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?