Music and comedy have more in common than you might think. Both require endless hours of practice to ensure perfection and both are often performed in front of live audiences whose reactions help you determine what works and what doesn’t. Comedians and musicians express themselves through their art whether it’s helping people laugh or giving them something to groove to. When both are combined, the results aren’t always positive unfortunately. On the contrary, there have been several notable exceptions where humorous lyrics meet musical arrangements on bass, guitars, drums, and keyboards to favorable outcomes. Let me walk you through some of my favorites over the years from comics, comedy groups, and even bands featuring comedy figures.
Let’s start with an all-time classic. The prolific Denis Leary has been in the comedy game for almost four decades. While most people today may know him as the voice of Diego in the Ice Age films or for his starring role in the firefighter drama series, Rescue Me, his first claim to fame was as a raunchy comedian. His 1992 breakthrough album, No Cure For Cancer, is a comedic masterpiece and features many unapologetic quips influenced by the late Bill Hicks. The one thing though that everyone remembers from that record is the opening track, Asshole, a four minute song featuring Leary’s political incorrectness and lack of shame. The song was an instant hit and helped launch Leary into the limelight where he’s continued to bask ever since.
Stephen Lynch’s style of comedy is interesting in that he conveys his jokes through songwriting. Not spouting jokes over music in his speaking voice, but actually crafting songs on his acoustic guitar with comedic lyrics. In 2000, he gained recognition with his debut album, A Little Bit Special, along with the favorite track, Special.
The song contained the term “Special Ed” referring to special education which is used for kids with learning disabilities. Comedy Central, where the song was first performed live on the program Comedy Central Presents, wouldn’t let the term be said on air so Lynch opted for the less offensive “Special Fred”. Other noteworthy tracks from the record are Hermaphrodite, a tune about a friend of Lynch’s who has a bit of a gender issue and Gay, a collection of Stephen’s thoughts on what he would do if he batted for the other team. He followed up the success with his next album, Superhero, containing Talk To Me, Lynch’s conversation with his father who catches him masturbating. Later on in his career, Stephen Lynch continued mixing music and comedy but in a different way, with a Tony Award nominated role in the Broadway production of The Wedding Singer.
Burly funnymen, Jack Black and Kyle Gass, joined forces in the 90s to form the comedy rock duo, Tenacious D. People saw how hysterical both men could be when they matched wits on-screen but they were surprised to see that both were experienced musicians as well. The hilarious, outlandish comedy mixed with excellent guitar work made sure to highlight that the D weren’t just for laughs, and that Black and Gass were true rockers at heart after all. Their eponymous debut album dropped in 2001 and features so many great numbers from Tribute to Karate to City Hall to Explosivo, and the list goes on and on. There was even a song on that record that paid homage to the late Ronnie James Dio. The former Black Sabbath singer later appeared in the band’s 2006 rock opera, In The Pick of Destiny. In 2014, the D covered the Dio classic The Last in Line which won them a Grammy for Best Metal Performance. The feat reminded metal fans of Jethro Tull besting Metallica for the award in 1989.
I have to admit I was wrong about The Lonely Island. At the height of his stint there, Andy Samberg was probably my least favorite part of Saturday Night Live. I thought he had no redeeming qualities and was wondering how he was becoming a bigger star than Will Forte! That was up until The Lonely Island was formed. Samberg teamed up with his showbiz buddies, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, to form the comedy trio which took not only the world of humor but the music world by storm as well. Their hop-hop based act has led to such classics as I’m On A Boat (which earned them a Grammy nod), Lazy Sunday, and Jizz In My Pants. Their records also feature the hottest acts in music as well as other actors and comedians like Kristen Wiig and Natalie Portman. Frequent SNL guest and multi-platinum recording artist, Justin Timberlake, lent his voice to Dick In A Box, a satire that set off a huge costume trend that year with gentlemen dressed in suits and a huge gift box hanging off their junk for the ladies to unravel. I wasn’t a Samberg fan before The Lonely Island but this hilarious group has made me believe. I will now eat my hat.
I discussed DVDA in my soundtracks article from a year ago but the band containing South Park creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, deserves more mention. In addition to their music being featured in the raunchy animated series, it’s also heard in their films. I mentioned in the above post that Team America: World Police has one of the best soundtracks ever with its parodies of movie cliches and Broadway musicals. However, the songs from BASEketball and Orgazmo are just as addicting. The latter featured the hilarious male testosterone anthem, Now You’re A Man. It’s a real treat hearing the voices of South Park wail away on songs that make you crack up. Even though their vocals aren’t present, the song Hasa Diga Eebowai from their Broadway smash hit, The Book of Mormon, is as hysterical as it is offensive.
Believe it or not, Eddie Murphy actually attempted a career as a serious musician beginning in the 1980s. After breaking out with his work on Saturday Night Live, Eddie hit the studio to record his first album, How Could It Be. It surprisingly spawned the hit, Party All The Time. That would be the last most people remember from Murphy’s singing days as his two follow-up records bombed (his last featured a notable duet with Michael Jackson). I suppose you can claim that Murphy’s singing career was a joke in itself. Still, the Brooklyn native recorded a standout track off his very first comedy album. The self-titled LP, released in 1982, featured the rap spoof, Boogie in Your Butt where Murphy cleverly utilizes a hysterical flow with the hook “in your butt” over a funky bass line and synthesizers.
More SNL alums at work here with the storied New York comedian, Colin Quinn. The jokester put an ingenious spin on the LL Cool J hit, Going Back to Cali, in 1989. The parody, Going Back to Brooklyn, features Quinn’s strong Brooklyn accent detailing his journey back to his hometown. He plays up the borough’s stereotypes to hilarious perfection.
Canadian humorist, Tom Green, originally found success with his famed MTV series, The Tom Green Show, in the late 1990s. In 1999, right before the start of the new millennium, he released The Bum Bum Song, a novelty comedy track with him jamming about the numerous uses for his rear end. It was accompanied by a gut-busting music video featuring Green donning such ridiculous outfits as: a colonial soldier and a superhero, while shoving his behind onto random bystanders. The song was dumb and childish but people like me couldn’t help but laugh out loud at it. The idea of Tom Green recording a song caught people’s attention and it shot straight to the top of the MTV music countdown program, Total Request Live. After nabbing the number one spot on the show, Green appeared on TRL and retired the video himself stating that it wasn’t fair to the actual artists whose music was featured on the show. In his memoir, Hollywood Causes Cancer, Green stated that MTV pressured him to pull the clip to protect TRL’s integrity. Green would later attempt a legit recording career releasing a rap album in 2005 to very little fanfare.