I’ve always thought it sad somehow that people tend to groan at a pun. To be fair, a pun is a little hard to react to because it’s not humorous in an obvious, laugh-eliciting way. For a regular joke, or an obviously humorous situation, a laugh is an instinctive, immediate reaction to our recognition of an unexpected absurdity, some sort of ironic contrast between what was anticipated and what was observed. But a pun’s humor is often more subtle. It usually has to be thought about or processed somehow, thus evoking a slower reaction, and its humor is often less starkly obvious. As a result, I think people just don’t know how to react, because a laugh doesn’t just tumble out automatically after hearing one. And in that moment of awkwardness people likely groan in order to shift the embarrassment they feel from being confused as to how to react back onto the originator of the pun.
Still, while understandable, I think it’s disappointing that people do that. A pun, a quality pun, is a special thing that deserves appreciation. It’s your own limitation if you can’t do that; the originator hardly deserves your scorn. Unless, of course, it’s a stupid pun. The kind that’s so awkward and contrived that it needs to be followed by an elbow to the ribs and a “Get it? Get it?” Go ahead and groan at those, because they’re just stupid.
But a quality pun, an efficient package of wit, deserves a more positive reaction, like a genuine giggle upon fully appreciating what was said. It takes some sophistication on the part of the originator to be able to cull from a vocabulary of all possible words just the right verbiage appropriate for the situation that can then be lobbed like a stealth grenade into the listener’s brain, sneaking it into their consciousness where it can then explode in a glow of realized humor. When that realization happens, a giggle – at minimum – should be the natural articulation of the tickle that it makes.
And a particularly well-timed pun should be further admired as a thing of beauty on its own. These are the puns for whom it seems there is exactly one set of circumstances in which their humor could be fully actualized. Said at any other point their brilliance would have paled. It’s almost as if the pun was waiting for its moment, or that the moment was waiting for its pun, and, because it would have been so easy for that unification to have forever gone unrequited, when convergence is able to be achieved it’s really something to savor.
Originally posted on my old blog.