My love of cartoons, jokes, and punning goes back to my childhood. At various times I would check out humor books from the library or buy them—and have a great time reading. Reader’s Digest humor columns were other favorites. My family would always wonder what I was laughing at, and I would make them smile as I repeated the anecdotes—but I had to remember not to go overboard with knock-knock jokes and riddles. And they were great at telling jokes themselves.
On my first job, a co-worker was very fond of making jokes and puns. We would trade banter throughout the day, along with others who loved to laugh. Discovering Pun Enchanted Evenings: A Treasury of Wit, Wisdom, Chuckles & Belly Laughs for Language Lovers takes me back to those times. Open David Yale’s book of original puns at any point, and you’re sure to have a good laugh, chortle, or chuckle. I highly recommend this book for when you are having a lousy day—it will cheer you up. Pun Enchanted Evenings was nominated for a Global eBook Award this past spring, with winners selected by August 11, 2011. Find out more about Pun Enchanted Evenings here and on @bestpuns. The book is available everywhere in eBook and print formats.
Each reader has specific favorites, so here are mine: Why did they fire the proofreader? They found out she had type-O blood! (It’s a nod to my line of work.)
What would you call a very flexible group of musicians? A rubber band! (Recalls a joke from the owner of Scholl’s Cafeteria, told to my aunt and her co-workers many years ago. He asked the group if they liked music. When they said yes, he took out a rubber band and said, “Here. Take this band and play it.” Everybody laughed.) I also liked the one about Benny—told by Mr. Yale’s uncle, Artie.
And here’s one that reminds me of my recent vacation in Savannah: Why can’t you drive to the town of Waycross? Because no matter how close you get, it’s still Waycross Georgia!
Mr. Yale was very kind and patient to participate in an e-mail interview with me. I asked about his career, his love of punning, and how he came to write the book. Here are his responses to my many questions. Enjoy! –Carrie Smoot
Would you tell me a little bit about your careers, growing up and living in New York, etc.? Are you still a public relations guy? I grew up in the golden era of Brooklyn, when everybody in the neighborhood knew each other and nobody knew a crime victim because in our working-class neighborhood, there were none. In those days, you played with your friends in the street, you always ate at home (there were no restaurants in our neighborhood), and you learned to travel around the city on your own. I started taking solo trips on the subway when I was eight. This lifestyle fostered an independence and self-reliance we don’t see in kids today.
My first career was as a college instructor during graduate school in Minnesota, teaching freshman communication. I did dramatic things in class to make my point, including taking my suit jacket and trousers off (I had jeans and a work shirt underneath!). Years later, when I hear from former students, they still have vivid memories of my classes. After graduation, I ran a neighborhood recreation program in North Minneapolis for the Parks Department. Among other things, I worked with a large group of teenagers, often making up silly songs on the spot to make my point with them. I moved to California, got a part-time job with Oakland Parks & Recreation as a consultant, and was quickly promoted and trained as a public relations officer. My secret dream had come true—I was actually being paid to write.
At the time, there were no good books and no adult education classes about PR for people involved in nonprofit organizations. I started teaching seminars for the University of California, first in Berkeley, and soon after, throughout the state. At one of my seminars, a literary agent in the audience suggested I write a book, and offered to represent me. That’s how my first book, The Publicity Handbook, was born. It’s still in print today, 29 years later, and was a Fortune Book Club selection.
But I was homesick for New York, even after many years away. So I moved back here, rented a tiny office on Fifth Avenue, and set up a freelance writing practice. A number of clients asked me to write direct mail promotions, and I discovered I loved them far better than public relations. After staff positions with Publishers Clearing House and Lindenwold Fine Jewelers, I returned to freelancing. I have clients in the USA, Canada, Australia, England, and Germany, and I regularly teach direct marketing seminars in Germany.
What is your favorite thing about New York? I love that New York is a real city, with plenty of public transit options and lots of people. We live on the edge of the city, and still we have a railroad station and four bus lines within five blocks of our house. And that makes a difference in how people behave. When you’re in social situations on public transit, instead of isolated in your own car, you become a more outgoing person who is more involved in your community. I also love the diversity of New York. And, of course, it is my hometown. I was born in Staten Island and raised in Brooklyn.
