How To Write A Comedy Song
Writing a comedy song is both a joy and a difficult craft. I’ve spent ten years writing satirical songs with more than a healthy helping of humour and I’d like to pass on some of my thoughts on the process. For what they’re worth…
As I’ve recently been getting into song commissions, I’ve had a couple of people ask me what makes great comedy music.
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What’s The Big Idea?
Audiences can feel sincerity so rooting your song in a big truth can be a great place to start from. They relish in genuine stories because the mental image of these hilarious situations involving the performer, a character or even themselves awakens that relatability.
There’s a lot of credence to the phrase ‘it’s funny ’cause it’s true’.
You could write about a funny experience you had, a story you heard from someone else or a thing you’ve observed about society around you. Take them through it step by step: the sights, the smells, the sounds and every gory detail you can think of.
If you take the audience on a journey with you, they’re sure to get on your side.
There are often opportunities for the music to compliment your lyrics too – or nicely contrast with them! For example, if you’re writing a song about an awkward date, you could turn that into a smooth jazz song. Or a trivial, call centre phone call could be a punk rock song.
The music is another device for you to get those laughs.
Wait For It…
Just like in stand up comedy, the pace and timing of your lyrics will make a big difference to your song. Have some patience with those brilliant punchlines because the build up will make them so much sweeter.
Setting up a musical verse about one subject and then changing the context entirely in the chorus is a brilliant way to surprise people. You’re playing with the audience’s expectations and that knowing nod goes down wonderfully with crowds.
It’s one of the reasons that songs like ‘Prejudice’ by Tim Minchin and ‘Every Sperm Is Sacred’ by Monty Python work so brilliantly; they setup a pretence then spin it on its head with a shocking chorus.
Wait for the moment to reveal certain aspects of the song.
Who doesn’t love a good pun? Or a hilarious analogy?
Once you have an idea, it’s time for your cleverness to shine through. Your careful thought about the lyrics can create some unexpected twists and turns for the listener and as I alluded to in the last point – nothing gets an audience laughing more than the element of surprise!
I like to start with common idioms that you can flip into funny, inventive incarnations. For example, if you’re writing a song about an overly aggressive house cat, you could say he found enough room to swing a man!
It’s a bad example perhaps, but you get the idea…
In my song ‘Modern Romance (She’s So Drunk)‘, I used a simile about ducks skating on ice to describe drunk couples in nightclubs.
Of course not every song will contain a pun, an idiom or a simile. It’d be boring if they did!
But any useful language tool or device can work to inspire you. They’re a springboard to some hilarious writing.
Show ‘Em What You’ve Got
Any stand up comedian will probably tell you that they don’t know which of their jokes is funny until they walk out on a stage and perform those jokes for the first time. The proof is in the pudding when it comes to anything comedy and it’s true of a comedy song as well.
Even seasoned professionals will always perform new material at open mics or warm up gigs to ensure what they’ve got is working. Like I mentioned in my first point, funny material is about relatability and knowing if a stranger is going to understand what you’re joking about is something that you can never fully pre-empt.
My final recommendation is for you to get out there and perform live in some form or another.
It’s a scary thing at first but nothing beats the thrill of realising you’ve cracked it while surrounded by a laughing crowd who are all behind what you’re doing.
It really is the greatest feeling!…
How About Some Inspiration?
If you’re still wondering where to start, there’s no better way to get inspired than to delve into the music of those that have come before you.
I’d heartily recommend these artists:
Eric Idle, Victoria Wood, Tom Lehrer, Loudon Wainwright III, Tim Minchin, Bo Burnham, Tenacious D, The Axis Of Awesome, Boothby Graffoe and Otis Lee Crenshaw.
I also compiled a playlist of the best in ‘British Comedy Music’. As a songwriter in the UK, I believe our little nation has contributed a lot to this genre.