Live Review, UK Pun Championships Final, De Montfort Hall, Leicester Comedy Festival

This year’s UK Pun Championships Final went the full WWF. The eight finalists didn’t perform on a stage, they had their joke-offs in a wrestling ring MC’d by Jason Byrne, who press-ganged audience members – in the nicest possible way –  into announcing each round by running round the ring holding cards up. 

First on was Richard “Puntaganet” Pulsford from Fife via Yorkshire against Lovedev “Pun-jabi Warrior” Barpaga from Birmingham. This was Pulsford’s third final but it was no case of third time lucky. As each tried to crack gags on the randomly chosen (from a bucket) subject of Gorillas Barpaga gained the upper hand - despite a social media savvy “What’s Ape/WhatsApp” quip from Pulsford – and went through to the semi-final.

Second match was Glaswegian Iain MacDonald against Nigel Lovell from London. Lovell was another previous finalist but MacDonald had him on the ropes with some extra ad libs and comebacks and impressive gags on the subject of Birds: “I used to see my collection of birds regularly. Now I only see them aviary once in a while…” 

Third pun-off was Cornwall’s Colin Leggo against Shropshire’s Roger “Punderstudy” Swift. This was an interesting one - Leggo had the punchiest delivery of the eight finalists while Swift had the most props, such as a globe, a case and some placards for most occasions. Sure enough when the subject of Beer came up Swift had a can of booze taped to a copy of the Live Aid single - a Guinness World Record – and eased through.

Last up was - hold your breath - a woman. Samantha "Punter Gatherer" Baines is the first female comic to make the Final and even she has the word “man” in her name. Unfortunately it is still the UK Pun Cha(m)pionship and strong contender Julian “Pun DMC” Lee from Newcastle made the cut. We could talk for ages about men being better at one-liners and women being better at more conversational humour. That is certainly not always the case and Baines has been very funny on Twitter recently (despite being on her honeymoon) but Lee had the edge when it came to pay-offs that you couldn’t see coming.

After the break it was semi-final time starting with Barpaga against Iain “Crapunzel” MacDonald. In a foreshadowing of the final this close match went one way and then the other, with the aspiring punmeisters trading blow after blow on the subject of Veganism, before Barpaga scored a victory on the subject of Trains: “When I was told there were no more seats on the Delhi train I hit the roof.” 

Competing for the last place in the showdown Julian Lee looked to be up against stiff opposition when the subject of Star Wars came up and his opponent Roger Swift just happened to have a Darth Vader placard and a Deaf Star gag up his sleeve. But despite fluffing a price comparison joke, getting his “Amir Khan” and his “Amir Cat” lines muddled, Lee seemed to have the most support from the crowd – the winners were the ones who got the biggest clap – and knocked out Swift.

And so to the final, in which there were six rounds with each competitor delivering two jokes per round. Yet the more Barpaga and Lee traded verbal swipes the less they could be separated. Jason Byrne could not choose a winner. He tried dividing the audience up into four quarters but the cheers still came up even-stevens. So making the rules up as he went along, he let them freestyle on subjects of their choice. I thought Barpaga was shading it when he came up with “which Roman Emperor was an epileptic? Julius Seizure.”

But Barpaga still hadn’t cracked it until one final gag, which for me – if for nobody else in the room – was controversial. He took a deep breath and did a gag about Lionel Richie opening a butcher’s shop for Asians called “Halal, is it meat your looking for?” Variants of this gag have been doing the rounds for years*, but maybe there is nothing in the rules to say that gags have to be original. Having said that I don’t know if any rules exist. Barpaga was duly crowned Pun Champion 2017 and he certainly deserved it - though not necessarily for his final joke.

*Following publication of this review Barpaga wrote on Facebook that he had genuinely come up with the joke himself but has decided to drop it from his set as he doesn't want to be thought of as a joke thief.



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