ComPost Live with Alexandra Petri

May 22, 2012

Join us every Tuesday at 11:00 a.m. ET to laugh, cry, and dish about the moments that amused you, shocked you, or caused you to yell things that frightened the other people on the subway.

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I'm still in punning mode after this weekend at the O. Henry Pun-Off, so bear with me, as the guy with limited knowledge of articles trying to bring a grizzly to a restaurant said.

Got a few questions already, but please, start loading me up with puns! I need a fix, as the ardent reader of Chris Cillizza said.

See, you can do better than that!

I have a bizarre but totally serious question for fellow legislative branch employees: My boss asked for research on medical marijuana and gay marriage issues. Forget that I believe I produced wonderful reports on both issues, I have since been summoned before superiors who question that I have attempt to access sites such as "High Times" and the local gay rights newsletter which I see, in retrospect, has some rather sensual articles,, which, while I am not gay I feel almost as hashed to fall into the clique and state :"not there is anything wrong with it except that access gay stories on a Federal computer seems to against strict policies, I have been asked to submit my resignation, Seriously how can we research controversial topics when there are administrators out there who believe that anyone researching them are doing something they should not?

This actually sounds fairly serious, and as someone whose work browser history would probably corrode through any container you chose to put it in ("It's research!") I'm not the best person to ask. But you'd think that they might realize that just because you Google something doesn't mean you actually want to use duct tape and kitchen implements to dispose of a body. Does anyone have any help?

I read your comments joking that you do not have a boyfriend and I can not believe that. I am certain that someone with your talents and great looks (according to the few photographs of you found by stalkers---not that I am one of them---on the Internet), I am sure you have your choice of men, In the one in a million chance that I am wrong, and you are serious that you do not have a boyfriend and you are seeking one, please be aware that I available. I do wish to warn you that, while I am indeed a double for a Star Wars character---and i do suspect that you are a Stars Wars fan---that I am most visually like Jabba the Hut. So, in the one in a billion chance you have a Jabba the Hut fetish, please let me know, I will bring the galloon of ice cream and we shall celebrate our mutual love for fattening foods, and O Henry.

Man, I've never been approached by someone who tried to use his resemblance to Jabba the Hutt as a selling point! I give you props for cHuttzpah.

Er. This is one of, like, 3 questions in this chat commenting on that boyfriend line. I'm not exactly fighting men off with sticks (save that for the third date, am I right?) but I am pleased to report that just a day ago on the street someone came up to me and handed me his number, clearly mistaking me for Samantha Brick, so there's still hope.

They say the best way to meet eligible fellows is just to pursue your hobbies, but given that my hobbies are attending pun-offs, drinking coffee, and scribbling frantically in my Star Wars-themed garret, these are not exactly up there with, I don't know, being the heir of a medieval earl who needs to form an advantageous alliance or a Bennett daughter, as far as man-finding pursuits go.

But then again, if I do run into a man at one of these things, the odds will be good that he is either a solid individual or some sort of creep who has broken into my home using a skeleton key!

I presume your occasional allusions to not having a boyfriend is only part of a charm you are creating for yourself. I am certain that someone with your charms has her pick of boyfriends. Yet, just in case you are serious, I would like to please ask if you would go to the prom with me. Of course, it may make a difference that I was in high school years ago so they may not let us in, but, if you want to try, I am available....

There's only one solution: time travel!

Great article in the Post last week about funny commencement speeches. Who spoke at your college commencement? What do you remember about it?

Thank you!

The most memorable speech I've ever been on the receiving end of was not in fact at commencement, but when I was confirmed. (I've been through pretty much every ceremony you can go through in the episcopalian church short of marriage and extreme unction. Once I was accidentally Reaffirmed in Faith because someone misread a card I was holding.) At it, the bishop noted that in the middle ages, they used to slap people at the most important events of their lives, because if you were slapped, you tended to remember things better. You needed a witness to a contract, you slapped him. You got married, everyone slapped everyone else. Then I think she slapped us. But I don't remember that part.