How did you get interested in puns and wordplay? There were two big influences. First of all, I always heard things differently than other people in my family. When I was about six, my dad told me he had gotten a raise in pay. I was quite upset. “Dad, we can’t eat all those raisins. We need money!” I said. I didn’t know it then, but I was hearing the words as a mondegreen, a misinterpretation that is a form of punning. The other big influence was my uncle, Arthur Gordon. Artie loved puns and jokes, which he always told in a quiet, understated, and very funny manner. He’d tell a pun, my dad would laugh until tears rolled down his cheeks, and I, at the age of seven or eight, sometimes didn’t get it. But Uncle Artie would patiently explain the pun to me until I did get it. And then, at a later date, he would retell it so I would get a chance to laugh at it, too. My interest in words continued to grow. When I was in fifth grade, I discovered that the East New York Savings Bank had a newsletter for kids—and it published poetry. I promptly submitted some of mine and it got published. I was hooked on words. By the time I was a teenager, I was punning all the time, and it was a wonderful outlet for the typical adolescent wiseguy I was.
Tell me a little more about your uncle, Arthur Gordon. What was he like? My uncle was a soft-spoken, kind man with a tremendous sense of humor. Before he got married, he lived in my grandpa’s house around the corner from us. Then he and my aunt Janet moved—two blocks away. So I saw a lot of them. Artie used to babysit for me, and when I was eight years old, he worked as a counselor in the day camp I went to. So he drove me to camp and back every day that summer in his tan ’46 Plymouth coupe. He was always telling me jokes and stories.
Why do you think puns are so popular? I don’t know, but they are, especially away from sophisticated cities like New York, where they are almost a form of folklore. You often see them in business names, like Dew Drop Inn. And kids everywhere love them, especially teenagers, who can use them to express some of their frustration.
What inspired you to write books on humor and punning? When I worked at Publishers Clearing House, I was continually punning. That’s when I started writing down my puns on slips of paper—and keeping them. Several friends there urged me to put them into book form. I did, but even though I was a published book author with an agent, I couldn’t get it published. Years later, I looked at the manuscript again, realized it was really good, gave it another try, and voilà! Pun Enchanted Evenings was born.
How do you come up with puns? What is your thought process? It just happens. I don’t usually think about it at all. Sometimes they just pop into my head, fully formed. And sometimes I hear other people talking, and misinterpret the words as mondegreens. Recently, I was in a coffee shop eating lunch. Two men at the next table were talking, and one of them got moderately upset. “Don’t take offense,” the other guy said, but I didn’t hear it that way. “There aren’t any fences in here to be taken,” I said in a stage whisper. But they both heard me—started laughing—and forgot about the upset.
Another time, I was walking in Manhattan. A big burly guy was delivering kegs of ale, but he didn’t have a hand truck. So he was carrying them, one at a time, and I could hear the ale sloshing. When he put down the keg, without even thinking, I went up to him and said, “Do you know you’re a poet?” “I am? Why?” he asked. “Because you shakes beer!” We both had a good laugh.
Since I can’t predict when they’ll pop into my head, and I forget them if I don’t write them down, I have to keep pads and pens everywhere—in my coat pocket, on the kitchen table, in the bathroom, and on my nightstand along with a flashlight. I sometimes wake up during the night, use the flashlight so I don’t disturb my wife, and write down a pun I was dreaming about.
Do you write a lot of them at once, and then test them out on your family? How do you know you have a keeper? Is it a little like stand-up comedy? Some days—even some weeks—I don’t come up with any puns at all. And then there are the super-productive days when I create as many as 37 of them. My rule of thumb is that I always write them down on my pads, no matter how bad or rudimentary they are. Often what I write down first is just the idea.
When I have a bunch of puns on my pads, I go to my computer to put them into my database. That’s when I shape them and research them. I want to make sure I’m using words correctly and have my facts right—especially after I realized—after it was published—that I had made a factual error in Pun Enchanted Evenings. Pun #153 refers to a gnu as a bird. It is not any such thing! Although the error does not kill the pun, I’m embarrassed that I didn’t know a gnu is an African antelope, not a bird.
