The dire times we’re living in call for desperate pleasures, and the Gilmore Girls revival isn’t cutting it. Why not turn to puns? Brokelyn is biased, of course— both your editors are committed to puns in journalism, occasionally using them to pack a political punch. But we’re also like most of Brooklyn, for whom any mention of puns will incite the question, “Have you ever been to the Punderdome?”
Punderdome 3000, for those unfamiliar, is a pun competition invented by comedian Jo Firestone and her dad Fred Firestone. Once just a humble, loosely-attended affair at the now-defunct Southpaw bar in Park Slope, the ‘Dome has since grown into one of Brooklyn’s best-loved events, now held at Littlefield in Gowanus with a monthly attendance of more than 500 pun-lovers who gather to watch witty wordsmiths using punny nom de plumes deliver their best puns on a given topic. The show got so big that it even released its very own home card game (and the world lost its mind when we broke the news). Indeed, Brooklyn has become a haven for punsters and a lighthouse for pun-lovers worldwide. It’s enough to make you want to write a book about it.
That’s just what Joe Berkowitz, a 36-year-old writer from Crown Heights and occasional Punderdome competitor, finally did. His new book, Away With Words, currently on pre-order before it hits shelves on June 13, 2017, looks at “the bizarre and hilarious world of pun competitions from the Punderdome 3000 in Brooklyn to the World competition in Austin.”
“I think people who are obsessed with language will find it,” Berkowitz told us, “and I hope some people who hate puns will buy it for a friend as a prank only to have that friend read it and enjoy it.”
Most days, Berkowitz is a writer for Fast Company. His freelance credits include The Awl, Vulture, Rolling Stone and GQ. He’s also the co-author, along with Last Week Tonight writer Josh Gondelman, of You Blew It: An Awkward Look at the Many Ways in Which You’ve Already Ruined Your Life. But once every few months, Berkowitz can be found at Littlefield, slinging his best puns onstage as “Punter S. Thompson.”
He first got the the idea for the book after seeing last year’s special Punderdome at the Highline Ballroom, which pitted ‘Dome champions against New York Post headline writers.
“There was just such a cool energy and the puns were so impressive for how quick they were created and how creatively they were conveyed,” Berkowitz said. “I just knew there was a book here.”
An excerpt from the book’s description on Amazon, where it’s currently on pre-order:
When Joe Berkowitz witnessed his first Punderdome competition, it felt wrong in the best way. Something impossible seemed to be happening. The kinds of jokes we learn to repress through social conditioning were not only being aired out in public—they were being applauded. […] In this immersive ride into the subversive world of pun competitions, we meet punsters weird and wonderful and Berkowitz is our tour guide.
Away With Words finds Berkowitz interviewing characters all over the pun map, from @Midnight comedians to Bob’s Burgers writing staff, to certain (cough cough) MULTI-TIME PUNDERDOME CHAMPIONS who reside in our very own borough.
Berkowitz confessed that picking the title was almost as hard as writing the book.
“I’m not going to lie, coming up with the right title was so fucking hard,” he said. “The title needed to be a) about puns b) about pun competitions c) pithy d) have a pun in it. […] For a while I thought ‘Punnish’ was the one and there was a half-hour there where I was convinced ‘Game of Groans’ could work.”
If you need proof that puns aren’t just a mindless way to mince words before buying, here’s Berkowitz’s recollection of an especially cutting political one-liner he heard at a recent ‘Dome: “The category was Italian food and ‘A Kick In The Punt’ [aka Jordan Gwiazdowski] said ‘All the ladies in the house, the government wants to legislate what you can do with your bodies, and I don’t want them to put their laws-on-ya.’ There was … significant applause.”
If that doesn’t pas-ta test, we don’t know what does. Berkowitz’ book isn’t out until 2017, but you can pre-order a copy on Amazon today. Oh, and if you happen to be well-connected in the Broadway theater scene, Berkowitz has one last request for you.
“Please give this book to Lin-Manuel Miranda.”
Sam Corbin is High Priestess of Puns in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter: @ahoysamantha