Seeking pun-ters for Canberra's pun competition, Capital Punishment
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Seeking pun-ters for Canberra's pun competition, Capital Punishment

Capital Punishment. Smiths Alternative, 76 Alinga Street, Civic. Friday, March 15, 7pm. Admission $10. facebook.com/therecanonlybepun/.

Euan Bowen, aka Sir Arthur Pundragon, performing at <i>Capital Punishment</i>. 

Euan Bowen, aka Sir Arthur Pundragon, performing at Capital Punishment

Oscar Levant tweaked the old saying about puns when he said, "A pun is the lowest form of humour - when you didn't think of it first."

Thinking of a pun first - or rather, many puns, and quickly - is key to triumphing in Capital Punishment, Canberra's only pun slam. It returns for 2019 in March.

John Lombard co-hosts the event, which began about eight months ago, with Georgia Johnston.

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"They're very popular in America," he says.

He read about them and thought they looked fun so he and Johnston organised what was intended to be a one-time event. But it proved to be so popular they made it a regular thing.

"It's great fun," Lombard says.

"I'm the good cop to Georgia's bad cop."

She's the one who lays down the law, he says.

A typical Capital Punishment begins with Lombard delivering a "Punalogue" on current events. Then the games begin.

Each of the contestants assumes a pun name - monikers have included "Mary Poppuns" and "Puncahontas". Then each presents a two-minute pun-filled monologue on a preannounced topic, such as Halloween, brain, martial arts or bureaucracy. There are other rounds that might include Punctionary, in which puns are drawn, and About Face, with puns made on celebrity photos.

In the final Pun Off, the two remaining contestants pun back and forth until one runs out of puns (some Pun Offs have gone on for as long as 13 minutes, Lombard says. The winner is pronounced the Puntiff of Canberra or the Puntocrator - at least until the next event, when their supremacy will be challenged.

Lombard says there have been a few "ridiculous moments" such as scheduling a Star Wars-themed pun slam the night the Star Wars burlesque was in town - the perils of arranging events well in advance - and on occasion audience members throwing underwear on the stage in support of contestants.

Euan Bowen (aka Sir Arthur Pundragon), a trademark examiner by day, has been one of the most regular contestants - and winners - since the event began.

Inveterate punster Bowen says his wife, Carmen King, hates puns: "I get one pun a day at home."

Michael Ubrihien aka Mic Drop performing at <i>Capital Punishment</i>.

Michael Ubrihien aka Mic Drop performing at Capital Punishment.

Capital Punishment provides him with an outlet. To prepare for each announced topic, he says, he will Google for a list of terms related to them and see which stand out as having amusing ("to me at least") homonyms.

"I build a list of options, then start to flesh them out and polish, seeing what goes where and what fits in the time allowed."

Here's one of Bowen's efforts, from a Disney-themed night: "Everyone tries to get on the Disney bandwagon, too. There's even a porn parody of Monsters, Inc. but I'll not sully my eyes with such filth."

And here's another, from when the subject was Brain: "Our AC drips and I'm all over it. I hate how the vent trickles."

You may laugh or groan, but these are the kinds of puns that have led to Bowen, or Sir Arthur Pundragon, being the reigning champ.

Bowen's arch-rival is Michael Ubrihien (aka Mic Drop), another regular contestant and winner.

Ubrihien, an actor, says he had always loved puns, which require a good knowledge of the English language. When he heard of Capital Punishment, he jumped at it, relishing the challenge of competition - and the opportunity to hear others' puns.

Apart from winning, he says he loves getting reactions out of people.

"I love it when people laugh; I love it when people cringe."

Among his self-created favourites are (subject: diseases): "Did you hear about the guy who grew eight extra eyeballs? He got ten-eye-tis"; and (subject: sport): "Did you know that gymnasts use condiments that are only sold in the warmest season? They use summer salts."

And perhaps he's luckier punwise than Bowen on the domestic front: he says, "My girlfriend, for the most part, reacts well to puns."

Both of them say they will take part in Capital Punishment for as long as they can and it's people like them who keep the event running. If you think you're a pun-dit, ot you simply want to come along and enjoy a steady stream of wordplay, check out the event's Facebook page.

Ron Cerabona is an arts reporter for The Canberra Times.

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