Interview: Ben Ziek

Benjamin Ziek

Ben had a good afternoon at the 2010 O. Henry Pun-Off. He scored a respectable 29 points in Punniest of Show and took first place in Punslingers.

Originally from New Jersey, Ben lived in Pennsylvania, and finally moved to Southern California in 1999. He’s been working for the past eight years as a night auditor at the Burbank Airport Marriott Hotel, but previous gigs have included demonstrating toys at a Toys “R” Us and being a pro wrestling ring announcer. In his spare time, he is creating (and trying to sell) TV game shows.

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

Ben: That’s an interesting story. I can’t remember how many years ago it was…it had to be at least 15-20, I saw the last part of a story about the Pun-Off on ABC’s World News Tonight. I remember them showing a portion of what is now “Punslingers” on the topic of movies. Someone said, “This joke’s a Lethal Weapon,” and his opponent replied, “Well I have a Lethal Weapon 2!” I thought that was brilliant, but since I only caught the tail end, I didn’t know exactly what it was; I just knew I wanted to be part of it. Eventually, years later I found it on the internet! I tried going for a few years, but something always came up. Last year, I had some extra money, so I pledged that I would go. I was ready to compete last year, when the rain threatened the Pun-Off. Thankfully, the Hilton helped us out. I competed in both competitions, and was delighted when I was able to come in 2nd in Punslingers.

Brian: When did you first become interested in puns?

Ben: Ever since I was a kid. When we would go to the library in school, the other kids would be reading books by Judy Blume or Beverly Cleary. I would immediately grab Bennett Cerf’s joke books. In fourth grade, our school had a talent show. While the other students sang or danced, I basically did stand-up. The jokes were written for me, but I still remember rattling them off. One-liner puns like, “Did you ever hear about the farmer who was out standing in his field?” So, puns have always been prevalent in my life.

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

Ben: I spent more time last year than I did this one. Last year I actually created a program in Powerpoint to simulate Punslingers. I took the topics that had been used previously (from, and made a button that would choose one randomly and start a 5 second timer. After 5 seconds, an explosion sound is heard, signifying that you ran out of time. I practiced with that thing for hours. As far as the Punniest of Show, I somewhat memorize my routine as I’m writing it. So from there it’s just a matter of trimming the fat.

Brian: Were there any puns you wish you had included, but didn’t think of at the time?

Ben: When you think about it after the fact, many alternatives come up, but there was one in my head at the time. For those who don’t know, the final topic is chosen by the spectators via a cash vote. The topic receiving the most cash gets chosen, and in our case the final topic was “Crimes.” I was going to use this one, “Oh my gosh! Someone’s taking the money from the cash vote! Someone is Poll lootin’!” I didn’t get to use it, because my opponent failed to come up with one, and I won. It’s always an amazing experience just being there with all of these people who do this thing that I’ve loved for so long, but to actually win is the syrup on the pun-cake!

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