Over the years, many noteworthy people have been Spokane residents.
Bing Crosby, Sonora Smart Dodd, Sherman Alexie, Jess Walter, Julia Sweeney, Steve Gleason, John Stockton – all have called Spokane home.
In May, Annica Eagle added to that list, making Spokane the home of the third-best punslinger in the world.
Eagle grew up in a family that punned, but back then, she didn’t appreciate the art form.
“Maybe it spoke to the quality of their puns, but whatever it was, I found it really annoying and I really didn’t like that they punned all the time,” she said.
But at some point, a switch flipped for Eagle and she has been punning ever since.
After someone asked if she ever thought about entering a pun competition, Eagle, who has performed improv at the Blue Door Theatre for two years, did some research and found the O. Henry Pun-off World Championships, an annual competition held in Austin, Texas.
The Pun-Off is split into two divisions: Punniest of Show, or the prepared division, and Punslingers, the improvised division.
Through the competition’s lottery system, Eagle was selected to compete in the Punslingers division, where she made it to the top 16 in the 2016 competition.
Riding the high that came with being surrounded by other pun lovers, Eagle returned to Spokane with a plan to keep that feeling alive.
“Some of the other contestants had been starting punning competitions in their communities and had been doing pretty well and I thought Spokane probably could surprise me and actually love puns,” she said.
She approached Boots Bakery and Lounge owner Alison Collins and asked about hosting Punderground competitions there.
With Collins on board, Eagle began hosting competitions every two months. They typically fill Boots to capacity and feature pun lovers of all ages.
“There were a number of kids that really loved competing,” Eagle said. “Puns are all the jokes that are on popsicle sticks. There’s an age, I think, that’s the sweet spot for pun lovers and that’s 10, 11, so we had a lot of young folks, which is great.”
After hosting competitions, Eagle again felt the itch to compete herself and entered the 2017 Pun-Off.
She was chosen to compete in the Punniest of Show division, and her entry was a pun-filled letter to Congress written after the House of Representatives voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
It begins “To the 115th United States Congress: There’s something we need to ad
Eagle reached the end of the competition with the second-highest score on the board, along with five other competitors. Eagle received the most applause from the audience during a six-way tie-breaking clap-off and was declared the third best punner in the world.
Because she made it into the winner’s circle, Eagle is guaranteed a spot to compete in both divisions at the Pun-Off for the next three years and will be returning to Austin in May for her third year of competition.
Since returning to Spokane, Eagle has kept the puns going with Punderground competitions and Coffee and Quips, an informal conversation group for those looking for more punning practice or those who love Punderground competitions but are nervous about competing themselves., Coffee and Quips is held at Boots the second and fourth Sunday of the month.
The next Punderground event, Tuesday at the Observatory, will be an After Dark competition for punners 21 and older.
Eagle has modeled Punderground competitions after the Punslingers division of the world championships.
At the After Dark competition, 12 competitors will go onstage in pairs. Eagle will then give them a topic to pun about, and the first competitor will have 10 seconds to deliver a pun. They then volley back and forth with puns.
The 12 competitors are whittled down to six for the second round. When the final three competitors remain, they will go back and forth until first, second and third place are determined.
The Punderground competitions use a strike system. If someone repeats a pun that’s already been said, or if what they say is less pun and more wordplay, they get a strike and have to immediately deliver a new pun. Three strikes and you’re out.
Eagle awards punsters who place in the top three and the competitor the audience votes MVP (Most Valuable Punster) punny prizes like a baseball hat for the MVP because they “cap-tured the audience’s mind,” or a bundt cake pan – “No ifs, ands or bundts about it, you took the cake.”
With the Punderground and Coffee and Quips, plus future Pun-Offs on the horizon, Eagle has established a strong pun community in Spokane, a community anyone can join with nothing more than a solid pun.
“Some people pun and what they want or need is that reaction of others to appreciate the pun,” Eagle said. “I think that plays into it, but a really true pun is when you feel it’s just so perfect and you can’t help but laugh and enjoy it yourself. It doesn’t matter if anyone else does.”