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A swazzle is a device made of two strips of metal bound around a cotton tape reed. The device is used to produce the distinctive harsh, rasping voice of Punch and is held in the mouth by the Professor (performer) in a Punch and Judy show.
Swazzle can also be pronounced or spelled Schwazzle or swatchel.
The swazzle is positioned between the tongue and the roof of the mouth so that expired air passes between the two metal strips, causing the reed to vibrate. Deft movements of the tongue allow the Professor to move the swazzle in and out of position, allowing him to switch between voices. The swazzle must be soaked in beer, water or saliva before use.
Because the swazzle is small, positioned in the back of the mouth and must be repeatedly moved during a performance, there is a risk that it may be swallowed while in use. In order to minimise the risk of swallowing, some Professors attach a length of cotton thread to their swazzle so that it can be pulled back if it slips into the throat. In series 3, episode 11 of the British panel show 'QI', author Stephen Fry states that a swazzle must be swallowed at least twice (by accident) by a Punch and Judy performer before he/she is considered a 'professor'.
The design of the swazzle was once a secret guarded by the Professors and only taught to those with a genuine respect for and interest in learning the performance of Punch and Judy puppetry. The device can now be bought from joke and magic shops although those made according to the traditional design are smaller and are generally considered superior.
- The 1937 short comedy The Wrong Miss Wright starring Charley Chase features the comedian using a swazzle as part of an effort to feign insanity so as to get out of an arranged marriage. During the course of the film, Chase manages to get much comic mileage out of the use of a swazzle and at one point accidentally swallows it.
- A discussion of the proper use of a swazzle is given towards the end of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch; throughout the story, a mysterious figure known as "Swatchell" works as the Professor in a Punch and Judy show where the narrator is staying with his grandparents.
- The swazzle is described in John Varley's The Golden Globe. It is used by the protagonist, Valentine, in performing Punch and Judy shows.
- The construction of a swazzle is described and its use explained in Russell Hoban's novel Riddley Walker.
- The character Vinculus in the book Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell uses a swazzle during his street sorcery act to make his voice sound like he is channeling the spirit of the River Thames