Interview: Ben Ziek

Some major events happened in May of 1997:

  • Donald Trump and Marla Maples announced their separation
  • Eddie Murphy is arrested with transsexual hooker Atisone Seiuli
  • Deep Blue beats Garry Kasparov in a six-game chess match
  • Susan Lucci loses the Daytime Emmy Award for the 17th time

And, Steve Brooks wins both Punslingers and Punniest of Show.

That rarest of pun accomplishments was repeated this year as Ben Ziek wins the two awards at the same O. Henry Pun-Off.

Ben’s Punniest of Show skit about spices scored 39 points for a tie with Alex Petri. He won in a “cheer off” with the crowd.

In Punslingers, Ben defeated Matt Pollack in the final with the topic of Insects & Bugs. To get there, he had to survive an epic bout with Dav Wallace on Celebrity Questions.

Tarzan’s Tripes has interviewed Ben twice: in 2010 and in 2011. My distractions from an infant kept me from interviewing him last year.

Brian: Tarzan’s Tripes last interviewed you a couple of years ago after the 2011 Pun-Off. What, if anything, has changed in your life since then?

Ben: Not too much has changed. I still work for the hotel industry, and I’m still trying to break into the world of game shows. Our company Home Game Enterprizes has grown a bit. We’ve now done weddings, bat mitzvahs, Mason lodges, and we have two weekly bar gigs. We’re becoming known as the most faithful re-creations of game shows out there. The one big thing I’ve decided to do is I am now training for Professional Wrestling. It’s a lot of fun while at the same time being physical and tough.

Brian: At this point, you’re a Pun-Off vet. Do you have any sort of preparation routine? At this point, how much time do you spend preparing?

Ben: Prepping for the Pun-Off isn’t easy. Really the only part you can really prepare yourself for is Punniest of Show; making sure you have your routine down cold. Some people forget that performance is one of the judges’ criteria. So you could have great puns in your routine, but if they’re not delivered well, that can be taken into consideration. As for Punslingers, you can practice by having friends throw topics at you, but when you are on that stage, you don’t know what topic may come up, and, as there are so many people wanting to enter the Pun-off, you might not know how good your opponent is.

Brian: Winning both Punslingers and Punniest of Show is an extremely rare event. How do you top this next year?

Ben: Winning both competitions is a thrill. I never expected it. I had a double whammy going in to Punniest of Show: First, my topic of Herbs and Spices had been done by Burt Piboin, and then there were so many high scores. I didn’t think I had a chance. As for how to top it, the only thing I can think of is to get a perfect 40/40 in Punniest of Show…or maybe to start collecting groupies – ha!

Brian: Your Punniest of Show topic was Spices. Were there any puns you wanted to include, but didn’t?

Ben: You know, I think I put all the puns I could into my routine. I always make a list of items in the category before I start writing. I see if I can make a fair to good pun on each one. If I can’t, I’ll leave it out. There was only one this year that I cut: I originally had a phrase using 5-Spice, as in Chinese 5-Spice powder, playing on “five spies,” but it just didn’t seem to fit in.

Brian: A new Punslingers category that you got to try out this year was Celebrity Questions. It required a specific structure of pun. How did that change the challenge?

Ben: Celebrity Questions was tough. Especially when you’re up there against Dav Wallace, who is one of the best I know. So the challenge was upped just based on that fact. Trying to think of celebrity names that can be punned on is hard enough (if you watch the video, you’ll see me go into my knowledge base of game show hosts), but then trying to formulate their names into a setup and question just tacks on that extra twist. It makes it somehow more difficult to listen to your opponent’s puns, which is a necessary skill to have. I watched the video of that round, and Dav and I went back and forth for over 12 minutes. I don’t think anyone expected that. It still amazes me that we went that long, but, as the Pun-off becomes more and more challenging with its entrants, Brian Oakley, who’s the head of the category department, has to up the ante with more challenging topics.

Brian: Your other topics were Toys, Handwriting Instruments, Famous Vehicles, and Insects & Bugs. Were there any puns you thought of later that you wished you had used?

Ben: In any of the topics you get in Punslingers, you immediately start thinking of puns after you leave the stage. There was one, though, that I still had in mind for the topic of Toys while I was up there. Here goes: I love to take my friend Theodore bowling, ’cause he’s really good. Yup, Teddy Wrecks Pins.

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