Interview: Justin Golbabai and Kelly Dupen

Justin Golbabai and Kelly Dupen took first place in Punniest of Show at the 2010 O. Henry Pun-Off. Their skit explored the relative merits of meats and vegetables, and was, IMHO, brilliant.

Kelly Dupen

Kelly has lived in Texas for many years, but lived in California, Tennessee and Washington while growing up. She graduated from the University of Dallas, a Catholic liberal arts college in 2006. She majored in art, and is currently working as a freelance illustrator while pursuing an MFA in Illustration.

Justin is from Windor, Connecticut. He received degrees in Economics and Sociology from Notre Dame in 2004, and a Master’s in Public Administration focusing on City Management from Kansas in 2006. He is currently a Budget Analyst for the City of Austin, and manages the budgets of the Austin Police Department, Water Utility and Planning and Development Review Department. In his spare time, he is very involved in his Catholic faith and in young adult ministry with the Catholic 20 Somethings of Austin, where he keeps his friends groaning with puns. He is also passionate about community building, economics, and sports.

Brian: Ok, first the stupid question everyone is wondering, are you two really a couple?

Kelly: No, we just get “pungaged” every time we perform the skit!

Justin: We are really good friends. Kelly is one of the most gifted punsters I know, so I knew in order to have a chance at this competition, I’d need her help.

Brian: How did you first learn about the Pun-Off? Have you competed before?


Justin: A co-worker told me about the pun-off back when I first moved to Austin in 2007, so I knew I was in the right city. I went to my first pun-off in 2008, and went again in 2009. This was my first year competing, as I was too nervous to compete before this year and I wanted to enjoy the puns without worrying about my own performance. This year, I finally worked up the courage to compete and it was an amazing experience.

Kelly: I learned about the Pun-Off last fall from my friend and fellow punster, Ellyn. This year was the first time I’ve ever attended, but it will definitely be a tradition for me from now on, because I enjoyed the whole experience immensely!

Brian: What inspired the topic of meats versus vegetables?

Kelly: The meats vs. vegetables topic was Justin’s idea. He wanted for us to have an argument, and then reconcile by saying, “together we can stir fry.” So we always had that end in mind as we collaborated on the script.

Justin: Going into the pun competition, there were certain criteria I wanted the piece to have. It needed to have a high level of emotion, it had to be funny even without the puns, and the topic needed to be something anyone could relate to. A couple having a fight met all these criteria. The meat and vegetable puns is a subtle reference to how men and women often seem to communicate in two different languages. This language barrier can cause misunderstandings and fights in any relationship, but it is nothing that love can’t overcome in the end. In fact, often can love can take our differences and bring them together to create something beautiful (in this case a stir fry marriage).

Brian: How much time did you spend preparing for the competition?

Kelly: We began developing the script in the beginning of March. Justin put me in charge of compiling an extensive list of meat and vegetable vocabulary, and he wrote a humorous skit that didn’t contain any wordplay, because he wanted to make sure that our dialogue would be funny with or without puns.

Justin: We also brought our performance to our friends as a test focus group and made several adjustments based on their feedback. Finally, we decided to commit the script to memory so that it flowed better on stage. This required us to practice over and over again to the point where we were saying our lines in our sleep. Overall we probably spent a few hours a week over a 2-3 month period.

Brian: As an illustrator who loved puns and wordplay., when does your comic strip come out, Kelly?

Kelly: I don’t have any comic strip in the works right now, but I probably should since I’m such a big fan of that art form! I admire Charles Schulz in particular, and consider him to be one of my heroes.

Brian: When did you first become interested in puns?

Justin: Well, I’ve loved bad jokes for as long as I can remember, but probably I’ve been especially interested in puns in particular for about three years now (since my first pun-off). I heard a theology lecture once that made the case that puns were God’s favorite form of humor because its a humor that finds humor in looking beyond the surface and identifying multiple levels of meaning.

Kelly: I’ve appreciated word related humor for a long time, but my love for puns has definitely intensified since finding out about the Pun-Off and meeting Justin. I’ve also found out that puns are both addictive and contagious. People tend to groan about puns for a while, but they eventually succumb to the charm of our repartee. It’s a fun hobby, and I’m very happy to help spread the popularity of punning in Austin!

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