Reviewed by Sally Jack
Warning – this review contains (p)unadulterated and gratuitous punning.
A bloomin’ great queue, fish and chips and an appreciation of puns would all likely feature on a ‘what do Brits enjoy’ checklist. Shakespeare was a master punner, Milton Jones has forged a career out of it and puns and word play form the bedrock of the so-called British sense of humour.
So, where better to hold a paranomasia championship than at Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival, Britain’s longest running comedy festival now in its 22nd year. In a city renowned for throwing a good festival this is The Biggie: for two and a half weeks in February anyone who’s anyone anywhere on the comedy celebrity alphabet makes an appearance.
One of the festival showpiece events is Dave’s UK Pun Championships, returning for a second year and eagerly anticipated by comedy pundits.
Held in the historic Hansom Hall this Victorian building is adjacent to the former Central Library. With red spotlights lighting the temporary bar area, the empty bookshelves looked ghostly in the shadows. However, it was nice to have this connection to words as we waited and waited … and waited. No announcement was made as we were kept hanging on for nearly forty five minutes, although I won’t stoop to making a comment about a late punning event.
Comedian Lee ‘legend’ Nelson was a great compere – his cheeky persona and dazzlingly smile masking some pretty harsh put downs. He explained the pundamentals for the contest: eight quarter finalists in a knock out pun battle, each contestant delivers five puns on a subject matter chosen at random (although the contestants have some warning of the topics that may be chosen), followed by semis then the final pun off. The audience decides who goes through each round through the democratic process of ‘loudest cheers’.
So, let’s set the puns running. First up was baby blue-suited, pink cummerbund-sporting Martin Croser versus Richard ‘Punsford’ Pulsford and their topic the General Election. A nice George Osborne/blood doning/’can’t stand the prick’ pun was clever. Pulsford succeeded in this round and Croser would do well to work on his performance style – maybe it was nerves but the crucial pun build up got lost in delivery several times.
Next up Richard Woolford a.k.a Toby Le Rone versus a gurning Rob Thomas, their topic ‘underwear’. Thomas delivered a volley of scoring puns including the valid statement ‘no one ever asks how-fronts’. Thomas went through, although it seemed his unusual stage presence played a part in his success.
Einstein-haired Rob Coleman faced Tony ‘Puns on the Run’ Cowards who was dressed, you guessed it, in nun’s habit. Cue many a pun about being superior and dirty habits before they began the sparring with their subject ‘dead kings and queens’. Cowards triumphed with some silly yet clever punning, for example ‘Henry VIII’s favourite way of walking – Anne Boleyn (i.e. ambling – you had to be there).
The final pairing pitted reigning Dave’s UK Pun Champion Darren Walsh against Leo Kearse a.k.a Kearse Against Humanity. They are both giants of the pun world – both at least 6ft 5, accentuated by the diminutive Nelson wedged in between. Their topic ‘on the farm’ proved fertile ground for their talents. Unfortunately for bookies’ favourite Walsh, the crowd didn’t go with his style of punning this year, relying as it did on sound effects from his iPad and straying off subject. He was much better when improvising and reacting to Kearse’s superior puns. Several shouts during Walsh’s performance of ‘you did that last year’ also confirmed the audience as ‘punnoisseurs’, wanting their puns freshly baked. Kearse went through to the semis.
After a quick break the second half of the evening was introduced with the fantastic ‘and now for the Dave-nouement to the evening’.
Semi no. 1 saw Rob Thomas pitted against Richard Pulsford whose deadpan delivery was no match for the grimacing and affected Thomas and their ‘chat up lines’ subject matter. It seems silly faces can sometimes win out.
Semi no. 2 was an epic battle between Cowards and Kearse, their subject breakfast cereal. These two were punning for their lives: ‘I’ve got a wheat allergy, I’m a gluten for punishment’ followed by ‘I can barley believe that’ and ‘there’s a new breakfast cereal for donkeys – don key-oaty.
Rob Thomas and Leo Kearse returned to the stage for the final, their subjects countries of the world, conspiracy theories, hacking and healthcare. First round to Kearse, second to Thomas but a volley of quick-fire pun-shots from Kearse in the next two rounds won over the audience and bagged him the title.
A quick scan around the hall revealed a mainly male audience and with an all-male line up and compere I wondered if puns were somehow an all male preserve? (Tell that to the W.I.)
However, it was all worth it for Kearse as he was crowned Dave’s UK Pun Champion 2015 with a bottle of fizz and a rubber chicken. A poultry prize perhaps, but the best man won.