1380: The Black Plague is eating its way through Europe. Beside a cart of stinking corpses, Punch is running from an infected Judy. 1604: Shakespeare premieres Othello at the Globe Theatre. Near the entrance, Punch is strangling Judy. 1941: Hitler bombs London. Punch and Judy, beating the shit out of each other as usual, distract the kids with laughter.
For more than 400 years, Punch professors, as they're called, have been setting up their booths and performing Punch-and-Judy shows in the street. In all that time, the story hasn't changed much -- it's still a slapstick comedy with audience interaction featuring the war of the sexes, ending with good clobbering evil.
What has changed are the topical moments, puppeteer Doug Kincaid explains. In the 1800s, Punch beat up Charles Darwin or the Yankees or the Rebs, depending on where the professor was visiting that day. In the 1940s, Punch beat up Hitler. And sometimes Punch was the only guy who could get away with it, satirizing Robespierre or King George III when, Kincaid says, "real people might get their heads chopped off" for sedition. In places with little freedom of speech, he adds, "Punch was one of the first anti-authority figures."
In Kincaid's Mr. Punch Takes a Holiday, we find the venerable troublemaker at home alone, eager to chill out and watch TV in his crib. Naturally, a series of interruptions robs him of any chance to relax, and general madness follows. Topicality arrives in the form of John Goodman and Yoda puppets, and tradition is maintained with groan-inducing one-liners that only parents can appreciate and a lavishly decorated puppet booth designed in the Punch-professor tradition.
This version of Punch is not quite as grotesque as some of his forebears, each of whom had a prognathous nose and chin that nearly met, a cunning leer and a hunched back. He is however, every bit as funny.