I currently have 2,117 puns in my database—these are in addition to those in Pun Enchanted Evenings. I review them from time to time, and find that even at this stage, some of them should be culled because they aren’t top quality. But most of them, in my judgment, are. My main criteria: Is it funny? And is it understandable?
One thing that amazes me is that people choose different puns as their favorites. Both on Twitter (judging by which puns get Retweeted) and in reviews of the book, there is little agreement about which puns are favorites. I do try out my puns on family and friends. My wife likes some, but not all of them, but my 16-year-old daughter abhors them all. I’ve also tried performing them, and yes, it is a little bit like stand-up comedy.
Here’s a YouTube video of Mr. Yale telling “Roscoe the Cat” puns:
And more for dog lovers:
Is Pun Enchanted Evenings intended as a reference book, or just for general enjoyment? It’s slightly different reading than a novel or nonfiction. What are some of your favorites from the book? I see Pun Enchanted Evenings as entertainment. Pick it up when you want a laugh or two, read a bit, put it down, come back to it anytime, and repeat the process. I suppose some compulsive people like me will read it from cover to cover, in order, but you don’t have to! Here are my favorite puns from the book. But everyone who reads the book seems to have their own preferences!
Which tropical islands are havens for insects? The Ant hillies!
Why do men want to kiss women on the first date? Because they think it’s the quick-kiss way to get what they want!
Why did early computer designers avoid the binary number system? Because they thought it was un-ten-able!
Why wouldn’t the senator accept the lobbyist’s gift of a leather jacket? His constituents would know he was suede!
What would you think about a potion that turns people into cats? I don’t know, but it would give me paws!
Why did the moron think he owned the place after he got 25 cents interest on his savings account? Because he had a quarter interest in the bank!
Why shouldn’t you put a baby’s dirty diapers in the laundry bin? You wouldn’t want to hamper his movements!
What kind of cereal do uncouth people eat? Oafmeal!
What are the characteristics of great, effective, and memorable puns? Great puns surprise you with a punch line you don’t expect. They are funny, and they often reveal a bit of truth that some people may even find uncomfortable. My favorite, which I wrote recently: “People who want to slash education budgets won’t take know for an answer!”
What are the attributes of the best punsters? Punsters have to be flexible thinkers with huge vocabularies and a passion for language. There is also evidence that punsters and pun-lovers are more secure, generous, highly innovative, and have better on-the-job performance, according to studies by Professor Al Gerian in the Journal of Sighchology and Professor Sue Crohse writing in the Journal of Ego and Id-eology. For more information about these two studies, see http://bit.ly/eMxtSA.
What advice do you have for people who want to share puns, but who don’t want to overdo it or sound obnoxious? Should you just wait to insert a joke or pun naturally into the conversation? When is it okay to pun, and when not to? Is it advisable in a business meeting? Don’t force your puns on people who don’t appreciate them. That’s no fun for anyone, and it makes you feel defensive. Find pun lovers—they are everywhere—and then you and they will enjoy punning together. If you’re considering punning in a business meeting, think very carefully about it. Unless you know everyone at the meeting really well, and you’re 110% sure nobody will be offended, don’t do it. Some business cultures allow for fun and laughter, many do not. If you’re sure you have a sympathetic audience, make sure your puns are related to the topic at hand. And even then, limit them to just two or three during a meeting.
Some people are really fast on the draw when it comes to punning, and getting the jokes. Any tips for being quicker on the uptake, or developing something really clever? I really think this is a skill that must be developed in childhood or adolescence. But if you have this skill and you want to polish it, read other punsters. There’s a list of nine great pun books on my website, http://bit.ly/dWB6S3. Or you can follow me on Twitter @BestPuns for a steady stream of Yale originals, as well as Retweets from some of the world’s greatest punsters. If you send an @ Tweet with a pun to a punster, you’ll often get a reply in the form of another pun. Reply to that with a further pun, and you can get a dialogue going. That’s a great way to practice.
When does your next book come out? I’m not sure yet. While I do have the material, I am working on another book on direct marketing. So the next pun book will have to wait until that one is finished.
