Fast Company reporter Joe Berkowitz investigates the bizarre and hilarious world of pun competitions from the Punderdome 3000 in Brooklyn to the World competition in Austin.
When Joe Berkowitz witnessed his first Punderdome competition, it felt wrong in the best way. Something impossible seemed to be happening. The kinds of jokes we learn to repress through social conditioning were not only being aired out in public—they were being applauded. As it turned out, this monthly show was part of a subculture that’s been around in one form or another since at least the late ‘70s. Its pinnacle is the O. Henry Pun Off World Championship, an annual tournament in Austin, Texas. As someone who is terminally self-conscious, Joe was both awed and jealous of these people who confidently killed with the most maligned form of humor.
In this immersive ride into the subversive world of pun competitions, we meet punsters weird and wonderful and Berkowitz is our tour guide. Puns may show up in life in subtle ways sometimes, but once you start thinking in puns you discover they’re everywhere. Berkowitz’s search to discover who makes them the most, and why, leads him to the professional comedian competitors on @Midnight, a TV show with a pun competition built into it, the writing staff of Bob’s Burgers, the punniest show on TV, and even a humor research conference. With his new unlikely band of punster brothers, he finally heads to Austin to compete in the World Championship. Of course, in befriending these comic misfits he also ended up learning that when you embrace puns you become a more authentic version of yourself.
Relentlessly hilarious, mercilessly self-aware, and consistently compassionate,
Away with Words isn’t just a chronicle of competitive punning but also
a story about discovering where you belong and claiming your destiny.
People often dismiss puns and punsters out of hand, but Joe Berkowitz reveals the best for who they really are - quirky, creative and often truly brilliant.
If competitive pun-makers can be heroes, Away with Words tells the tale
of a hero’s journey.
I love Joe Berkowitz’s writing. He combines a down-to-earth, sometimes skeptical eye with a fantastic sense of humor and a true joy in creativity. He’s a cool dude because he’s also a nerd par excellence. Of course he became obsessed with puns. Get into his wordy weird brain and enjoy yourself
This funny little book results from Berkowitz’s yearlong dive into the subculture of pun competitions. Of most fun is Berkowitz sharing in detail his own nerve-wracking performance at the World Championships, as well those of his competitors. Recommended for passionate readers of books about words and wordplay.
[Away with Words is] low wit in its highest form…Mr.Berkowitz is sensitive throughout to the evanescence and contingency of punning and to the fleeting chemistry of a live pun-on-pun matchup crackling with energy.