Monday, February 11, 2008

Make it simple to last the whole night long

Today in my writing class, we looked at YouTube clips the students picked out to demonstrate how humor works on television. It so happened that one student chose a song from a Flight of the Conchords special -- "It's Business Time."

I've never seen Flight of the Conchords -- yeah, I know, but we don't have HBO; now that it's on DVD, we're all over it -- and I thought this was hilarious. It got me thinking (and the class talking) about musical humor. To me, this is something that's so impressive when it's done well, but is transparently all too easy to do poorly. Bad musical humor: That folk musician at the local acoustic cafe with his self-congratulatory bemusement over the direction America's taking these days. Good musical humor: Spinal Tap, "(Listen To The) Flower People."

Bad musical humor: Mark Russell (as memorably satirized by Phil Hartman on Newsradio). Good musical humor: Tom Lehrer, "The Vatican Rag."

What makes musical humor so transcendent and wonderful when it works is that it marries exacting preparation with the appearance of pure exuberant spontaneity (or, in the case of the Spinal Tap song above, carefully calculated market research). There's already the potential for delight when harmonies kick in, or the chorus hits its mark, and when you combine that kind of happiness with a well-timed joke, the laughter gets an extra jolt of energy from the musical form.

What are your favorite examples of musical humor, or humorous music?


Amanda D Allen said...

My favorite musical humor doesn't have any words.

Eric Grubbs said...

For me, off the top of my head, it's the Vandals, Steve Martin, the Rutles and Monty Python.

msubulldog said...

This is really embarrassing, but a looong time ago (Jan.1), you asked to join the New Pathways Knitalong and I forgot to do it . . . :( If you're still interested, please let me know. I just need your email address to send you a Blogger invite.
Thanks & sorry again!

W.E.B. Adamant said...

Oh, I guess Monty Python. I'm not a big TMBG fan, but some of their stuff is okay.

I like music that's parody, not necessarily written for humor. For instance, there's this: It's a clip from Garth Marenghi's Darkplace. It ran for one season in Britain before Adult Swim picked it up. There are only six episodes, but they are funny in that they make fun of goofy horror shows and writers.

Anyway, the song they sing is not funny because of the words, but because of the complete throwback to ridiculous 80s music videos. *shrug*

Meeshell said...

Got to be Will Ferrell and Jack Black's lament for the respect of comedians at the Oscars. But I'm a ham for anything with Jack Black.

And recently, Sarah Silverman's "I'm *$@!ing Matt Damon."

Jenn said...

I love Flight of the Conchords. They are hilarious. Musical humor (the good stuff, anyway) always makes me giggle.

stevie said...

Benny Hill!

Just kidding. Monty Python, Spinal Tap and, yes, Flight of the Conchords, the musical bits on 30 Rock are coming to my mind. I love the song from the pilot about how the hot chick could be a part time model (she'd have to keep her real job). The Hiphopapotumus vs. Rhymenocerous is pretty funny as well.