Review: UK Pun Championships Final, De Montfort Hall, Leicester

#UKPunday, founded by the Leicester Comedy Festival, has become a fixture in the social media calender. This year wordplay-based tweets notched up over 100 million impressions during the day. That’s a lorra lorra lols. And sometimes during the final of the UK Pun Championships one did feel the best gags had already been hashtag cracked.

But what the live event lacked in finely honed literary finesse it more than made up for in in-the-flesh thrills, as MC Jason Byrne oversaw joke-offs between eight finalists in a wrestling ring in the middle of the venue. Subjects were chosen, jokes were cracked and audience cheers decided who went through to the next round.

First up was Scot Iain MacDonald, nickname the Puncredile Hulk, against English geezer El Baldinho, the Pungician. MacDonald had a slightly better nickname and slightly better jokes too as they traded cooking quips (Arab-Scottish chef "Gordon Ramasses", evil hipster food "Devil's avocado", a cold curry – "Chicken Jalfreezi"). Maybe it helped that MacDonald seemed to have a phone directory-sized pile of notes in front of him, but this was within the rules and he quickly went through to the semi finals.

There was also a brief allegation of cheating when Rob Thomas (pictured - aka Pun Robert, Pun Robert, Pun Pun Pun)) kept looking at his smartphone. His opponent Samantha Baines ("Hit & Pun") wondered if he was googling gags, but in fact he just had his notes on his gadget and any objections were rejected. Baines has made it to the finals before but she was no match for Thomas who was runner up in the first Championships in 2015. While Thomas' gags about drinking were more considered – one in particular about "mulled wine" took its time to hit home – Baines was more route one - an "Ale Hitler" line got as many groans as laughs,

It was a closer tie between 2017 runner-up Julian Lee – The Pun & Only – and Colin Leggo, alias Pun DMC. Leggo had the more crafted material but Lee’s one-liners packed a powerful punch. Game, set and match to Geordie Lee.

The last quarter final saw Tim Andrews ("Pun Lovin' Criminal") enter the ring in boxing gloves and a red and white dressing gown to take on Adele Cliff ("Thor, God Of Punder"). After being mocked by Byrne he quickly came back by saying he wanted to be the “Santa of attraction”. This quickfire ad lib, however, wasn’t enough to get him through and he was beaten soundly.

After the interval the semi-finals saw the last four punsters standing slug it out. Rob Thomas won his heat against Adele Cliff despite a bit of no holds barred needle over some footballing puns when he made a playful crack about hairy women and she hit back with a joke about middle-aged men. 

And Julian Lee won his semi against Iain MacDonald in probably the closest pairing of the night. Last year one of the rounds was so tight the evening overran so this time Jason Byrne had appointed a table at the front to have casting vote and they went with Lee, but if there could have been a draw it would have been here.

And so the final was between two previous runners-up. Both hit a rich vein of form here and it could have gone either way. One of the rounds had them coming up with puns about Leicester and Thomas seemed to have done more research. Hew certainly knew the names of more Leicester City footballers. Whereas nerves seemed to get to Lee, who fluffed a gag about Thomas Cook and never quite got back on track after a tumbleweed-prompting one-liner about Una Stubbs' maiden name being "bomber".. A little bit of edge was added to proceedings with a final round on Brexit, but by then Thomas was on a roll while Lee was on the ropes. After second place in 2015 Thomas went one better and collected the 2018 crown.

The Leicester Comedy Festival runs until February 25. Buy tickets for all events here.

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