A Short History of Punch and Judy
There are many "master narratives" that serve as compost to the modern age, and that we scholars, literates, and mandarins of the Western World have imbibed thoughtlessly; in some cases even joylessly, like chewing dry crackers to sop up our excess saliva so that we do not spit when we talk.

And then there is Punch and fucking Judy which is goddamn HILARIOUS!

The story of Punch is the story of a puppet who murders everyone he meets in his terrycloth universe using a blunt object, and (in some cases) using the very stage to which he finds himself confined. Sometimes he kills people with sausages. Sometimes he convinces them to hang themselves. There is no point.


There is no point; not even that one.


Punch has been around for something like 350 years, and probably even longer. Some people identify him with Trickster archetypes such as Loki or Hamlet, but his fast and hard modern incarnation is that of a man with a nose so long that it almost meets his chin, and who has been "swazzled," i.e. made to sound like a retarded person yelling into a box fan.

Punch first took the stage during the Restoration, when Charles II beheaded Oliver Cromwell. The restored King stuck Cromwell's head on a pike to fester and harden, and reopened the theaters. This got people thinking.

Italian Catholics were also let back into England to sell their spaghettis and pieces of the true cross, and -- with new theaters to fill and a hungry audience -- opportunists quickly turned these foreigners into objects of riducule and animosity. One way to ridicule them was to point out that they were good at murdering each other.

The first recorded sighting of Punch was by Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist who once had a kidney stone the size of a tennis ball, and who once saw a humorous string puppet by the Thames that reminded him of the man who sold hot sausages on his block. Pepys was most likely not hallucinating.

Pulcinelia the Murderous Singing Racist String-Puppet became Punchinello the Murderous Singing Racist Hand-puppet. Later, the name was shortened forever to the simple Mr. Punch, after a series of gruesome murders at Banbury Cross by Mr. and Mrs. Rayburn FitzPunch added topicality to the conceit. The racist Italian stereotype disappeared, but the underlying genius to the idea remained: people like to see puppets kill other puppets, and they will pay money for this -- money that they have earned by sweeping human shit out from under the windows of other people whose job it is to wear clothes made of solid gold and eat lobsters.

Here are two words that I bet you didn't know were popularized by Punch and Judy: the "punchline" and the "slapstick."

The Punch-line is the catchphrase that Punch shouts whenever he sends someone's immortal British soul to hell for no reason. It is: "That's the way to do it!" sung in a sing-song fashion.

The slapstick is the device that is generally used to carry out the aforementioned operation. It is a stick used by clowns to make their funny violence sound real.

But Punch commits murders with his slapstick!


Putting on a Punch and Judy show requires no training or expertise, but those who are MASTERS at the genre (they don't fuck up and drop their slapstick; they don't fuck up the Punch-line) are called "Professors." That's right: you can either go to graduate school and spend enormous amounts of money, time, and pain to learn something difficult, or you can learn to bang two puppets together in a way that causes people to think that one of them has died.


While there are as many ways to perform a "Punch and Judy Show" as there are people with two hands who can crouch behind a wall, there is an accepted tradition that uses a play called "The Tragical Comedy, or Comical Tragedy, of Punch and Judy" as its main literary departure.

To put on your OWN Punch and Judy Show, you can either read it here:

The Punch Gospel!

OR, you can take my word for it, and make sure that the nine following things happen in order, using for flavor any flourishes, statements, sensitivities, or tricks that pop into your head:

SCENE ONE: Punch gets bitten by a dog. He finds the dog's owner, Mr. Scaramouch, steals Mr. Scaramouch's dog-beating stick, and then he knocks the man's head clean off into the audience. Now Punch is armed!

Punch-line: "That's the way to do it!"

SCENE TWO: Punch returns home and attempts to rape his wife, Judy. She resists his forward intentions, and instead presents him with their child to pacify him and remind him of higher love. She leaves. The child won't stop crying, so Punch bashes his head in and tosses the child down the stairs (into the audience). Judy returns, and Punch tells her that it is no matter: they can make another baby! Judy accosts him with a stick, but Punch beats her to death with his own stick. "To lose a wife is to gain a fortune!" swazzles Punch, famously.

Punch-line: "That's the way to do it!"

SCENE THREE: Punch fucks a puppet named Pretty Polly, his new mistress.

Punch-line: "That's the way to do it!"

SCENE FOUR: After being thrown from his horse, Punch fakes being injured in order to conjure a Doctor to his side. He kicks the Doctor in the eye, provoking retaliation, but ultimately, and with prejudice, Punch manages to beat the Doctor to death whilst screaming the word: "Physic!"

Punch-line: "That's the way to do it!"

SCENE FIVE: Punch kills a foreign servant who does not have a good grasp of English.

Punch-line: "That's the way to do it!"

SCENE SIX: Punch kills an old blind man.

Punch-line: "That's the way to do it!"

SCENE SEVEN: A constable comes to take Punch away for his various homicides, larcenies, and -- most of all -- his public singing. With the help of the hangman Jack Ketch, Punch is dragged away to prison to be executed.

Punch-line: "Help me! Help me! I'm being MURDERED!"

SCENE EIGHT: Punch doesn't know "how" to be hung. He gets Jack Ketch to demonstrate, and while Jack Ketch has his head in the noose, he hangs Jack Ketch instead! He escapes justice, and does a merry dance on the hangman's coffin!

Punch-line: "That's the way to do it!"

SCENE NINE: Punch beats the ghost of Judy to death with a stick. Punch beats the the Devil to death with a stick.

Punch-line: "Huzzah! Huzzah! I've killed the Devil!"

There! Now you are a fucking Professor of Punch! Don't fucking hit yourself in the wrist, and make sure to match up the voices with the proper puppet. Remember: Punch goes on your right hand, the victim goes on your left. I get ten percent of whatever money you make. Email me to find out where to send your purse full of shillings and pence.


Charles Dickens basically wanted to ban everything about the Nineteenth Century except beer, children, and Christmas. However, when a campaign coalesced to ban Punch from the streets of London because of the show's obvious wink at domestic abuse and its insistence that there was no Devil anymore because a puppet had killed him, Charles Dickens was furious, and came to Punch's defense:

"In my opinion the Street Punch is one of those extravagant reliefs from the realities of life which would lose its hold upon the people if it were made moral and instructive. I regard it as quite harmless and as an outrageous joke which no one in existence would think of regarding as an incentive to any kind of action or as a model for any kind of conduct. It is possible, I think, that one secret source of pleasure very generally derived from this performance is the satisfaction the spectator feels in the circumstances that likenesses of men and women can be so knocked about without any pain or suffering."

Everybody has their reasons for liking Punch. I like the complications, the possibilities, and the rape and murder. I like the fact that it is a narrative and cultural institution of deep circumstance, despite being the exact thing you would come up with in ten minutes while drunk and trying to make your friends laugh who are even MORE drunk.

Punch Day is coming up on May 9th. Go see a Punch and Judy Show if you can in your area, and tip BIG. If there isn't one in your area, then you have a grave responsibility, don't you?

To this day, public Punch has never been banned. Can you make history? Will you be the one?

Good luck!


Posted by miracle on Thu, 24 Apr 2008 18:36:36 -0400 -- permanent link

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