Alexandra, congrats on getting today's chat listed on discussions home page. But did you try to buy Facebook shares in IPO? I didn't, still unsure how they'll make enough money from ads to meet expectations. But I'll bet those who got screwed by that long trade delay are still ticked off. I don't know if they'll do a "dislike", do an Occupy Facebook protest, or change the "like" thumbs up symbol to, ahem, a rather different hand gesture.

That would be a fun button.

So, how much homework did you do at Harvard for every hour of class? What does, or does it not, say about you, your major, Harvard and the American university system of education? "For if this is an indictment of our education system, isn't it an indictment of our country. Well I, for one, will not stand by while this committee undermines the United States of America!" (loose quote from Animal House)

Aha, I'm actually working on a piece about this very subject!

My favorite quote about slacking during college is this one from Robert Benchley, also a Harvard fellow: My college education was no haphazard affair. My courses were all selected
with a very definite aim in view, with a serious purpose in mind—no classes before
eleven in the morning or after two-thirty in the afternoon, and nothing on Saturday
at all. That was my slogan. On that rock was my education built. As what is known
as the Classical Course involved practically no afternoon laboratory work, whereas
in the Scientific Course a man’s time was never his own until four p.m. anyway, I
went in for the classic. But only such classics as allowed for a good sleep in the
morning. There is such a thing as being a studying fool.

The salient feature of this, for me, is the fact that -- they had classes on Saturday???


WHY is this person's boss, the one who asked them to do the research in the first place, not standing up for them??

Good question!

I feel that my own philosophical puns can't improve -- they've reached a Plato. What do you think?


One that I wound up discarding was "We always overtip the restroom attendant. We've made that John Steward Millions of dollars!"

I think in retrospect that this was a good choice.

I love your blog because you're one of the few bipartisan centrists who realize that both sides do it, where "it" is pretty much any bad thing. You're like the post-punk David Broder. Have you always been so fair and balanced or is it something you learn over time as journamalist?


I'm going to start using "post-punk David Broder" on my promotional materials.

Thank you for saying this. I don't know how often I succeed at this, but I really, really try. When I finally retrieved my mail after several months of allowing it to suppurate in the mail room, I was pleased to have notes from both sides complaining in strident terms that I was ruining everything. Some weeks the bar swings one way and some weeks it swings the other, but obviously no one party has a monopoly on idiocy. That would make things too easy.

If you went to internet sites in order to gatehr data or information for work-related research reports, I would refuse to resign (you don't get any benefit from that anyway as you'd basically be giving up unemployement). You should still have copies of the reports you wrote and the original request from your boss. Turn those over and make your boss be the one answering questions.


I could use a pun for a start to a speech I'm making. Any inside the beltway puns will do. Thanks,

Below the beltway, or inside the beltway?


Someone at the pun dinner said "Politicians are like diapers. They need to be changed often, and for the same reason."

That's a start, possibly!

If the first book is "How To Have a Smart, Funny, Awkwardly Brilliant Daughter Who Is Really Good at Puns", I submit that the second book would be "Why Isn't My Awkwardly Brilliant Daughter Dating Anybody, and Other Secondary Concerns."

Well, I do occasionally get telephone calls from aged loved ones that, I kid you not, go as follows, "When you finally meet a man, I'll be able to die."

To which I respond, "Er, great, I'll try to postpone that as long as possible."

I hit for the cycle one semester early on in college (A, B, C and D with a withdrawal on the 5th course) because I had too many early morning courses and evening sport practices (and drinking of course on Thursdays). I finally figured out the Harvard fellow's strategy of no early morning classes (or before noon for that matter) and hit the honor role (or maybe I just grew up a little).

I think it was that moment in my senior spring when I missed my final shift of work in the library because I had overslept, and my shift started at 3 PM on a Monday, that I had to come to the conclusion that possibly, just possibly, my course schedule was not quite the rigorous, stringent regime that I had described to my parents.

I have a very distinct memory of composer Alexander Copeland being my commencement speakers. However, I have since found out that Mr. Copeland was already dead at the time of my graduation. This brings up a couple of possibilites. You've already mentioned the possibility of time travel. Or someone was a Copeland impersonator and hoodwinked my college. Or the real Copeland spoke at something else I attended in a cap and gown. Suggestions?

