Puns: Do they have life, or are they Dad?

Have the golden years of the pun set? Is there a place for a witty pun anymore?

By Blake Bush

Imagine that you are at dinner with a few friends. Everyone is having a great time laughing, drinking, and enjoying the food. Suddenly another friend of yours arrives late. Many in the group began to ask where he’d been but he just replies, “What’s with all the questions? Orange you glad to see me?” as he gestures to an orange slice on the rim of a woman’s drink. This clever wordplay is met with scowls and groans as he takes a seat and joins the revelry.

I’m sure you have experienced something similar if you have ever been around someone who was too witty for their own good. However, the reaction that the friends had seems a little odd for such a harmless joke. Why would a bit of comedy be met with such disapproval? I find that a little wordplay and verbal irony can lighten the mood in otherwise awkward times, but in others, it can cause the entire audience to reel in disgust.

Perhaps it has something to do with how outdone puns have become. Puns have been prominent in English speech and writing ever since Shakespearean times. Shakespeare himself contributed to this with the countless puns in all of his works. Today however many would condemn such flagrant use of low-brow humor. The American comedic palette has simply become too advanced for something so simple as a pun. Why is this? Why would something that was so celebrated hundreds of years ago be so despised today? I think that the culprit may be the internet. The internet has given increasingly widespread accessibility to infinite information, puns included. All one would need to do is google the word “puns” to see every conceivable instance of wordplay known to man. I think you can see how they would get stale fairly quickly.

The culprit seems to be overuse as opposed to actual comedic value. Modern comedy has moved past anything resembling a pun. This is once again a problem the internet has started, but this time it’s with the internet jokes or “memes” it has spawned. Memes have taken on a life of their own in recent years, dying and being created almost faster than they can be consumed. Culture has become faster and faster-paced. We consume and create new ideas for comedy so fast that puns have become an outdated bookmark in the two thousand page book that is our history. I personally love puns, and I even find myself accidentally making puns, so the fact that so many people have such a hatred for them is strange to me. Puns were an integral part of my life, every family member I knew made them, but now when I make them I’m just the “Dad joke guy.”

Perhaps puns just need the right atmosphere to be effective.

Now, of course, the internet is not the only culprit in the murder of Mr. and Ms. pun, but what else could have killed these innocent bystanders? Colorful comparisons aside, I believe that another contributing factor to the death of the modern pun is simply bad puns. I’m sure we have all heard a real stinker of a pun. I’m talking about the really bad ones. For example, “Did you hear about the body shop that just opened? I heard it comes highly wreck-a-mended. ” One might wonder about the difference between a good and a bad pun. “They sound pretty much the same, right?” you ask naively. True puns are plays on words that, when spoken, sound similar to the original phrase. For example, someone might say, “Man, the traffic on the highway is autobahn-nanas!” The main problem here is the disjointed vowel sounds of “Autobahn” and “banana.” Banana has the “uh” vowel sound, where autobahn has the “ah” vowel sound. Not to mention the forced addition of “-nanas” at the end, this pun is essentially Frankenstein.

What I’m trying to say is that bad puns gave all the puns a bad name. Unfortunately for the good-natured and well-meaning puns, the worst of their number is always put on display. How unfair to these fantastic examples of modern wit that we would mistake them for such low-brow, bottom of the barrel attempts at humor. Perhaps puns just need the right atmosphere to be effective. After all, the right audience for a joke is everything, but what is the right audience for a pun?

I believe firmly that all comedy has the correct time, place, and audience. Dark humor, a comedy routine, a pun, you name it. Under that assumption we know that puns definitely have a time and place, but where and when? I believe a pun is best suited to people who aren’t expecting one. Hear me out, why do people groan at puns? Because they’re so tired and worn out! Everybody expects the classic “Orange you glad to see me?” but a truly original and unexpected pun can usually get a laugh from shock value alone. Knowing that will certainly make you seem a lot less tactless at that next get-together.

Now imagine that you’re back at dinner with your friends. Another one of your friends comes in late, and he says, “Sorry I’m late, between rush hour traffic and a train coming through it was quite the pickle” as he points to a gherkin that was sticking out of the bun of a man’s burger. This time, instead of being met with distaste, everyone erupts into laughter. Would that not be more fun? What I mean is that if people would just give puns a chance then maybe they could have a bit more fun every now and then.

Photo: Orange Illusion by Linda, Fortuna future on Flickr