Flogging a dead horse

Topical puns are tiresome, says David Bussell

Horsing around. The trots. Neigh. Stable. Unbridled. Filly. Champing at the bit. Mane. Rein. Shergar. Furlong. Hay. Mare. Findus keepers. Pony. Saddled. And they're off!

There you go, punsters, everything you need to ensure you're making the exact same jokes everybody already did a fortnight ago next time the horse meat scandal makes the headlines. Now get cracking, you’re running out of light and you’ve not even started in on those Pancake Day puns!

I’m not talking about you of course; you’re an original right? I mean I’m sure you were the first to crack that Pope joke yesterday – a quick Google search ought to prove that (hey, while you’re at it, look up the ‘Evolution of Dance’ will you, I think you’ll find it a real hoot!). What’s that now? Someone pipped you to the Pope pun post? Aw, poop!

Not to worry, I mean even if you were a first responder, what have you really achieved bar proving you were at the front of the queue to scan the morning news, crack open a thesaurus and dutifully rattle out a sentence containing one or more of the listed words? (Hopefully followed by a shower hot enough to scour the imaginary cockroaches off of a meth head).

Topical puns are the comedy equivalent of posting “FIRST!!1!!” on a web forum – dull, hollow and maddeningly repetitive. I get that there are only a finite number of ideas floating around in that intangible cloud we call the collective unconscious, but why make your job even harder by ploughing the exact same furrow as every other hack? Must you align your comedy so rigidly with the news cycle? Doesn’t it bum you out telling jokes that are already going stale halfway up your windpipe? Wouldn’t it be fulfilling to write something that stays funny longer than 24 hours? For Christ’s sake, even the Findus lasagnes you’re lampooning have a better shelf life than that.

I’ve discovered the only way I can enjoy topical puns is to take them at face value. Try it yourself if you like, just find a one-liner comic on Twitter (you know who I’m talking about) and imagine what they’re saying isn’t a joke but a statement of fact. Now respond to the author appropriately; for example:

A comic makes the Findus keepers joke? Bluntly point out to him that he spelled ‘finders’ wrong.

Someone makes the ‘Richard III hide-and-seek champion’ gag? Let them know in painstaking detail that the game hide-and-seek is thought not to have arrived in Europe until several centuries after Richard the Third’s lifetime.

A comedian posts a Gangnam Style parody video? Kick them in the coccyx and leave it at that.

Now some might call this ‘joke pooping’, and to be sure it won’t win you any friends, but if a news headline can be turned upside down for the sake of a cheap pun then surely it’s fine to flip it right-side up again and enjoy it to that end? Fair’s fair; recycle something enough and don’t be surprised when it does the full 360.

Anyway, don’t mind me. Carry on cacking out your news puns - I can’t wait to hear them all over again in a month or two when my elderly father sends them to me as an email forward. And then once more on Radio 4.

Published: 12 Feb 2013

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