O. Henry Pun-Off

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The O. Henry Pun-Off is a yearly spoken word competition that takes place every May at the O. Henry Museum in Austin, Texas.

Started in 1978, the Pun-Off gathers fans of wordplay to celebrate the pun, which English poet and literary critic John Dryden called "the lowest and most groveling kind of wit."[1] The event has been organized and run since 1990 by Austinite Gary Hallock. A support group of former and current contestants was formed in 1990 to formalize the unwritten rules of the competition(s) and provide guidance and support for future events. Under the umbrella title of "Punsters United Nearly Yearly" (a.k.a. PUNY) this collection of loosely knit wits continues to be the public face of the event through its website, Yahoo Group and Facebook page. Gary Hallock retired as producer in 2015. He was replaced by emcee and 2006 Punslinger World Champion, David Gugenheim.

Participants in the annual event compete in one or both of the two areas of punning prowess: Punniest of Show, which features individuals performing a 90-second prepared piece filled with puns; and PunSlingers, which pits individual punsters in head-to-head bouts of spontaneous punning on a randomly selected variation of traditional topic themes.

From its inception, the O. Henry Pun-Off used a four-person panel of judges that offers scores of 1–10 based on performance, originality, and wit. The four scores were added together for a combined score of 4–40 for each participant. (Scores lower than 1 are raised to 1, and scores higher than 10 are lowered to 10.) The highest-scoring punster wins each event, with ties being decided by audience applause. Beginning in 2009, however, the judge panel was expanded to six people, with the highest and lowest scores discarded and the remaining four scores added together to form each participant's combined score of 4–40. This change was enacted to prevent any one judge from having the ability to disqualify a punster by giving a much lower score than the other judges.

A separate award is also given yearly for the Most Viable Punster, a title awarded by votes from each year's participants and given in honor of late punster George McClughan.


The O. Henry Pun-Off was inspired by the writings of William Sydney Porter who, while living in Austin, Texas, in the late 1800s, began using the pen name O. Henry. By the time of his death in 1910, O. Henry had published over 300 short stories including The Ransom of Red Chief and the Christmas classic Gift of the Magi. His voracious vocabulary and love of language endeared him to a broad audience, but it was his trademark twisted endings that always kept curious readers coming back for more. Reading an O. Henry story is a participatory experience. Today, the Pun-Off keeps his name alive by offering lovers of wordplay and wit a platform for their literary shenanigans in front of an admiring, and sometimes mocking, audience.


Pun, A Definition[edit]

For the purpose of competition and judging, a two-fold definition of a proper pun has been adopted by the O. Henry Pun-Off.

The first and most common form presented is wordplay using homonyms that deliberately exploits ambiguity between similar-sounding words for humorous or rhetorical effect.

The second accepted type of pun is a lesser used form of euphemism or double entendre, where an alternate meaning is suggested for a word for comedic effect.

Rules for Punniest of Show[edit]

Each entered contestant will be allowed to present a pun-filled performance on stage. Puns may be presented in any format (e.g., visual, musical, stand-up routine, etc.), and will be scored on a scale of 1-10 by a panel of six judges. A contestant's final score will be determined by dropping the highest and lowest scores and adding the remaining four scores together for a final total of 4–40. Contestants will be judged on content, originality, and general effect of the presentation, including judges' interpretation of audience response.

Contestants may use notes or scripts, but judges may take this into consideration when determining their score.

Each routine will be timed by an independent timekeeper, who will allow for audience response and other technical difficulties when determining if 90 seconds have passed. At the end of 90 seconds the timekeeper will sound a signal, indicating that the contestant's 90 seconds have expired and a 30-second grace period will begin. All pun pieces over 120 seconds are automatically disqualified.

The contestant with the highest total score wins the event. In the case of a tie score, the tied contestants are called back on stage to present part of their routine again. After all tied contestants finish, audience response will be taken. The contestant who receives the best audience reaction, as determined by the judging panel and the Master of Ceremonies, wins the event.

Rules for Punslingers[edit]

(Originally known as "High-Lies & Low Puns")

This competition consists of no more than four rounds of single-elimination heats. For each preliminary round, two contestants at a time will be called onto the stage (a pairing), at which point they will be given a topic drawn at random. The contestant with the lowest entry number will have five seconds to deliver a pun on this topic. The other contestant then has five seconds to respond with another pun on the same topic.

Puns may not be made on the same word within the same context during a topic. A contestant who violates this rule will receive a "strike" and will be given another five seconds to come up with a valid pun that has not been used during the pairing. Punsters who deliver puns that are determined invalid by the judging panel (i.e. non-puns) are also given a strike and another five seconds to conjure a valid pun.

Contestants continue trading puns until a contestant is eliminated, either by exceeding the allotted five seconds or after three strikes. The survivor of each pairing advances to the next round.

Past winners (since 1991)[edit]


Punniest of Show: Jerzy Gwiazdowski
Punslingers: Benjamin Ziek
MVP: Janani Krishnan-Jha


Punniest of Show: Benjamin Ziek
Punslingers: Benjamin Ziek
MVP: Jerzy Gwiazdowski


Punniest of Show: Alexandra Petri
Punslingers: Matt Pollock
MVP: Alexandra Petri


Punniest of Show: Benjamin Ziek
Punslingers: Benjamin Ziek
MVP: Alexandra Petri


Punniest of Show: Jerzy Gwiazdowski
Punslingers: Dav Wallace
MVP: Jerzy Gwiazdowski


Punniest of Show: Gracie Deegan
Punslingers: Benjamin Ziek
MVP: Matt Pollock


Punniest of Show: Justin Golbabai and Kelly Dupen
Punslingers: Benjamin Ziek
MVP: Jacob Dodson


Punniest of Show: Kirk Miller
Punslingers: Matt Pollock
MVP: Andy Balinsky


Punniest of Show: Carmen Petrick
Punslingers: Valerie Ward
MVP: Valerie Ward


Punniest of Show: Joe Sabia
Punslingers: Arthur Simone
MVP: Eirik Ott, aka Big Poppa E


Punniest of Show: Eirik Ott, aka Big Poppa E
Punslingers: David Gugenheim
MVP: Valerie Ward


Punniest of Show: Francis McGrath
Punslingers: Brian Snider
MVP: Chris Caillouet


Punniest of Show: Ben Glazer
Punslingers: Alex Ramirez
MVP: Brian Snider and Steven Fuller


Punniest of Show: Carlotta "Candy Rapper" Stankiewicz
Punslingers: Brian Snider
MVP: Carlotta Stankiewicz


Punniest of Show: Jim Ertner
Punslingers: Brian Snider
MVP: Gita Mani


Punniest of Show: Steve Brooks
Punslingers: Alex Ramirez
MVP: Gita Mani


Punniest of Show: Tiffany Wimberly
Punslingers: Alex Ramirez


Punniest of Show: Jim Hahn
Punslingers: Alex Ramirez


Punniest of Show: Francis McGrath
Punslingers: Paul Mott


Punniest of Show: Steve Brooks
Punslingers: Steve Brooks


Punniest of Show: Lee Jackson [1]
Punslingers: John Pollack


Punniest of Show: Steve Brooks
Punslingers: Steve Brooks


Punniest of Show: Steve Brooks
Punslingers: Scott Harvey


Punniest of Show: Lee Jackson[2]


Punniest of Show:
Punslingers: Lee Jackson


Punniest of Show: Gary Hallock


First Place, Volley of the Puns: Danny Nelson Schweers


  1. ^ Tartakovsky, Joseph (28 March 2009). "Pun for the Ages". The New York Times. New York City. 

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