One’s experience with the Punderdome can be likened to an initial viewing of the movie Inception, in that you’re never really sure what exactly it is that you’re watching. Are you certain that you’re in a time-warped dream within a dream within a dream? Or are you just a pseudo-intellectual at an event based on mental capacity? It feels like real life, but these strange and magical things keep happening where words are manipulated, stories are weaved, and conclusions are drawn that goad the audience to raucous applause or good-natured groans. In any case, one thing is for certain – you are definitely not in the lucid dream of Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s plausible this dream might occur in that of a much quirkier character, say, one such as the late, great Rodney Dangerfield. And as it turns out, one of the co-hosts of this event is Rodney Dangerfield impersonator Fred Firestone; the other is his “alleged daughter” Jo Firestone. Really, at this point, the confines of reality are anyone’s call.
The Punderdome of January was a refreshing pocket of sarcasm, wit and of course puns, all housed on the warm and welcoming stage of Littlefield bar in the Gowanus area of Brooklyn. The ‘Dome is done on a bracket-like system, where the first round pits handfuls of competitors against each other and two from each group move on to the next round. Contestants sign up with punny monikers (Pun DMC, Pun & Teller, Well He Quipped, Punda Express, Forest Wittyker, and Punderdog, just to name a few) – some of whom have been competing since the very first event back in May of 2011. They are given 90 seconds to come up with puns on assorted topics, some of which included, “B-list Celebrities,” “Great Inventions,” and “New Year’s Resolutions.” The event is chock-full of endearing quirks administered freely by the hosts.
One of the perks of attending this punning competition is that it’s interactive. Obviously, an audience member’s experience is not so much “hands on” as the competitors’, but without an audience to interpret meaning, there is no successful pun. Also, in this particular competition, without an audience there would be no winner crowned, as the deciding method is a giant cardboard contraption that a volunteer straps over their entire head/upper body to “gauge” the level of audience applause – in Punderdome, this is known as the “Human Clap-o-meter” and it is only the bravest of souls who will subject themselves to the kind of verbal discord thrown their way should they make an unpopular decision.
There are no right answers, but competitors can butter up the viewers by any method of their choosing to get the applause going in their favor. Sharp puns, confidence in delivery, and a healthy dose of charm are a competitor’s most cunning weapons. For better or worse, my place at the back bar did not afford me a closer view of the mooning that occurred courtesy of a contestant I witnessed drinking straight whiskey shots just minutes before. Some of the best moments came via pure improvisation, as Punda Express in the final round (whose topic was “Pumpkins,”) quipped, “rough patch,” after his previous pun flopped.
The best puns form a slow burn and keep the audience guessing where they’re headed until the punch line is dropped, and the rewards can be big. Big like a “Ping Pong Anywhere” set, which is exactly what the grand prize winner received via the “Mystery Box” he chose, sending the runner-up home with an awesome Warhol-esque print of – who else? – Rodney Dangerfield.
It’s a show within a show, and definitely worth checking out this monthly event. Find details for the next Punderdome below, and be sure to check out their very active Facebook page.
WHAT: Punderdome 3000
WHEN: February 5, 2013, 8 PM (Monthly event)
WHERE: Littlefield, 622 Degraw St., Brooklyn
HOW MUCH: $7
BUY TIX: littlefieldnyc.com
Photo Credit: culturedproductions.com