FridayFebruary 252005
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Punny fellows: These college dropouts turned Web entrepreneurs are never lost for wordplays
Vanessa Farquharson
National Post

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The pun has long been considered the lowest of lowbrow humour, but a couple of grad-school dropouts are on a mission to rectify this. Pat Tanzola and Rhain Louis have dubbed themselves the Pun Gents and created what they believe to be the only Web-based, customized joke service. In the words of the Gents: "Think of us as the Ann Landers of online pun-ditry."

Found at, the site features a Pun of the Day, Site Gags (visual puns), Punshine Girls ("The hottest in punography ... view-her discretion is advised") and the popular Puns on Demand. This feature allows site visitors to e-mail the Gents with a real-life scenario and receive a response within 24 hours suggesting appropriate puns.

For example, Jay from Toronto writes, "I'm a tax lawyer who's putting together a team for a curling tournament at work. I need a team name that combines a 'Tax' theme with a 'Curling' theme." The response: Fiscal and Sweepert, or Frozen Assets. For another visitor who wanted some puns when her parents came to visit Toronto, the Gents suggested: "Lost downtown? Remember that west of the DVP the grass is always greener and the street is always Bloor," or "Don't be afraid to get your feet dirty walking around -- that's why they're called Tar-on-toe-nians."

So how did this pun-catering service begin? The way many successful business ventures do: with a flicker of academic disillusionment. Louis, with a $42,000 scholarship to his name, was in the midst of completing a PhD in zoology at the University of Toronto but, as stated on the Pun Gents Web site, decided "his love of puns greatly outstripped his love of science."

Tanzola went to Queen's University, where he earned bachelor's degrees in linguistics and economics, was co-editor-in-chief of campus newspaper The Journal and graduated with the second-highest average in the Arts faculty. He was in the middle of a master's degree in urban planning at U of T when he realized it wasn't planning, but punning, that he was meant to do.

The two already had much in common -- both were born on July 4, 1978, both are left-handed, both volunteer for the same charity and both competed in Reach for the Top during high school. Then, this fall, both suffered a simultaneous moment of crisis.

Tanzola half-jokingly suggested to Louis that they start a magazine called Bad Pun. Later, on a Tuesday night at Future Bakery on Bloor Street over coffee and cabbage rolls, they decided this wasn't such a bad idea. More coffee and more cabbage rolls later, they set a goal: in Louis's words, to "reach the mid-to-upper echelons of Canadian humour" by taking their punning wit online.

"If puns are the lowest form of humour, they definitely belong on the Internet," says Tanzola. But while they may sometimes provoke groans sooner than guffaws, the boys believe punning is more than just a play on words. "Shakespeare and Joyce were punsters," Tanzola points out and, as he looks down at my notepad, adds, "80% of newspaper headlines are puns."

To their credit, in just a few months, Tanzola and Louis have done a lot to further the good of the pun. They went on Citytv's Speaker's Corner and rambled off as many puns about Toronto that would fit in the allotted time; they've harassed publishers with joke-book manuscripts; they've donated 20 custom puns to Driftwood Theatre Group's upcoming silent auction; and they're in the midst of organizing an annual Ron MacLean Canadian Pun-off (a working title), which would be based on the O. Henry Pun-off, an annual live joke contest held in Austin, Tex.


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