What do you enjoy doing when not thinking about or writing puns? Being a father—even though my daughter hates puns! Listening to jazz, blues, folk, and classical music. Gardening in my postage-stamp sized yard. Bicycling around the neighborhood. Going to Europe to teach direct marketing seminars and spending time in Paris while there.
What new puns have you come up with lately? As of today, I’m up to pun #2117—and that’s in addition to the wordplays in Pun Enchanted Evenings. Here are some of my recent favorites:
Why did the moron disconnect the chime at his front door? He wanted to win the no bell prize!
Why is the Russian economy becoming weaker? You only get out what you Putin!
Why does a foul-mouthed knight give up his power? He becomes Sir vile!
Can you catch fish with just a hook? I don’t know. That’s de-bait-able!
What did Arlo Artebedian say to his brother when Arlo’s wife was expecting? You’ll be an uncle in nephew months. And they’re twins—isn’t that niece, too!
The rancher’s newly hired cowboys spent a lot of time strutting around town, and not much time with the cattle. The rancher upbraided them, but they retorted, “Cowboys should be seen and not herd!”
Why did the moron ask the bank for a roll of coins after his house burned down? He needed new quarters!
If you don’t quite get a pun at first, what’s the best strategy for figuring it out? A. First check to see if the key word has a homophone—a word that sounds just like it, but is spelled differently, like beat and beet.B. Then look to see if that key word has a homonym—words that are spelled and pronounced alike, but have different meanings, like lead (the action of leading) and lead (the metal). You can find a huge database of homonyms and homophones at http://www.cooper.com/alan/homonym.html. C. If you still can’t figure it out, try saying it out loud. Look for words that will change meaning if slightly mispronounced. D. Sometimes there are facts you need to know to get a pun. In my wordplay, What do you get when you injure your foot climbing the cliffs above the Tyrrhenian Sea? A sore rent toe! You have to know that the Tyrrhenian is near Sorrento, Italy. So if there are unfamiliar words, look them up. Please keep this in mind: Not everyone who claims to be making a pun knows what they’re talking about. A recent informal survey I did on Twitter found that less than 40% of Tweets labeled #pun were, in fact, puns.
Tell me more about Healthy Relationship Press and how you founded it. I founded A Healthy Relationship Press, LLC in 2008 to publish my first novel, Saying No to Naked Women, after I couldn’t find an agent to represent me. I already had a major book published by Bantam and McGraw-Hill, The Publicity Handbook, a Fortune Book Club Selection. But that didn’t seem to matter. So I decided, “I know how to market, and these days publishers expect authors to do most of the marketing anyway, so why not do it myself?” My publishing operation uses print on demand, which actually makes books one by one whenever my printer receives orders. Pun Enchanted Evenings is the second book A Healthy Relationship Press has published. I’m working on another book right now, with the tentative title of Money-Making Marketing Secrets of a Direct Mail Master in the Internet Age, with a tentative publication date of early 2012. Saying No to Naked Women is an unusual—and controversial—coming-of-age novel. It uses magical realism to explore one man’s struggle to overcome porn addiction, features a pun-cracking heroine, and is set in the Arkansas Ozarks. In addition, it includes oral history I gathered back in the ’70s that is available nowhere else. PsychCentral.Com called it “…a Dickensian fairy tale for the modern age, demonstrating the ways in which childhood fears and insecurities can leave many men struggling with the porn values and sexual addictions that are so prevalent in society today …. the denouement contains a powerful and important message.” You can find out more about Saying No to Naked Women at the book’s website: www.SayingNoToNakedWomen.Com.
You have said that several of the puns are not intended for kids. What is the best way to phrase this without folks getting the wrong impression of the book? Most of the puns in this eBook are fine for children. But a couple dozen of them are slightly to somewhat off-color. Some parents may have a problem with this; others won’t mind. The puns in question are numbers 18, 20, 55, 66, 102, 103, 164, 210, 216, 269, 334, 354, 376, 470, 488, 540, 555, 572, 578, 588, and 627. Please keep in mind—that’s only 21 puns out of 746, or 2.8%.
Thanks, Mr. Yale, for a great interview! Keep punning, and good luck on the award!