Tonight I was at the UK Pun Championship at the Leicester comedy festival. This was a gig that I didn’t expect to be going to, as my brakes had failed and owing to my mechanic being on holiday at the worst possible moment and the main dealer having to get the parts in I was car less. A friend had suggested going by train as the venue (De Montfort Hall) is close by the station, but getting a train from Mansfield to Nottingham to Leicester and then back again struck me as a night on a park bench just waiting to happen. Luckily Big Jon Pearson came to the rescue offering to give me a lift to and from Leicester, which was lovely of him.
De Montfort Hall was decked out a treat for the show, with a boxing ring in the centre of the room. I wouldn’t say that my seat was the best, but luckily it gave me a great view of the ring. The contestants were Samantha ‘Puntergatherer’ Baines, Iain ‘Crapunzel’ MacDonald, Luvdev ‘The Punjabi Warrior’ Barpaiga, Colin ”Punstoppable’ Leggo, Nigel ‘Leytonstone Lip’ Lovell, Richard ‘Puntagenet’ Pulsford, Julian ‘Pun DMC’ Lee and Roger ‘Punderstudy Swift. Prior to this, I’d only seen Barpaiga, who possibly has the most misspelt and mispronounced name in comedy, Lovell, who has some great gags on facebook and Swift whom I’ve found builds up a lot of momentum, if given the chance. I wouldn’t have liked to speculate on the winner prior to the gig, although Pearson was confident that Barpaiga would win.
Our host was Jason Byrne, who didn’t have the best of nights. He began by getting people to clap to the music and exhorting people to have fun. This seemed a little forced, but he was bubbly and energetic enough to carry it through. He then explained the format, which would be four head to head battles, a break, the semi finals and then the final. This was followed by a spot of audience work, which can’t have been easy with people sat on all four sides of the ring, but which in truth was still pretty underwhelming. Byrne wasn’t helped in this by only seeming to have a sketchy idea of the local towns and him mishearing where people lived. I shouldn’t expect him to know all of the villages, but he seemed to struggle more than most and just saying Shepshep in a puzzled voice a few times didn’t make up for this. In addition there were a few times where Byrne lost count of how many times a contestant had gone on a given subject, meaning that some had four puns and others only three. I don’t think that this affected any results, but it could have been improved. When it came to the final, which was a dead heat, Byrne seemed to run out of ideas quickly and rather than asking people to cheer only for the finalist they thought was the winner, rather than cheering for each one, as Spiky Mike does when his gong shows are tied, he just asked each side of the room to cheer, which merely perpetuated the stalemate. Byrne was lively and kept things moving, but relied on energy to get through the night.
The opening round was Pulsford v Barpaiga
The first category was Gorillas and then Oscars soon followed. Barpaiga, looking a little bit like a genie, gave a solid opening pun and seemed the more naturally the funnier of the two. Pulsford took longer with his set ups and despite applause they appeared more laboured than Luvdev’s puns. On the subject of Oscars, Barpaiga scored with a knockout pun that took him through the cheer off into the semis.
The second round was Iain MacDonald v Nigel Lovell (sporting boxing gloves and robe)
The categories were Birds and Country Music. This was a clash of styles. Lovell delivered his puns as if he was on stage, whereas MacDonald remained still and calm, telling his jokes in a slow Scottish drawl. Despite the talent shown by Lovell, MacDonald’s writing was superior and this won out over Lovell’s superior delivery.
The third round was Roger Swift, who clambered into the ring by sliding under the bottom rope, pushing his suitcase before him, v Colin Leggo.
The topics were beer and mindfulness. Leggo looked relaxed and confident, in contrast to Swift who looked edgy and eager. Leggo made a clever start, but some of his puns were a bit convoluted. Swift pulled ahead with the first two puns, had a miss with the third, but hit the room with a cracker of a pun about senses to win through to the semis.
The fourth round was Julian Lee v Samantha Baines
The subjects were dogs and America. This was a very one-sided contest with Lee steamrollering over Baines. Although Baines corpsed a lot at her own gags and lost a bit of impetuous she did well to recover when some sod in the audience shouted out his own punchline to one of her puns before she delivered her reveal. Lee, playing on his Geordie accent with his first pun, quickly established himself as the man to beat and his combination of strong material and good delivery made him a favourite to win.
The first semi final was Barpaiga v MacDonald
The topics were veganism and trains and this was an evenly matched affair. Both comedians had some good puns and Luvdev was the narrow winner on the cheer off. I was very impressed by MacDonald and felt that his slow and ultra dry delivery would work wonders building over a longer set instead of having to stop after each pun.
The second semi final was Roger Swift v Julian Lee
The categories were Star Wars, Boxing and then in extra time, Brexit. Swift made for a compelling sight as he clambered into the ring, sliding under the bottom rope, pushing more stuff than some people take with them on a weekend away. Star Wars was a bit of a God send for Swift and he hit the room with some very strong puns and prop puns (as some of his props were double sided, it was hard to work out which picture we were meant to be looking at, at first). Lee countered this with perhaps weaker puns, but a stronger delivery. Swift then built up a lot of momentum in Boxing by a string of puns set in a restaurant. Lee was unlucky to mangle the set up to his first boxing joke, but remained in the game, so much so that this was the first contest to require an extra category: Brexit. Although Swift made a strong showing, Lee once again powered through, still looking very much the man to beat.
The Final was Luvdev Barpaiga v Julian Lee
This bout utilised every category left – baking, facebook, clouds, parents, monarchs, snow and pizza. This was a contest that rolled back and forth. Lee was patchier than before, with some really good jokes landing heavily, but also a few weaker ones creeping in, whereas Barpaiga, whilst perhaps not hitting the highs that Lee did, managed to avoid having anything miss too badly, instead maintaining a constant level. The result of this was stalemate, with Byrne having a number of cheer offs and failing to get any closer to a resolution. This was beginning to look rather awkward. Suddenly someone in the audience shouted out ‘Free style!’ and the audience took up the chant with almost everyone chanting ‘free style’ at Byrne who went with the flow. Here the idea was that the contestant would announce the topic they were returning to, which included any used during the night and they would then do a pun. Barpaiga started with America, which Lee countered by building upon Luvdev’s jokes and coming out ahead. Drugs and then Chips followed as topics with Barpaiga’s material being the stronger. Lee made up for this by his ad-libs. Whenever there was silence, he’d pop out an extra line and the constant mirth not only demonstrated how quick he was on his feet mentally, but also showed his natural funniness. This, though, still left everything delicately poised. Byrne then resolved to settle the night by each contestant delivering one final gag and then putting the mic down. Lee went first and ended on a strong one, but Barpaiga finished with a huge bang, landing his strongest joke and topper of the night. It might have been a narrow win, but Luvdev did well and was a worthy winner.