The Pun of Puns

“The future, the present, and the past walked into a bar,” exclaimed the Bard of Puns. “Things got a little tense,” he sighed.

Ah, you’re one of “that kind of people,” Shaun Kelly. You’re a punster.

Yep, always have been; forever will be. I dream of leaving this world, to paraphrase Graham Nash, by making just one last pun before I go.

As early as the 1960’s, I commenced spewing forth puns like lava in my classes at school. My English teachers at Wellesley High, especially Mr. Brooks Goddard, encouraged me, exclaiming, “Shakespeare made a second career of it.” As a fledgling teacher in the early 1980’s, when I was put in charge of the evening announcements at the boarding school where I toiled for five years, I found my calling and used it to a punny advantage. By the third week as communicator extraordinaire, I had a burgeoning fan club. So what might my announcements (or pronouncements, as my boss called it), might sound like? Here’s a Whitman Sampler from just one evening’s riffs:

“Folks, we will have a dormitory soccer tournament this coming weekend. I want you all to participate. After all, seven days without playing soccer can make one weak.”

“Tonight, after study hall, we will be showing Howard the Duck. Many critics fervently believe that this film should get top billing.”

“Nice of the basketball players to clean up their table just now. After all, they are such good dribblers.”

“The Math Club will be meeting after dinner this evening. To the mathematicians who thought of the idea of zero, thanks for nothing!”

“The net result of this announcement is that our tennis courts will be open for free this Sunday. If pressed, I’d say that’s quite a racket. Don’t you just love tennis? Sorry, guys, I guess that one was out of bounds.”

“Our Science Department wants you to know that they yearn to be included in our school’s reading challenge this fall. I’m currently reading a book about anti-gravity. It’s impossible to put down.”

“Our food focus next week will be centered on the cuisine of Switzerland. As someone who taught and lived there in the early ‘80s, I can tell you that there are many great things about the country. For instance, the Swiss flag is a big plus!”

I could go on and on, but you get the point.

You can only imagine how many puns I have generated a teacher for nearly four decades. If each pun were a sun, you’d need a Hubble Telescope to account for them all. My heavens would dwarf all others. Sadly, my poor students have been subjected to this universe for nearly forty years. As you might imagine, they are usually star-crossed by the end of the year. Every once in a while, one curious student will ask me in class, “Mr. Kelly, what is the best pun you’ve ever made?”

For most punsters, that is an impossible question to answer. After all, punsters aren’t born; they’re made. While many puns are the product of writers, the vast majority of my puns have been situational. I hear; I think; I react almost instantaneously. As a lifelong punster, I have both experience and quantity, which form my pun-chant for jests. You might find that is repun-g-nant, but, after all, my quips are very much homes-pun.

But, yes, there was one pun that I made that was so over-the-top, so great, that it remains my Starry Night, my To Kill a Mockingbird, my Casablanca.

It happened, in all places, in a biology class during my sophomore year at Wellesley High School. I was taught by a veteran biology teacher named Mr. Howard. Because he was around sixty, sober by nature, and decidedly curt with everyone he came across, he was nicknamed, “Happy Howard” by his legion of students.

To his everlasting credit, however, Mr. Howard attempted to make a joke each day during his biology lectures (this was in the day when class participation was considered a virulent form of socialism). They almost always failed, but, in retrospect, it was sweet of him to try to “break on through to the other side.” We speculated that Mr. Howard methodically wrote the joke into his scripted text and read it aloud. When he did so in class, a slight smirk on his face would give it away. We would inevitably roll our eyes as sixteen-year-old students do, no matter the time period.

One afternoon, Mr. Howard was pontificating about dissecting a rabbit, when he began to smile ever-so-slowly.

Nancy, one of my peers and a dear friend, whispered next to me, “Oh, God, Shaun, here it comes.”

Happy Howard took a deep breath and then took the plunge: “Earlier, today, I opened the refrigerator door in our lab, and who should be sitting there looking at me but a rabbit. I asked, ‘Mr. Rabbit, what are you doing there in that cold refrigerator’?”

“‘I’m westing,” the rabbit replied. “Didn’t you know that this is a Westinghouse?”

I thought for a moment, raised my hand, and remarked, “Well, Mr. Howard, that must have been a frigid-hare.”

In terms of puns, it’s been downhill ever since.

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