Ask the Punmeister

Ask the PunmeisterQuestion:

I am a contestant for the “Punniest in Show” competition this year. Quick question: Are flash cards allowed on stage? I’m just having a small quiet freak-out about getting up there and drawing a blank.

Dear Blank,

While there are nor rules specifically forbidding it, judges will rate your overall performance based on their own criteria, and that could include things such as “presentation” and “preparedness.” Thus some judges may take into consideration the fact that you’ve relied on notes or flash cards but it’s a pretty minor factor and if you’re not ready to go “off script” I wouldn’t recommend the risk of a brain freeze.

The truth is that many contestants are writing and/or refining their P.O.S. entries right up to the last minutes so it’s not unusual for many of them to arrive on stage with a complete transcript in hand. Whatever works for you and will yield the best possible performance is what we want to see. I’m sure you’ll get it all worked out.


Could you explain the rules in two areas please?

Scoring: The Punniest of Show rules say that puns “will be scored on a scale of one (1) to ten (10) by a panel of judges. A contestant’s score will be determined by adding the judges’ scores together.” Is that raw total then divided by the number of puns to determine the winners on the basis of highest average per-pun score?  Or would someone with 20 puns, each scoring (6), beat someone with 10 puns, each scoring (10)?

Timing: Is there any penalty for being significantly under or over the 90 second mark, as long as the 2 minute limit isn’t reached?
If not, and if the contestant’s final score is simply the raw total of pun scores, then wouldn’t the scoring system favor a high number of rapid fire puns which use up almost 2 minutes?

Also, when the timekeeper allows for audience response, does the allowed interval extend to the time at which the contestant actually resumes? In other words, can/should the contestant wait for silence before continuing?  Asked by “OCD”

Dear OCD,

The first thing you need to understand is that the P.O.S. contest is much more about quality than quantity. Sure, quantity is a factor and generally speaking the more puns you can pack into your allotted time the better will be your chances for success, but that’s only a part of the game. I tend to think of it more in terms of the set-up / punchline ratio. People will hold still for only so much set-up and the payoff needs to justify the effort required for folks to follow it. These days most P.O.S. routines are a tightly constructed monologue incorporating strings puns relating to a single topic. It’s the most economic way to take advantage of minimal set-up. The exception would be song parodies which rely heavily on the audience recognizing the original lyric and appreciating the substitution of similar words. These are an entirely different animal which seems to be nearing extinction.

About scoring: The scores of the judge panel are determined by their own subjective impressions of your overall performance. Some may discount points if you’re working from a script as this is usually a sign that you’re ill prepared or have arrived with something thrown together at the last-minute. Some will take into account whether or not the subject has already been done before (often the same day!!) Others may factor in things such as stage presence, body language, age, costumes or other non-punny things. It’s difficult to know how to please all judges. The most important thing is that you’re engaging the audience and presenting something that is mildly entertaining in a punny way. (Hint: A judge may sometimes be baffled by puns made on subjects they don’t know well, but they will usually pick up cues from other judges or the audience. ~ e.g.- Contestants sometimes pun on local references like street names or obscure computer jargon or terms. It can be dangerous but sometimes pays off well.)

In P.O.S. each judge has a vote card ranging from zero to 10. Each contestant gets only one score from each judge. Usually we have 6 judges and the highest and lowest scores are discarded. Thus the most possible points that any P.O.S. contestant may receive is 40, regardless of how many puns are presented. (Note: In the P.O.S. competition we make no distinction between a true pun and other sorts of wordplay that commonly passes for a pun. In the PunSlinger competition the rules tighten up considerably. Even if the audience laughs and doesn’t know the difference…we do!)

About timing. The allotted time for P.O.S. is 90 seconds and you should design your presentation to be delivered more-or-less within that range. Slight variations will occur in a live presentation that didn’t show up in rehearsal so we allow the extra 30 seconds as a buffer to ensure that nobody is disqualified due to a fumbled prop, limping microphone or a wardrobe malfunction. Major audible disruptions such as car alarms, applause, fire trucks and commuter trains (All of these are a very real prospect) will be accounted for and slack will be cut. In some cases a re-start may be offered at the discretion of the emcee. Please know and understand that passing the 2 minute mark is the kiss-of-death for a presenter. There is NO GRACE PERIOD beyond 120 seconds. You may still receive votes from the judges, but if you’re still performing past the sound of that gong you are disqualified.

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