New artificial intelligence chatbot generates writing, but is it punny?
BY BEN EISEN
BROOKLYN—I heard the MC call my name and felt my legs carry me toward the stage. It was time to enter the Punderdome.
I’d never competed in a pun contest, much less in front of hundreds of people at an event considered the Roman Colosseum of punditry. My stage presence could be described as lacking. I had done basically no preparation. I did, however, have one thing going for me: I was actually a robot. Or, rather, its assistant.
ChatGPT, the trendy new artificial intelligence robot, had generated all of my puns. It’s a crazy good chatbot. So good, in fact, that it has some folks calling this the end of the human race as we know it.
The chatbot can write an essay on Proust in seconds. Want
a limerick about the Cold War? It can rhyme “tensions ran high” with “nuclear sky.” Could it match the wit of a human pun champion? I was about to find out at Punderdome, a pun contest that draws big crowds to a venue in Brooklyn.
A skillful pun competition between two people sounds more like a conversation with a heaping dose of puns about a topic slipped in. In one You-Tube video I watched the night before the event, two punners faced off on the topic of dog breeds. “I found that some instruments you can carry with you everywhere. But a bass? Set it down,” one said (basset, get it?). The other shot back: “Does that bass play a sharp A?” (Shar Pei, obviously.)
I asked the chatbot for help. “Tell me a pun,” I typed in. “Why was the math book sad? Because it had too many problems,” it answered. More of a dad joke than a pun, I thought. It was the first of many times the bot would spit out that answer.
Before Allison Fisher started competing at Punderdome under the name Rhyme & Punishment five years ago, she went to a coffee shop with a friend. They went back and forth practicing two-minute monologues the way they’re done in the show. She won three times. “It’s really all about noodling around the ideas in your head,” said Ms. Fisher, a software engineer. “After thinking for 15 seconds orzo, I’ll take a penne to paper.