Josh Shaffer

This war of the words is all in pun – Shaffer

Nothing brings out the Triangle’s inner nerd – a sizable slice of its personality always anxious to break free – like a pun championship.

Offer prizes for witty wordplay and Raleigh-Durham will pack Motorco Music Hall elbow to elbow, holler and chug beer like a crowd at the world’s most eggheaded wrestling match. At one point during this scholarly smackdown, after a contestant quipped, “My mind just went Casablanca,” one spectator whooped, “Oh, it’s on now!”

For two hours Wednesday night, two dozen competitive wisecrackers traded gags onstage, vying for the title of POTY: punster of the year. Their judge, George Gopen, a Duke University rhetoric professor dressed in academic robes and a Panama hat, informed them that he and a college roommate once punned for eight months on a single word.

“What is a pun?” he asked. “The lowest form of humor? Oh, come on. That’s only for people who didn’t think it up faster than you did.”

Now in its fifth year, Durham’s pun clash thrown by the Regulator Bookshop has grown notorious enough to draw out-of-state challengers and merit a prominent mention on Mental Floss, the online collection of geek trivia.

For the uninitiated, this contest is no string of random jokes. Rules apply. The judge assigns a topic, and each player has 12 second to think up a topical pun. Draw a blank or offer up a recycled pun, and a referee lets loose with a police siren from a bullhorn. By my count, the rivals to the pun throne tossed out more than 300 word bombs. A sampling of my favorites:

On famous bodies of water:

“I’m gonna Ontario apart.”

On hospitals and health care:

“I’m surgeon for a pun to start with.”

On colleges and universities:

“I’m UNCsing this opportunity.”

On fast food:

“Wendy’s all over, want to grab a drink?

For more than an hour, whimsical banter flew around the crowded music hall, bringing cheers and groans until just three wits remained: Molly Chadbourne, a nurse; Matt Morain, a copywriter at Red Hat; and Colin Butler, a “user experience specialist” – all from the Triangle. The final, exhausting, three-way pun smackdown lasted more than 20 minutes. Their topic: weddings.

“I’m glad I groomed myself for this.”

“Is that a veiled insult?”

“You have no scruples. I am just made of honor.”

And the death blow, “That was champagne-ful.”

In the end, the pun crown landed on all three heads, netting each contestant a Regulator gift certificate and an oaken toilet seat. Each winner born to pun. Victory in pun fell swoop. Pun small step for mankind.