Pun-lovers and word-enthusiasts crowded the basement of The Spring Street Tavern on Wednesday night, clumping together near the stage.
Many had arrived early, desperate to sign their name for a slot to compete. Others, knowing every table would be full, were sure to grab enough chairs for their friends. These people sat contentedly, drinking beer and sharing finger food until the slam began.
Every third Wednesday of the month, the tavern's Club Underground hosts a pun slam called Pundamonium.
The competition is set up like a poetry slam, with five audience members selected as judges. These people decide, based on grades written on a handheld whiteboard, which punner should move on to the next round.
Punners select a topic from a large plastic pitcher and have only a certain amount of time to brainstorm before they perform for two minutes onstage.
To say it’s tricky would be a pun-derstatement. (Did we do that right?)
“It’s its own kind of madness,” said Art Allen, the founder of Pundamonium. “It’s not structured like any other comedy show, and, of course, it’s all pun themed. And it’s great because people who don’t want to hear puns don’t come.”
Allen first came up with the idea for Pundamonium in 2014. An avid pun enthusiast, he said he wanted to create a comedy show that celebrated a medium not often seen in performative comedy.
“I think ‘Pundamonium' really resonates with people because puns are this sort of almost guilty pleasure,” he said. “Puns are always the things that you try and sneak in, and then you have to apologize for. And here it’s gratuitous.”
So, how do you know if something can be classified as a pun?
“You’ll know it when you hear it,” said Maggie Ryan Sandford, a former host for the Minneapolis Pundamonium.
Despite the multiple directions punners can take, even experts may struggle with difficult topics. For instance, some themes last week were “famous dogs,” “beans” and “things that are flat.” Luckily, the audience usually cuts performers some slack.
There’s one rule, however, that the audience must abide by.
It’s called “pun-heckling.”
“Say a pun, or keep your goddamn mouth shut,” Allen ordered on Wednesday night.
Unlike real heckling, which can get someone kicked out of a comedy club, pun-heckling is where audience members essentially “roast” the performer by out-punning them.
“If I miss something really obvious, then the audience is going to yell it at me afterwards,” Sandford said. “And when they’re yelling puns at you [it’s not because they’re mad], it’s because they like what you’re doing and they’re also in on the joke.”
Pun-hecklers aren’t exempt from the groans and “awws” of the crowd, either.
But these aren’t necessarily a bad thing.
“People love cringe humor,” said Pundamonium co-host Donavon Cawley. “Although some would call puns the lowest [form of] humor, puns are the “think-iest” humor. ... That groan you’re hearing is not just people getting mad that they’ve heard a joke. That groan you’re hearing is people realizing what the joke is and feeling stupid for not realizing it [sooner].”
As Allen says, it’s not who makes the puns, but rather the act of sharing puns and laughing about them that makes the pun-off so special.
“It’s a space for people who are not comedians or who might have never gotten on stage before to do comedy in what I think is the most supportive comedy around,” he said.
When: April 17, 8 to 10 p.m.
Where: Club Underground at the Spring Street Tavern, 355 Monroe St. NE., Minneapolis
Cost: $6 general admission, $4 for students