Official Pun-Off Competition Rules

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In 2020 and 2021, the pandemic required a different online competition format. In 2022, we return to an on-stage performance and prior rules.



The O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships are divided into two contests: Punniest of Show and PunSlingers. Registration is required for each event. Contestants may enter either or both contests. A maximum of thirty-two (32) entrants per event will be accepted for registration. On-line contestant registration starts at noon on September 1, 2022 at this web site.

On the day of the Pun-Off, contestants must sign in and pick up their registration packet at the Pun-Off location between 11:00 am. - 11:45 am. Packets not picked up may be assigned to the names on the registration contestant stand-by waiting list who can be present when called to the stage. Contestants unable to meet these requirements must contact the event organizers and make other arrangements prior to 11:45 am on the day of the Pun-Off competition.



Each entered contestant will be allowed to present puns on stage for 90-seconds. Puns may be presented in any format (e.g., visual, musical, stand-up routine, etc.), and will be scored on a scale of one (1) to ten (10) by a panel of judges. A contestant's score will be determined by adding the judges' scores together, after tossing the highest and lowest scores. If a judge displays a score higher than 10 or lower than 1, that score will be lowered or raised to the nearest allowable score (i.e., an 11 becomes a 10, a 0 becomes a 1, etc.). Contestants will be judged on content, originality, and general effect of the presentation, including judges' interpretation of audience response. Contestants may use notes or scripts, but should keep in mind that the judges may take this into consideration when determining their score.

Contestants should endeavor to keep their routines under ninety (90) seconds in length. Each routine will be timed by an independent timekeeper, who will allow for audience response and other technical difficulties when determining if 90 seconds have passed. At the end of 90 seconds, the timekeeper will sound a signal, indicating that the contestant's 90 seconds has expired and a thirty (30) second grace period is now in effect. At the end of this grace period (i.e., after two (2) minutes' total time), the timekeeper will sound a second signal, and the contestant will be asked to leave the stage.

Although the judges may still give a score for the routine, any contestant whose presentation is in excess of 2 minutes total time is automatically disqualified. The Master(s) of Ceremonies (often colloquially but incorrectly referred to as “the judges”) will make the final determination of elapsed time based on the timekeeper's signals. In the event of an incorrect or inadvertent signal from the timekeeper, the Master(s) of Ceremonies will, as they deem necessary, adjust the contestant's remaining time.

The contestant with the highest total score will win the event. In the case of a tie score, the tied contestants will be called back on stage, where they will present part of their routine again. After all tied contestants finish, audience response will be taken. The contestant that receives the best audience reaction, as determined by the judging panel and the Master(s) of Ceremonies, shall win the event.



This competition will consist of five rounds of single-elimination heats. For each preliminary round, two contestants will be called on to the stage (a pairing), at which point they will be given a topic. The contestant with the lowest entry number will have five (5) beats to deliver a pun on the topic. The other contestant then has a five count to respond with another pun on the same topic. Contestants who exceed the allotted five count will be eliminated from the competition. The survivor of each pairing advances to the next round. Each preliminary round will result in the elimination of one contestant. There will be no time limits in any rounds. In the event of an odd number of contestants, a round may consist if three contestants with two being eliminated.


Puns may NOT be made on the same word during a round. A contestant who violates this rule will receive a "strike" and will be given another five seconds to come up with a valid pun that has not been used during the pairing. During the course of a pairing, each contestant will be allowed three (3) strikes before being eliminated. At the discretion of the emcee, strikes may also be awarded for non-puns made on qualifying words or actual puns made on non-qualified words unless an acceptable "repair" is offered. An unsatisfactory "repair" may be considered a "non-response" and will result in a strike. Three "strikes" against either contestant immediately ends the round. Once each preliminary round pairing has begun, the topic will not be changed. The Master(s) of Ceremonies reserves the right to change, define, or narrow the topic or draw a new topic before starting any round of play.

Time keeping (beat counting) by emcees will allow for audience response and other technical difficulties when determining if a five count has passed. The Master(s) of Ceremonies will make the final determination. In the event of an incorrect or inadvertent signal from the bell ringer, the Master(s) of Ceremonies will, as they deem necessary, adjust the contestant’s remaining time. The final round will consist of no more than three (3) contestants on stage, subject to the same rules stated above. The survivor of this final bout will be declared the winner, and champion PUNSLINGER.



During registration (see above), contestants will receive a number for each event entered. If a contestant enters both events, the contestant will receive two numbers, one for each contest. These numbers will determine the contestant's order of appearance in each contest. Contestants will not be allowed to trade or exchange numbers drawn for either event unless cleared to do so by the Master(s) of Ceremonies or registration officials.

Contestants in the Punniest of Show competition will appear in numerical order, starting at one (1) and ending at thirty-two (32). If less than 32 people enter Punniest of Show, non-selected entry numbers will be skipped and the contestants will be called to the stage in numerical order.


Contestants entering PunSlingers will be paired against each other according to the numbers they draw during registration for the Punslingers event. If the maximum of 32 entrants has not been reached at the end of registration, each contestant will be paired up against the contestant whose entry number is numerically closest. If a contestant leaves the contest before their number is drawn for either event, and/or does not respond when their number is called, their number will be skipped and the contestant will be disqualified from further competition in that event for the day.


If, for any reason, there are an odd number of entrants competing in the first round of Punslingers, the remaining unpaired contestant holding the highest number will be given a bye to the next round and will be paired against the contestant with the lowest number who survived the previous round. After the first round, any other odd-numbered contestant will be matched up in a 3-way elimination at the end of each round.


The Master(s) of Ceremonies shall not overrule or change the positions determined by the judges' scores in the Punniest of Show competition (except in matters of an exceeded time limit and/or audience response), but will have final authority over all other phases of registration and of both contests, including the interpretation and implementation of these rules.


No employee of the O. Henry Museum or the City of Austin, nor any member of, or anyone officially associated with the Brush Square Museums Foundation, shall be held responsible or liable in any way for the final outcome of either contest or for any other matter regarding the competition as a whole or in part.


Bite Your Tongue!

Because the O. Henry Pun-Off involves so much unrehearsed and spontaneous wordplay, it is not possible for us to guarantee to the public any particular level of “maturity” in our presentation. Double entendre and risqué references will usually go over the heads of the innocent while being appreciated by the mature, but we do hope that all contestants will think twice about deliberately including overt sexual references or other adult themes in your prepared material. We feel a responsibility to our audience, many of whom are young and impressionable, to present a program that is not intentionally offensive in its nature. We are especially eager to see that our event is perceived as a “family friendly” one. Everyone will be on the “honor system” in this matter . We don’t plan to have any “thought police” on duty , but it is hoped that all participants will rise to the occasion by not sinking into the depths when participating in our celebration of the “lowest form of humor.”