Thursday, May 13, 2010

Is Punning a Vice, or Vice-Versa?

Norah Jones, 'Don't Know Why' singleHad a most pleasant evening last night going out with Vera to see Norah Jones perform.

Vera has followed Jones more closely that I have, so she was more familiar than I was with most of the 20 songs Jones and her five-member backing band performed. It was a somewhat tightly-scripted performance, with apparently very little improvising along the way, although that didn’t take away from the energy and enthusiasm of the show.

The opening act was a solo performer named Elvis Perkins who was very charismatic as he moved through his eight-song set, accompanied by guitar (both regular acoustic & 12-string) and an expertly-played harmonica. Kind of surreal-leaning folky stuff -- the songs all seemed to veer off into “American Pie”-type word- and image-association craziness. A lot of fun. Vera found out afterwards he’s the son of the actor Anthony Perkins (Psycho), and I guess there was a touch of that Norman Bates charm-slash-eccentricity about him.

That said, I’m reasonably sure Elvis wouldn’t even harm a fly.

The whole night was more than a little inspiring, really -- seeing artists submit their carefully-crafted work to a receptive audience -- and I found myself thinking at times during the evening about this second novel idea I have brewing, as well as other creative endeavors. (My first -- Same Difference -- is available on Amazon.)

Poker -- in all its variants -- obviously can serve as an opportunity for creativity.

In the brief moments here and there I’ve been able to play lately, I’ve been sitting at low buy-in no-limit hold’em tables, kind of thinking in the back of my mind that I’d like to play a little more NLHE this summer when I’m in Vegas reporting on the WSOP. Having been locked into fixed limit HE for quite a long time, it hasn’t taken long to become reacquainted with the differences between the games -- including appreciating the many ways one can be imaginative in NLHE when taking different lines on hands.

Writing about poker can also afford one chances to be creative, even in the context of reporting.

Engaged in a fun little conversation on Twitter a couple of days ago in which the subject of puns and tourney reporting came up. As I mentioned yesterday, Pat Pezzin had gone deep in the 2-7 Triple Draw SCOOP event I was covering, a game in which whenever one chooses not to discard it is called “standing pat.” Was joking on Twitter a little about possible headlines should Pezzin triumph.

The last Pat standing standing patPezzin did actually stand pat on his elimination hand, and I guess he was probably the last Pat standing. So I grabbed a screenshot of the last Pat standing standing pat.

No wonder I enjoyed the concert so much last night -- being so easily amused and all.

I wrote kind of a lengthy exegesis here on the topic of puns & wordplay last summer in a post titled “Does Humor Belong in Poker Tournament Reporting?” There I concluded that there is certainly a place for grins in tourney reporting -- even those grins that tend quickly to turn grimaces when provoked by a bit of wordplay such as the above. As long as doing so didn’t interfere with the clear communication of what the hell was happening, that is.

Over on Twitter the other night, B.J. Nemeth -- the lead reporter for the World Poker Tour -- chimed in to point out his self-imposed anti-punning stance. Which I respect, obviously, as one of the many approaches to reporting, particularly in the especially capable hands of Nemeth who infuses a lot of information -- and, I’d argue, creativity -- into his reports.

No, I’m not saying avoiding puns makes one’s reporting small potatoes. Although I could see how one might call such a person a commentator.

(Rim shot.)

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Blogger Unknown said...

We're not reporting governmental affairs, a house fire, or 30 gallons of beer being dumped on I-694 (which actually would make me cry a bit).

We report and recap on a game, why wouldn't someone want a little fun and pun thrown in while reading.

You can only add so much depth and research when the subjects (the online players) are relatively anonymous versus the live setting with bio-sheets and interviews being available (not to mention real names).

5/13/2010 2:25 PM  
Blogger JK said...

I agree with Drizz (and I can't believe I just typed that). Poker is a game and there's no reason that our reporting can't be a little more light-hearted than what you'll find on the evening news.

As long as you're getting the facts straight and providing useful information/insight on the event you're covering, then I don't see any reason why the occasional pun can't make it's way into your copy.

5/13/2010 3:48 PM  
Blogger BJ Nemeth said...

I'm late to the comment party on this topic, but here goes ...

Puns, in and of themselves, don't bother me that much. (Though as Shamus mentioned, I try to avoid using them in my own writing.) However, I think puns often get in the way of providing easily scannable updates.

If I'm following a game on TV or radio (poker, baseball, whatever), and the announcers inject some fun into the broadcast, that's great. But in a text-only format, I'm not always reading every single update moments after it's posted. I'm logging in every once in a while and scanning the recent updates to find things that interest me.

In the WPT Live Updates, we try to include key information in the post titles so people scanning the updates can find what they are looking for. Ideally, the title will include both players' names (if we know them) and some idea of the action.

"Erick Lindgren Doubles Through Daniel Negreanu"
"Gavin Smith Takes the Chip Lead"
"Erik Seidel Bluffs Bobby Suer in a Huge Pot"
"Joe Sebok Wins a Nice Pot"
"Tom Schneider Takes a Hit"

Those may be dry update titles, but they are extremely scannable. If I'm only checking the progress of a few of my favorite players, these are the titles that I want to see.

Occasionally, a pun-for-title can serve all purposes, providing the basic information in a fun format. But other times I find myself skipping hand updates because I didn't realize they involved players I'm interested in.

I don't think a pun, by itself, has ever made me want to read an update. It's the story of the players and the tournament that I'm interested in, not the wordplay of the reporters.

Again, I'm not saying that puns in poker reporting are inherently bad. I just think that they sometimes seem to be given priority over aspects of communication that I consider to be more important.

(For the record, I'm much more forgiving of puns as titles for end-of-day recaps, like your original pun for Pat Pezzin if he had won. My criticism is primarily focused on puns used as titles for hand updates.)

5/18/2010 6:40 PM  

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