Spokane resident Annica Eagle placed third last year in the prepared category of the World Pun-Off Championships. This weekend she is off to Austin, Texas, to defend her title and hopefully place even higher.
Growing up, Annica Eagle says she hated puns. The corny jokes her family would make would cause the teenage Eagle's eyes to roll to the back of her head. For example, whenever she would say she was bored, her father would say that he was saw. It was these kinds of puns that at first turned her away from the art.
“They were terrible,” she says. “The bar was set really low.”
It wasn’t until later that Eagle started to realize that she actually enjoyed puns. In fact, she was quite good at them. In 2015, she started performing with the Blue Door Theatre
, an improv comedy group performing in Spokane since 1996. Several of the group's activities and games involved puns, which Eagle excelled at.
“I think I just realized that was how my brain was wired," she says.
After some encouragement from the group, Eagle decided to look for a pun competition to compete in. After a brief internet search, she came across the O.Henry Pun-Off World Championships, held annually in Austin, Texas.
The competition is split up into two different events: prepared and improvised. In 2016 Eagle competed in the improvised category. The next year she was put into the prepared category as a result of a lottery system. It was there that her pun-ridden letter to Congress about the House of Representatives' vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act won her third place and the title of third most-punniest person in the world.
“The hallmark of a true pun is that it’s very much in the moment," Eagle says, “and just really captures what’s happening in that conversation.”
After experiencing a punning competition first hand, Eagle decided that she wanted to run one of her own in Spokane. The Punderground
was started in October of 2016 and hosts a bi-monthly pun competition at Boots Bakery & Lounge.
The event is based off of the improvised category at the world championship and meant for all ages. Contestants are put into pairs of two and given a category. Whoever runs out of puns first or says anything that isn’t a pun is eliminated. The top three are given themed prizes based off of whatever Eagle can find at the local Value Village.
The Punderground has grown so popular that it has since expanded to add an adults-only, 21-and-over competition. Punderground: After Dark is held bi-monthly at the Observatory in Spokane.
“Puns are often referred to as the lowest form of humor, which I don’t agree with,” Eagle says. "Because if they were the lowest form of humor, then everyone can pun, and not everyone can pun. But I do think everyone who wants to pun can. It just takes a degree of playfulness which we have in abundance here in Spokane.”
Eagle will be competing this weekend at the 41st Pun-Off World Championships on Saturday.
Looking towards the future, Eagle says she wants to move the Punderground to a larger venue and start selling merchandise like T-shirts and possibly even pun books.
“Surprisingly, a lot of people are into puns," she says. "You just don’t know it.”