Probably the only thing that’s as subjective as musical taste is sense of humour. Combine the two then, and you are asking for trouble.
Today is Comic Relief day in the UK, and whilst I totally support the cause and am happy to contribute to the charitable effort, like Tim from The Office, I find all the enforced zany-ness and madcap ‘humour’ rather difficult to stomach. As a man who is famously 10 times funnier than Chris Moyles (and that’s only when I’m not trying), it does make me cringe to see people doing ‘something funny for money’ that isn’t funny. Don’t get me wrong I’m more than happy to cough up the cash, but just don’t expect me to wear my pyjamas to work or put my shirt on back to front, or something equally ‘hilarious’.
One thing I did do to support the cause this week was to write new lyrics to fit the tune ‘Hey Big Spender!’ (most definitely my ‘Earworm of the Week’!) for our senior management team’s entry in the company’s charity talent contest. It was good fun, took me about 15 minutes to do, and the resulting video was actually very funny thanks to the talents of our HR Director in particular. The entry finished a creditable third … out of four. It made me wonder if there was money to be made in rewriting well known songs for special occasions – if anyone wants to commission me for a future event, let’s talk!
On the subject of funny songs, why are most of the official songs for Comic Relief over the years so awful? I guess the novelty song’s problem is its very limited shelf-life. The only funny thing about one-hit wonder ‘Shaddap you Face’ by Joe Dolce back in 1981 was that it kept the far more laughable ‘Vienna’ by ultra-serious Ultravox from getting to number 1 in the UK.
Can anyone suggest a comedy song that has actually raised a smile past the second or third hearing? There are maybe a few here and there, but it’s a short list.
Topping it for me would be the rap parody Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenocerous by The Flight of The Conchords. It ridicules the macho posturing of the genre brilliantly, as well as featuring one of the most lyrically accomplished raps of all time. As an occasional writer of comic poetry I can only doff my cap to the peerless rhyming of :
“They call me the hiphopopotamus/Flows like low light phosphorous/Popping off the top of this oesophagus/Rocking this metropolis/I’m not a large water-dwelling mammal/Where did you get that preposterous hypothesis?”.
I could watch/listen to that on a regular basis and still laugh every time.
Less is more
I think humour in songs works much better when it’s more subtle – a few wry lyrics in a ‘normal’ song is actually far more effective than going all out for comic effect.
Some of my favourites include:
Belle and Sebastian
‘This is just a modern rock song’ by Belle and Sebastian – I especially like the following lines:
“I put my arm around her waist/She put me on the ground with Judo/She didn’t recognise my face/She wasn’t even looking.”
See also ‘The State That I am in’ and ‘Dear Catastrophe Waitress’ by the same band for more lyrical witticism.
The Divine Comedy
Neil Hannon of the Divine Comedy also has a way of infusing his songs with dry humour and most of his back catalogue is quite amusing – ‘National Express’ being a good example.
His acerbic wit deserves an article of its own, but just for now here’s my favourite, from ‘The Queen Is Dead’:
So I broke into the Palace with a sponge and a rusty spanner/ She said: “I know you and you cannot sing”/ I said: “That’s nothing, you should hear me play piano”.
Now we’re talking!
The ultimate combo
But for a perfect combination of music and comedy, you need look no further than the diminutive, hirsute genius of Bill Bailey. The man is a multi-instrumentalist and one of the funniest people on the planet.
If you’re already a fan, you will know exactly what I mean, and are probably chuckling to yourself as you recall your favourite moments from his live shows or DVDs. If you haven’t experienced his live shows and just recognise him as that hairy bloke from ‘Never Mind the Buzzcocks’ or Manny from ‘Black Books’ here are a few of my favourite Bill Bailey moments you might like to check out:
- Bill ruminating about sirens, leading to his song based on the French ambulance siren on “Bewilderness”
- His alternative National Anthem: ‘Zippedy Doo Da’ as performed by Portishead on “Part Troll”
- His hilarious ‘Love Song’ depicting the various stages of a love affair from infatuation to betrayal on “Part Troll”
- His awesome “Kraftwerk Tribute” which forms the finale to “Part Troll”
Now, that’s funny.