Interview: Andrew Balinsky

Andrew Balinsky is a longtime competitor and volunteer at the O. Henry Pun Off. He finished third in Punniest of Show this year. Given the high level of competition, that’s quite an accomplishment.

Brian: Where are you from? What do you do when you’re not competing in Pun-Off competitions?

Andrew: I was born a Southerner, in Autumn, in March. My parents were World War II refugees that ended up in South Africa. We immigrated to NY City, but I mostly grew up in Iowa. I ended up in Texas for my first job.

Andrew: For many of the 364 non-Punoff days, I am doing something bird-related. My wife and I have broadcast 6 spring seasons of a live screech owl nestbox to the web at We also tend a Purple Martin colony at the Hornsby Bend Center for Environmental Research which will probably produce about 200 fledgling birds this year. I take lots of photographs of birds, but I lose patience sitting indoors to sort and process them.

Andrew: Professionally, I do network security research at Cisco. 

Brian: When did you first become interested in puns?

Andrew: I grew up with them. My parents were both good with language, and both of them liked to play with language and humor. 

Brian: How did you first learn about the Pun Off?

Andrew: It’s just one of those events that you will hear about if you live in Austin. I don’t even remember which one I first attended, but I’m hooked now. 

Brian: What inspired you to pun about the end of the world (other than the obviously fortuitous timing)?

Andrew: I seem to have the most fun dealing with a topic that is on everyone’s minds, such as the banking crisis and the oil spill. I think people appreciate the relevance. It just seemed like too big an opportunity to pass up the craziest story of the day. Especially as the rapture was predicted for 6pm, which was exactly the drop-dead time for tearing down the punoff stage. It would have been less fun if the end had been predicted for noon, and it was obvious that nobody had yet lifted off out of the audience. It also happened to be my wife’s birthday, so there was an extra emphasis on the date. 

Brian: Were there any puns you wanted to include, but didn’t?

Andrew: I always brainstorm, and then research a list of words on my topic, and then try to cram as many as possible into the routine, while still having it make sense as a story. I really wanted to work in a pun on Pestilence, but couldn’t come up with one. Others stranded on the list included discussion of a perish priest and Floody Hail!

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

Andrew: Probably about 4 non-consecutive evenings, plus a few days of memorization. 

Brian: You competed in both Punniest of Show and Punslingers? Do you like one over the other? How do you compare the two?

Andrew: I definitely find Punniest more fun. I have more confidence because I know my material. Punslingers is a lot of pressure, and gets kind of crazy with running the registration table, too. They really are completely different competitions. Punslingers is much more about how fast you think and how you handle pressure. Punniest is much more about preparation and practice. Your preferred style probably comes down to whether you did your school assignments a week in advance or the night before.

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