Friday, November 23, 2007

It's Funny, See?

So lately, like many people, I have been enjoying new shows like Flight of the Conchords and Metalocalypse. Also, I recently watched Wayne's World 2, so humor and music have both been on my mind.

Humor and music have a relationship extending back for generations, most notably in variety shows and Vaudevill-era travelling acts. In recent years they have been separated, but we are starting to see a reuniting of these auditory arts.

I think I probably speak for many people when I say that I can listen to Weird Al Yankovic for about 20 minutes, tops. I appreciate his talent and his ability to parody popular music (much of it deserved), but such humor seems to quickly lose its taste. I get distracted by the fact that the music is identical to songs I already know, but the lyrics are different; this begins to decrease my enjoyment. I'm a creature of habit. Weird Al's popularity spawned a number of imitators, most notably R. Kelly, who parodied R&B (and himself) so spectacularly with "Trapped in the Closet" that it didn't need to be parodied - though Weird Al did so, with the admittedly brilliant "Trapped in the Drive-Thru". R. Kelly perhaps achieved better longevity with the dual format of song and video: if the series had not been released in the music video format, it would probably have foundered in obscurity.

Enter TV shows like FoTC an Metalocalypse. Combining humorous songs with humorous shows, they seem to get the bost of both worlds: the songs are short and relevant to the episodes, which are carried by their own humor apart from the music. These shows also excel because they music they create is actually GOOD: though Dethklok's lyrics are usually inane beyond belief, the music is a wonderful collage of every metal cliche, done to perfection. Flight of the Conchords, meanwhile, come across like the Smothers Brothers. Their songs and harmonies are always catchy, and the lyrics (usually done in a folk/storyteller fashion) stand as well within episodes as they do apart from them. Their iTunes EP will probably be my first purchase of a musical comedian's work (my best friend growing up had all the Weird Al albums).

One other notable sector of musical comedy is the musical stand-up comedian, currently being popularized by Demetri Martin and Zach Galifianakis, to name a couple. Both these comedians use music in their acts, but usually only as background music to tell jokes over. Martin has tried one or two actual songs, but they are not very good. Here music serves a dual purpose - as a background, as a noted, but also as something for the comedians to do when picking their next joke, so they're not just feeling the pressure of dead space and silence. Both comedians have a more relaxed style, and appear to leave more time between jokes than other comedians (Dane Cook). While Galifianakis plays piano, Martin focuses on guitar but is also known to come up with more intricate setups (bells on the floor that he steps on, tape decks that he plays along with, etc.) that add a comedic element via their needless complexity.

Despite my earlier comments about Weird Al, he puts on a fantastic live show, which is a good reminder that comedy at its best is a shared experience, both with the performer and the audience. For a lot of readers of this little blog, another winter is starting - don't forget to laugh.