Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
3 September 2015updated 26 Jul 2021 7:55am

A night out at the Punderdome 3000

Becca Rothfeld watches Brooklyn’s best punners battle it out with headline writers from the New York Post.

By Becca Rothfeld

Girls just want to have pun, so last week I headed to Punderdome 3000, an epic pun-making competition at the Highline Ballroom in Chelsea. The event pitted previous Punderdome winners against headline writers from the US tabloid the New York Post, best known for gems such as “Osama Bin wankin’” (when US officials unearthed Osama Bin Laden’s personal stash of pornography) and “Headless body in topless bar” (self-explanatory).

Broad-shouldered and apparently corporate types nursed overpriced cocktails while women teetered tipsily in heels. The crowd seemed ill-fitted to the proceedings, which wed the raucous atmosphere of a fraternity party with the cringing embarrassment of a high-school talent show. When the hosts, Fred Firestone and “his alleged daughter”, the local comedian Jo Firestone, called on members of the audience to complete a series of terrible puns, I braced myself for an evening of campy spectacle. “When chemists die, we . . .?” they cried, to which the crowd responded in unison, “Barium!”

Gradually the teeterers and I succumbed to the earnest charm of the punners, who competed under pseudonyms such as Daft Pun and Forrest Wittyker. In the first round, reigning Punderdome champions had 90 seconds to come up with two minutes of puns on a given topic. The results were assessed by the Human Clap-O-Meter, a device operated by a blindfolded volunteer who moved a pointer to reflect spectator sentiment. The rankings ranged from “rotten tomato” (near silence) to “punderful” (thunderous applause). Riffing on “the digestive system”, the punner Words Nightmare vowed not to date men without feet, as she’s “lack-toes-intolerant”.

A panel of “celebrity judges” offered input during the elimination rounds. There was Bevy Smith, co-host of the television show Fashion Queens; Pat Kiernan, a morning news anchor of the NY1 news station; and Éric Ripert, a chef of the three-Michelin-starred restaurant Le Bernardin – a Frenchman who speaks English poorly with a thick accent and was an illogical choice of judge (“Between the accent and the not knowing what’s going on it will be hard, but I will romaine calm,” he assured spectators).

In the final round, Ally Spier (Words Nightmare) and Jerry Gwiazdowski (Jargon Slayer) faced two New York Post writers for high-stakes prizes: “New York bragging rights” and the contents of two “mystery boxes”. The teams were asked to come up with pithy headlines for a piece that originally appeared in the Huffington Post under the punless title “Student forgets to plug in his headphones while watching porn”. Clad in matching “Headless Body in Topless Bar” T-shirts, the Post writers held their own with “Oral exam”, “He got a D” and “He studied hard”. But the Punderdomers triumphed with “Audio-erotic”, “Wacks on, wacks off” and “Masterbeats by Dre”.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

The event put a face to the anonymous voices behind a local institution. “At work, it’s work, but here, there’s so much enthusiasm that it’s not work, it’s just fun,” Billy Heller, the deputy features editor of the Post and a Punderdome 3000 finalist told me. It was a wonderfully weird and wonderfully shameless way to spend an evening in New York. 

Content from our partners
The truth about employability
Why we need a Minister for Citizen Experience
Look at the person, not the CV

Topics in this article :

This article appears in the 26 Aug 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism