Anjali Nirmalan
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Pleased as Punch

June 20, 2010 @ 12:20 PM | Permalink

You could call it a conference of sorts - a swazzled one.

Once a year, professors from across the country gather in London's Covent Garden to brag, argue, compete, and dazzle.  But rather than briefcases and papers, they come armed with wood, felt, sequins, gilt paint - and each brandishes their own signature swazzle.  And my, what a show can they put on!

Because a professor, as he or she has been known since Victorian times, is the conductor of a Punch and Judy puppet show.
Originating in Italy, the Punch and Judy story was first recorded in England by Samuel Pepys in his diary the day he saw it performed in Covent Garden.  A small inscription bears testament to this in that same spot, which continues to be a daily venue for street performers in the tourist-packed Covent Garden.
Not far from the crowds but a whole placid world away, the Actor's Churchyard plays host to a strange array of booths and antiquated tall tales.  Here today is the celebration of the 348th birthday of naughty Mr. Punch, and all of the professors have come out to play.
The strength of the traditional story is so strong, that no matter what personal twists and style it is given by the teller, it still resounds in classic physical comedy.  There is the spousal abuse by Punch of Judy and sometimes vice versa, and usually the hilarious if twisted demise of the poor baby, not to mention the dog or occasionally a crocodile, and usually there's also the bumbling good efforts of a doomed judge or policeman.  All are cleverly voiced by the narrator - including Mr. Punch, with his traditional nearly-incomprehensible swazzle-induced squawking.

There have been numerous attempts to censor the politically incorrect Mr. Punch, but still the show goes on.  And in it, we see the roots of other villainous English everymen we love to hate: Mr. Bean, and Basil Fawlty.  (For a marvelous take on the social impact of that wicked Mr. Fawlty, read Zadie Smith's Dead Man Laughing" in the New Yorker.) 

Such misadventures have proven to be a suckerpunch that rarely fails to please. 





























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