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Pundemonium: The Great Durham Pun Contest

photo of contest winners and judge at motorco music hall
Courtesy of Durham Magazine

You might find this PUN-believable, but there is an annual pun competition held in Durham each year. Contestants are matched up for one-on-one pun-offs until the final round, when the three top punners try to best each other to become the “Punster of the Year.”

Host Frank Stasio talks to the judge of the contest, George Gopen, about how it works and what makes puns great. Gopen is a professor emeritus of the practice of rhetoric at Duke University. Stasio also interviews Molly Chadbourne about what it is like to be a participant in the competition. Chadbourne and two others shared the “Pun Master” title last year. The 2018 Great Durham Pun Championship is Sunday, Feb. 18 at Motorco in Durham.

Interview Highlights

Gopen on the definition of a pun:
A pun is a simultaneous usage of [a] word to mean two different things in two different settings. The fun of pun is to surprise someone by a word they've used in a sentence where they were talking about x, and you grab that word and use it in a sentence talking about y, so that the word's completely different from what it was a moment ago.


A pun arrests the conversation for a moment. It was going somewhere, and suddenly it's been wrenched onto a different track. - George Gopen


Chadbourne on how she’s constantly coming up with puns in her head:
I do hold back when I'm at work, but if you ever see me outside of work it is not held back.  There's a lot of groans with my friends and family.
Gopen on why people don’t like puns:
A pun arrests the conversation for a moment. It was going somewhere, and suddenly it's been wrenched onto a different track by somebody paying attention to one word in that sentence. So there is an annoying, irksome feeling of: They're not interacting with me anymore. They're throwing the spotlight onto themselves and their own wittiness. And I think it's a reaction to that. Some people also feel that somebody else punning makes them feel inadequate or stupid that they didn't see it or that they can't do it, and they just dislike any attempt to play with language like that. 


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Amanda Magnus is the executive producer of Embodied, a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships and health. She has also worked on other WUNC shows including Tested and CREEP.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.