I like the idea that a Copeland impersonator snuck into your graduation. They should try that more often.

We have a hologram Tupac, after all. We might as well start having hologram commencement addresses from literary lights and composers. Or better yet, just commencement addresses from Elvis impersonators. I'd attend the heck out of that commencement!

we all say puns from time to time, but have you ever noticed that the people who use puns a lot are usually the most annoying people you know?

I think the people who exclusively make puns at the expense of other kinds of jokes or remarks are yes, very annoying. But most of the pun-lovers I know leaven them with other sorts of humor.

It's a sloe day at work.

It'll be a tonic for what ales you.

GET A LAWYER! This is serious. You're told to do something for your job, and then you get asked to resign for doing your job - which didn't break a law. Unless you're leaving something out or making this up, your first move shouldn't be contacting a Wash Post chat.

Also that.

Do you think that adding 'so to speak' adds to or detracts from a good pun? I usually try to avoid using it, but the puns often go over the heads of the people I'm with (especially at the office) and if I add that, it makes them think about what they just heard.

That's interesting, I've never tried that! I tend to go for "as they say," or the slow, awkward wince after whatever remark, so that my interlocutor inquires if I just ruptured something.

Hi, a big fan here. I am 23 and I work at a very traditional white collar service industry in a Southern city with coworkers who try not to offend anyone as much as they can. I love my job, but my biggest aspiration is to eventually become a pundit appearing on TV like in the Daily Show or something. I think they can really use a innocent-looking little Asian girl with heavy accent consistently complaining and swearing on TV. I think I can gain some publicity through posting YouTube videos or starting a blog. Unfortunately, this would most certainly cost me this job which I cannot afford to (I am on a working visa) and I do not want the company represented in a wrong way. So since you are in the business, what do you think would the safest way for me to get noticed for my pundit work? Is there at all a way that I can get closer to my goal without utilizing social media? I wonder what people used to get on TV before internet was available...

Yag, that's tough.

One of the troubles is that the Internet IS available now.

A couple of things off the top of my head would be to try stand-up, since it sounds as though you have a character that could be fun to develop onstage, and that would be a good way also of meeting people who are committed to humor without necessarily making and posting videos. You could also try starting a tumblr or blog around a concept as opposed to one with your name on it -- definitely a way to get your voice out there -- but that poses different challenges.

The work visa sounds like a challenge and I'm not sure what to advise. Ultimately, though, if your job is preventing you from doing what you love, then the next step is to get into a position where you can quit it and do something else that makes it easier to follow your dreams.

Yagh, not sure how helpful this is. Other suggestions?

I arranged my classes so that I didn't have to go to any of them. It was fun, for the most part, but I did have the occasional panic attack because I'd wonder if the professor had changed the date of a test or due date of a paper. Other than that, I highly recommend being a history major.

Beats the sciences any day!

A recent study found Facebook cited in 1/3rd of all divorce filings with people either connecting with new or reconnecting with old flames. Have you ever suspected one of your anonymous chatters here is an old boyfriend checking in surreptittiously?

Giancarlo, is that you?

I have no recollection of a speaker at my college graduation. My only recollection was sitting waaay in the back of the basketball stadium, unable to pay much attention to anything other than the bottle of champagne we were swigging out of and passing back and forth between our row and the one behind us. good times.

I think that's the typical experience!

Some of those things aren't puns. "Reaching a Plato," yes, "bear with me," "they need changing", no. Jokes, wordplay, yes, but only someone with an incredibly loose definition of "pun" would count those as puns. Who on earth was in charge of this thing?

They wouldn't have let those fly either, I don't think.

An actual pun would be something like "the guy who did reconstructive surgery on Elaine was a Stritch Constructionist." (I said "actual," not "good.")

As a former Cap Hill person, let me tell you that unless your boss backs you up, you're out of luck. The job protections that exist elsewhere do not apply to Congress. As with so many other things, those laws are made for others, not themselves. And if you try to go the lawyer route, your chances of getting hired in another office go way down to practically zero. Just make sure they aren't talking junk about you and get your resume out to other offices pronto.


