What’s the first thing you think of, when you think of comedy music?
Perhaps it’s Monty Python singing ‘The Lumberjack Song’? Or Weird Al Yankovic singing ‘White & Nerdy’?
Songs that you perhaps wouldn’t label as era-defining classics in popular music…
Or maybe it’s the novelty songs of the late twentieth century? Songs like ‘Monster Mash’ or ‘Pink Toothbrush’; that were mostly written to be a flash in the pan.
More a method of telling a joke, than a brilliantly crafted piece.
Perhaps it’s through these associations; that comedy music seems unappealing to you? It certainly has a bad reputation in the eyes of the music industry. People frequently assume that the genre is unsophisticated, dull and even crass.
However, times have changed...
In recent years, the meteoric rise of artists like Tim Minchin, The Lonely Island, Flight Of The Conchords and Tenacious D has led the genre into uncharted territory. World tours in arena-size venues, billions of views on Youtube and platinum-selling albums.
The talent of these artists alone has spawned Hollywood films, award-winning musicals and highly acclaimed television series. Bret McKenzie of Flight Of The Conchords even won an Oscar. It seems like comedy music is suddenly cool again!
So should we really take comedy music seriously?
Well I’m not about to tell you that ‘The Duck Song‘ has some great spiritual truth about it. But perhaps there’s a way I can convince you that this genre has the potential to stand alongside any of your other favourite genres of music.
1. The Music Is Just As Good As Pop Music
To those of you who are less enthusiastic about comedy music than I am – this might sound like a very bold statement. But I believe it is absolutely true.
Let’s put aside the novelty songs and ditties for a moment and explore some of the truly gifted songwriters in the comedy music world.
Australian-born Tim Minchin has been described as a virtuosic pianist and his incredible musical ability is obvious from watching any of his performances. He uses this musical knowledge to write very creative compositions. His song ‘F Sharp’ is a key example (if you’ll pardon the pun!) Tim describes how his voice and piano hands are opposing forces that want to perform in different key signatures. The result is a hilariously dissonant effect that has audiences in fits of laughter. Not only is this a sophisticated musical idea to sing about, but it’s technically very difficult to do.
However, if music theory is not what you’re looking for in your listening, then there are plenty of comedy music artists that can expertly craft a catchy, pop hit.
The Lonely Island:
American comedy trio, The Lonely Island, began their career on Saturday Night Live but it was their comedy rap songs that made them a viral sensation. Singles like ‘I’m On A Boat’, ‘Threw It On The Ground’ and ‘Like A Boss’ became massively successful on Youtube, thanks to their catchy choruses.
Their hip hop influenced songs are now heard in nightclubs and karaoke bars all over the world. Sitting alongside the Grammy award-winning artists they so often satirise.
Besides these new artists, it’s also worth remembering that that some of the most well-respected musicians of the 1960s and 70s used irony and humour in their music all the time. The Kinks, Frank Zappa and even The Beatles couldn’t resist a bit of comedy and tomfoolery. ‘I Am The Walrus’ being a classic example of this.
It’s a shame that current pop music artists seem apprehensive about including any playfulness or nonsense in their lyrics. As though music should always be treated with total seriousness.
Laughter and comedy are wonderful parts of life that connect us all. They are methods of understanding each other which really leads me on to my second point…
2. Comedy Music Is Based In Truth
The power of popular music is in its ability to captivate massive audiences with relatable messages and accessible melodies. It’s not overly complicated and it most often strives for universal appeal. Artists tend to write about their personal feelings and experiences, to connect with their audiences.
Inside all that, is a shared recognition of honest truths about ourselves. Some are moving, some are uncomfortable and some…are laughable.
Comedy music points a finger at the hilarious foibles in us as humans, in the same way that artists like Adele point at the heart-wrenching sadness in us.
Have you ever felt self-conscious about the way you’ve acted in social situations? ‘It’s Alright’ by British comedy musicians Flo and Joan, carries a comforting message that it’s fine to make silly mistakes.
Have you ever tried to clumsily hide the fact you were upset after a relationship break up? New Zealand duo, Flight Of The Conchords, sing about the funny side of this in their song ‘Not Crying’.
Comedy and laughter are a part of everyday life, and music has always been an excellent way of identifying with each other.
When comedy music is done well, it hits upon home truths that can be as beguiling or relatable as the softest love song.
3. Comedy Heightens Other Emotions
We afford film-makers a lot of emotional range in classic comedy films.
What would ‘When Harry Met Sally’ be without the rocky parts of their relationship?
Or ‘Mrs Doubtfire’ without Daniel’s difficult battles with the court?
Audiences love to experience this roller coaster of emotions. It’s gratifying to have been through an emotional journey with highs and lows.
Laughter followed by sadness, can create a swell of tears.
Sadness followed by laughter, can be a sweet release.
Music has precisely the same potential and it’s expertly mastered by the best in the comedy music world.
In Tim Minchin’s ‘Not Perfect’, Tim sings about the issues surrounding the planet and his country. He comically laments about his country’s politics and the “eyebrows” of the politicians in charge.
As the song progresses though, he talks about his body and mind and it becomes obvious that he’s dealing with the broader message of self acceptance.
It’s a gut-punching and emotional moment that feels all the more powerful because of the laughs that preceded it.
“This is my body and it’s fine.
It’s where I spend the vast majority of my time.
It’s not perfect, but it’s mine”.
In Bo Burnham’s ‘Can’t Handle This’ – Bo begins singing about the mundane and trivial problems that blight his first-world life, for example, not being able to fit his hand inside a Pringles can.
But he eventually divulges that his biggest problem is his audience. He’s a troubled performer with both a love and hatred for his profession. Suddenly, we feel guilty for laughing and the contrasting mood creates a powerful moment of realisation.
It’s not at all surprising that he named his comedy album ‘Make Happy’!…
Give it a try!
So if you’ve never wanted to give comedy music a try – I hope I’ve at least made you think about the small possibility of one day, maybe on the off chance, falling into an accidental Youtube binge.
You might be surprised by the wealth of incredible musical talent there is in this often overlooked genre…