Andy Zaltzman and the Art of the Pun

I went to see Andy Zaltzman in his show Armchair Revolutionary at the Udderbelly last night (a birthday present from my lovely sister. Thank you!)

As fans of the Bugle podcast will know Andy’s comedy is full of extended metaphors, biting social comment, sparkling verbal dexterity and extreme punning.

The pun is a form of humour usually more endured than enjoyed. We call them  “groaners” for a reason. At worse they are a form of verbal thuggery battering the listener into tired laughter with their dull double meanings.

But Andy Zaltzman is a master of the pun. He takes it far beyond the dad joke. He exaggerates the pun. (Another important comic tool, exaggeration . Thus he builds comedy on comedy forming um… metacomedy or er…  com-comedy… or something… Moving on.)  He makes puns where puns should not be allowed to exist. And somehow all of this works a miracle – Andy Zaltzman makes puns funny.

My favourite extreme pun in the show (I won’t spoil it for you) is an Edith Piaf reference. (You’ll know it when you hear it.)

Andy Zaltzman is much more than a cunning punster. But what I found most interesting, from a comedy writing point of view,  about the show was how he took that most despised comedy form, the pun, and made the crowd (of Zaltzman fans, admittedly) laugh out loud at it.

This doesn’t mean that I think that everyone should suddenly start more punning. But it shows that almost anything can work in comedy if done right. It’s doing it right that’s the hard part. I’m off to do some more work on that then.


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2 Comments on "Andy Zaltzman and the Art of the Pun"

  1. Griff
    20/04/2012 at 9:41 pm Permalink

    My take on puns (and wordplay in general) is that it works when the end result is something funny in itself, and not just because it sounds like another word or reveals a double meaning or whatever.

    So Tim Vine’s pun about a steam engine enthusiast who is run over being “chuffed to bits” works for me, because when you try to picture someone being “chuffed to bits” it’s a pretty funny image. The pun and wordplay are funny (for me) because of where they get you to, not because of the cleverness. But you need the pun/wordplay to take you there, otherwise you’re just saying random funny-sounding things and you lose the setup/punch rhythm.

    A weaker pun such as you might find on a lolly stick or comedy writing forum, e.g. “What do cats read? Mewspapers” fails completely because we can’t picture a “mewspaper” and while the end result satisfies the requirement of being a pun, it doesn’t take you to a funny result.

  2. david
    21/04/2012 at 8:35 pm Permalink

    I think you’re right – the best pun jokes are more than just puns, they do something else, like produce a funny image. They are then (I would argue) something other than “just” a pun.

    I would point out that a lot of Zaltzman’s pun are of”pure wordplay”/dad joke type, but so extremely contrived and over the top the cumulative effect is funny. Either because of the sheer inventiveness and word twisting of his pun runs or the over elaborate extreme set ups of some of the others.

    Also he does a lot more than puns in his hour show. I think I would be wary of any show that was only puns for an hour – even the masters like Tim Vine. I think 20 minutes of pure puns is my personal limit!

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