Interview: Richard Pulsford – Unexpected Items in the Badinage Areas
‘By the end I wanted my brain to stop!’
This article is from 2015.
Pun guy Richard Pulsford tells us about the most inappropriate scenario in which he came up with a joke and why punning shouldn’t be viewed as a bloke thing.
When did you realise that the punning style of comedy was the route you would take? Did storytelling not appeal?
I’ve always loved playing with language so wordplay was always likely to be my chosen route. I’m not the dominant voice in any conversation but then I will usually feel compelled to interject with some remark which utilises a pun or call back, demonstrating that I have been paying attention, and making everyone laugh. That’s probably why I’m not very successful at interviews.
Can you tell us your all-time favourite pun?
I think the Marx Brothers would have to feature in there somewhere, or Kenneth Williams’ ‘infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me’. But I also love that supposed court examination where the prosecutor and defendant have a misunderstanding along the lines of ‘have you ever dabbled in voodoo?’. ‘We both do?’. ‘Voodoo?’. ‘We do’. ‘You do?’. ‘Yes, voodoo’.
Do you have a specific method of working ie. do you sit down at the start of the day and announce: ‘I’m going to write four puns today’? Or do you trust that they’ll pop into your head when you’re shopping / jogging / showering et al?
No, with three young children I never have the opportunity to simply sit down and write. But inspiration always comes from the interactions with everyday life and conversations, and that works for me.
What’s the weirdest scenario you’ve been in when you’ve come up with a great joke / pun?
When my partner was giving birth. There was something both sublime and ridiculous about sitting dressed-up in an operating theatre, like a spare part, which fired the creative juices.
If you go two days without coming up with a workable pun, do you start to get the shakes?
Not really. I know that there will be days without any inspiration. Similarly there will be other days when the ideas just seem to flow. I went to see Milton Jones’ show at the Fringe last year and found myself unable to stop thinking of new ideas for 48 hours afterwards. By the end I wanted my brain to stop!
Do you think that punning is a bloke’s game? There seems to be a distinct shortage of female comics doing a full hour of punning stand-up at the Fringe. Is punning really such a wildly macho pursuit?
There are female comics who seem to love doing puns: eg. Bec Hill. And certainly as many women as men seem to like my material, so it is a bit of a puzzle as to why it’s seen as a male pursuit. There’s certainly nothing macho about punning per se, but if you get more than two punsters in a room it can often turn competitive in a laddish kind of way. Far more comics, male and female, use puns in their act than is perhaps realised, but just not in a ‘laddish’ kind of way.
Do you make the kind of comedy that you like to see? Or would a night at a gig full of puns be some weird form of torture?
That’s an interesting question. If you said ‘come and see people performing puns for two hours’, my immediate reaction would probably be negative. But if you said ‘come and see Milton Jones or Stewart Francis’, I would jump at the chance. So I think it’s all about expectations, because with wordplay you can get the worst kind of comedy but also the cleverest and most memorable as well. I always try and make the best of every single wordplay joke I write, so it’s a pleasurable experience for an audience as they are surprised by each punchline.
Richard Pulsford: Unexpected Items in the Badinage Areas, Beehive Inn, 6–30 Aug (not 10, 17, 24), free.