If jokes are important in stand-up, does that still include puns?
Puns have got a pretty bad name. The staple of both “dad jokes” and Christmas cracker groaners, the good old-fashioned wordplay gags have been treated as both dated and timeless in equal measure.
Given that the English language is almost designed for wordplay, what with its flexible grammar and multiple ways of expressing the same thought, you would think that the UK comedy scene would embrace puns and wordplay comedians. But does it?
Using the highest selling DVDs as a quick measure, it seems that the only pun-smiths or one-liner merchants to get regular chart positions are Milton Jones and Tim Vine. Everyone else is pretty much a personality comic – they may mix observational humour with stories from their own life, but they’re not telling unrelated artificial gags one after the other.
Indeed, many of the newer generation comedians generally avoid things that look like gags in their set, relenting occasionally and then post-fixing it ironically with something along the lines of “Ooh, a PROPER gag there”.
Puns and gags are not about to die out, though. They take a lot of writing – some comedians reckon you have to write 4 or 5 bad jokes for every one good one – but a great joke is generally appreciated by audience and comedians alike.
Here are some notable gag writers and performers you might want to look out for live.
Milton Jones is very well known for his off-beat one-liners. His jokes are individually very well conceived and written, often causing a 30 second laugh each. As a result, he doesn’t need to tell many jokes per hour in order to deliver the goods. He has a good line in Twitter jokes too.
He has a great combination of style and substance and is a hero to many budding gag writers out there.
Vine is at the other end of the scale. He delivers jokes as a torrent. Many of them are ok, quite a few are indistinguishable from cracker jokes, but there are enough perfectly formed strokes of comic genius to warrant putting him on your must-see list.
The trick with Tim Vine, however, is the delivery. He knows all too well how the audience feels being barraged with gags, and he plays that to his advantage. He threatens to go on forever, mixes in music and physical humour in his live shows, and just IS funny.
Less well-known, Masai is a midlands-based comic who won this year’s Leicester Comedy Festival UK Pun Championship. Posing as “General Punochet”, Masai’s gags won over the judges at Leicester, and have also been quoted as outstanding jokes from the last two Edinburgh Fringe festivals. Masai varies from family-friendly fun jokes to dark, twisted corners of the comic imagination. He’s one to watch out for.
Definitely a “comedian’s Comedian” as well as an audience favourite, Delaney is a prolific comic writer and highly respected circuit act.
He started out very dead-pan, with jokes that delved into darker subjects, but these days chooses not to hide his delight at the art and craft of cracking funny one-liners.
There’s a harmless geeky charm to his demeanour, and this gives him licence to say many more unsayable things than lesser comedians might get away with.
Loads and loads more…
We’re barely scratching the surface here. This list could go on way longer. The point is that there’s a lot more to puns than a cryptic question that makes everyone in the room wince when the answer is revealed.
Your local comedy club probably has someone cracking a joke that you’ll be wanting to take to work the next day and tell your mates.
At the same time as these writer-performers are writing these jokes, the likes of Sickipedia, various Facebook meme distributors, (and even Keith Chegwin), are taking them and republishing them as their own. Hopefully you’ll seek out the original article and enjoy these gags first hand.
Photo by Sam Felder