I prefer the Pythonesque "winkwink nudgenudge know-whatta-mean"?

Nod's as good as a wink to a blind bat, eh, say no more, say no more.

Stephen Colbert is #69. All is right in my world.


I can't find any compositions in my music library by Alexander Copeland, which suggests he's a very minor composer. Perhaps the chatter is confusing Mr. Copeland with Aaron Copland, a tremendously important composer, who died in 1990. Maybe Alexander Copeland was an analog impersonator of Aaron Copland, rather than a hologram.

I was wondering the same thing but didn't want to be the person to ask! Maybe you did get addressed by Alexander Copeland after all!

You do know that post-punk David Broder guy (i.e., me) was mocking you, right?

ARGH, look, it's like that scene in The Help. It had the external markings of a delightful pie and I skimmed the contents.

It is sometimes hard to tell if someone is ironically insulting you or just not a good speller.

I'm still using "post-punk David Broder" on my promotional materials, but I'll put it in comic sans.

So if someone types they made the "Honor Role" can that honor be retroactively revoked? We do all make mistakes when typing, but that one caused my brain to hurt. It is almost ironic, such as say rain on your wedding day (which is of course NOT ironic in any way). As Ralph so proudly proclaimed, "me fail English...that's unpossible!"

Or as Steve Martin said, "Some people have a way with words, and other people...oh, uh, not have way."

Must only work for non-science majors. We have classes plus multi hour labs, two or three different classes/labs per semester. But then, I'm guessing you never took genetics or p-chem. That's ok, nerds love you anyway!

This is all correctly spelled, so I am assuming that it is a sincere compliment!

In my experience, you can always tell the science majors, because they are the people you see only once in the course of college and otherwise you just hear that they are at a lab somewhere.

The speaker at my commencement discussed masturbation as a route towards preventing the spread of HIV and other STDs. Made lunch afterwards with my very conservative parents and grandmother lots of fun.

Ha! Wow!

Tell me this was Liberty University.

You're only 23 - just go for it. Trust me, if you fail there will always be office jobs with boring, polite coworkers. BUT the visa is an issue - so you really do need to keep the job until you find another way to stay legally. Try blogging under a pseudonym without your photo, that way your coworkers won't recognize you. If you want shows like John Stewart to see video of you, make some videos but don't post them publicly - send them directly to the show. Basically, it's the same approach as if you were trying to find a new job without your current boss finding out.

A second opinion!

I had a friend who would respond to bad jokes with, "That's two-thirds of a pun: P.U."


I've been told that the Japanese term for pun translates as "joke that your uncle tells."

When I was a child, my mother told me the "where the sons raise meat"/"where the Sun's rays meet" pun. She claimed it was the only known triple pun (at the time). But I wonder if you know of, or have yourself created, any new triple puns? (Seems an apt pursuit in a year when we might also get a Triple Crown winner).


I can't think of a triple off the top of my head.

In the mean time, to stall, "Why did they have to tear down the stadium in Warsaw?"

I had a teacher in school who loved to say puns all the time. But she would do this when giving us vocabulary words to study, which was very distracting. I.e. she'd give us the word "truculent" and then would say "Did you get back the truck you lent?" Of course, when test time came those annoying puns were stuck in my head more than the actual definitions.

Vocabulary puns are great! Then again for years I thought the hyperbole was something sponsored by Red Bull.

I like to add a rising inflection on the pun itself, with a knowing tilt of the head. Often I accompany this with the constipated face you describe. I learned this one from a local politician who is probably certified as a Pun Master somewhere. As John Mosby said to Edwin Stoughton after slapping him on the butt, it's all in the timing.

As they say.

My personal opinion is that when trying to be funny or joking, that the worst thing in the world is having to explain that you were trying to be funny or joking. So if people don't get it, they don't get it. And I'll just let it hang out there like a big matzoh ball. At least then it's funny to me. People either get my humor, or they don't. But if I have to explain it then it isn't even humor any more.

