Around 400 people gathered on Sunday, November 6, at a Kuala Lumpur coffee shop called The Bee. Inside, there was barely enough room to stand, but that didn’t stop people from having fun and enjoying what they’d all come to witness—Malaysia’s very first pun competition. Adequately titled Pun Competition Malaysia, the event was a massive success, and by the end of it, Malaysia had its first winner of “The Punniest Ever” title, a guy called Zim Ahmadi.
Punning (also called paronomasia), is a type of wordplay that feeds on words with multiple meanings, or different words that sound similar. When you say that the cannibals didn’t eat the clown because the clown tasted funny, the joke relies on the fact that “funny” has two meanings. When you say that Bilbo Baggins started walking without his shoes and it turned into a hobbit, you’re using the fact that the words “hobbit” and “habit” sound alike, and that Bilbo is, in fact, a hobbit.
Puns have had a way of coming in and out of fashion throughout history. They were popular at the time Jesus lived, as the Bible has us believe (Matthew 16:18, anyone?). Cicero was a prominent punster, and a very funny member of Roman society. Shakespeare wasn’t afraid of using a pun now and then, and the author of Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift, wrote a guide to punning. Swift’s guide came at a time when puns were being attacked by people such as the English essayist Joseph Addison and the English godfather of lexicography, Samuel Johnson, among others. Even though we’re well past the eighteenth century and the great punning uproar of that time, puns are still met with cringes. Or so it seems.
The very first Malaysian Pun Competition is interesting not because it’s an isolated event—it’s not—but because it shows that love of punning is a real thing. The O. Henry Pun-Off has seen people doing their best punning every May since 1978. But newer torch-carriers have been popping up left and right. PUNDERDROME is a Brooklyn-based punning competition that’s been running since 2011. Pundamonium is a pun-slam competition that’s been held around the United States since 2013. The UK Pun Championship celebrated its fourth birthday this year.
So yes, pun competitions are a real thing. People actually turn up and enjoy listening to puns and have a good time. This shouldn’t come as a surprise though—the stigma against punning has been heavily challenged by the likes of late-night talk show hosts Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers, the creator of BoJack Horseman Raphael Bob-Waksberg, and the legions of people who have contributed to making Tumblr the best place on the Internet for hilarious punning. Bad puns are still bad, just like bad jokes are, but good puns will make people watch a TV show, check out a website, or come to an event to share a laugh with other punthusiasts.