sometimes it's just easier to be funny.

In the final, Ziek faces his nemesis, Pollock, in "musical genres."

Pollock: "My friend Ray happens to have come out of the closet. RAY GAY."

Ziek: "Don't attack me with your gardening implement. Put the HOE DOWN."

Pollock. "My friend's a Luddite. TECH — NO!"

Ziek: "I taught my mother how to do archery. MOM BOW."

After a couple dozen times back and forth, Ziek draws a blank. There's silence for several seconds, as the crowd, and maybe even the judges, seem unable to concede that the champion has fallen. Pollock is the winner.

"The last six things, I had nothing," Pollock says afterward. "I started talking and hoped that when my lips stopped moving I would have something."

Ziek is resigned, but his agitation shows. At one point he walks over to Pollock.

"None of us said opera," he says.

Pollock answers, "What's wrong with us?"

Reach the writer at zpincusroth@laweekly.com

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