Maybe the real person who follows conversation as a shark follows a ship is the person who insists on explaining jokes.

It has never happened to in the course of my life that someone has told a joke, to no laughter, then patiently explained it, and everyone has responded by laughing and castigating themselves for their slowness. Instead what usually happens is that the teller stops being invited to things.

If rain on your wedding day isn't ironic...then meeting the man of your dreams, then meeting his beautiful his wife has to be ironic...right?

No no, it's finding large amounts of the wrong cutlery that's ironic.


was by Joseph Brodsky for the Dartmouth class of 1989 (not my class). It is published under the title "In Praise of Boredom" in an essay collection (On Grief and Reason). Stunning and amazing and exactly what graduates need to hear.

Good to know!

That's a good title, at any rate!

The tone of the first three questions sounds like the same person submitted them. What's Jabba doing writing reports about marijuana and gay marriage?

I have to ask myself this question more often than you'd think.

I thought Hutts reproduced asexually, anyway.

This statement isn't correct. I'm not saying you misquoted the guy, but that he was wrong. Punsters don't follow conversations, they follow words. That's what's so annoying about them. They're clearly not paying attention to the context or the conversation - just whenever a pun-worthy word comes out. They interject with a pun and derail the conversation and train of thought - just so that someone might think they're clever. Sigh.

Another take on the real shark.

We had them in boarding school as "idle hands are the work of the devil" or they wanted to keep us marginally busy on a Friday night so we wouldn't have time to get in trouble. Half day Wednesday and half day Saturday classes (we had games in the afternoon on both days). Never heard of that in college but maybe that was old school Harvard with a similar "idle hands" concept.

When Mr. and Mrs. Satan had a child and a baby shower and requested "toys," everyone was at a loss. What do you give the child of the Most Evil Below? Some people showed up with Sendak books, which, while psychologically astute and beautifully illustrated, were not quite what the doctor ordered. Finally at the end of the shower someone came staggering in carrying Taylor Hicks, a golden statue of a false god and a chainsaw. With no preamble whatsoever, like a faulty Constitution, he began chopping them up and handed the severed arms to the happy couple.

The baby was overjoyed, because--

well, if you can't figure out where I'm going with this, the situation is worse than I thought.

Maybe it was Stuart Copeland, the drummer for The Police? Smart guy (UC Berkely), and probably an entertaining commencement speaker. And if Wikipedia is to be believed, he was born in Alexandria, VA, and is a cross between a CIA officer and an archaeologist, although that's the kind of stuff I would drop into my own Wikipedia entry, if I had one, just for fun.


Well, if nothing else, this chat has been good for keeping up with the Copelands!

maybe you could do Date Lab? Then I'd actually read that one!

I think there's some ban on Post employees partaking, but...

I'm not in the legislative branch, but in the executive branch. Many years ago, before my agency installed a firewall, I was asked to access an interview in Playboy on some official. I requested, received, and still have an official memo from my boss detailing that whole thing was legit. Never had to use it, but I should really frame it.


I am glad you gave a video and not just a transcript. You made pun sexy that way.

I'm glad you think so! I always think I look awkward on camera, which I think is because I do in fact look awkward on camera.

What study? iT'S LIke an urban myth, everyone mentions the study, but no one has actually seen it.

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe!

And on that note, I'm off! Thank you for a delightful chat! Please keep reading the Compost and feel free but unobligated to follow me on Twitter!

In This Chat
Alexandra Petri
Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost, a lighter take on the news and issues of the day, and she contributes to the Post editorial page. Her work has appeared in venues such as The Huffington Post, The Week,,, Collegehumor, and The Harvard Crimson. She has appeared on Jeopardy!, Showbiz Tonight and Canadian radio, and she has performed at Boston's Comedy Studio and Comedy Connection. She would love to be on your TV show, radio show, Daily Show, HBO special, or to be an honored guest (or regular guest) at your Bar Mitzvah. She is the author of two books (unpublished, but contact her!), two screenplays, three plays, one musical, and one memoir (Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast.)
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