Jon Stewart interviewed Bruce Springsteen in a recent issue of Rolling Stone about the similarities between a musician and a comedian. They said that the barring of yourself and your beliefs through your craft are essential to both fields. I think that these ideas of the musical comedian speak volumes for artists, as they dabble with music and put out albums. I can’t help but think of Saturday Night Live with comedians like Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, and Jimmy Fallon who used their musical abilities to impersonate popular musicians and create musical parodies. These worked because the comedians were able to use both talents to create something wonderful.
There’s something surprising yet wholly suiting when a comedian performs their act with music instead of the usual routine of talking jokes. It’s even better when they use their talents within character work. A perfect example of this is Jack Black’s performance of “Let’s Get It On” in the movie High Fidelity. As a comedian Black is rather high strung and full of energy but with music his audience gets to see a more serious multi-talented version of him. That’s not to say his music doesn’t provide laughs. He was able to incorporate both music and humor in the movie School of Rock and does so with his band Tenacious D.
Comedians have been exploring their musical sides for generations. A conversation with my father in preparation for this article lead to me listening to Woody Allen’s ragtime band and Steve Martin on the banjo. Each comedian was able to establish himself as a talented musician. Martin has received critical acclaim for his bluegrass music. He began playing when he was seventeen, learning from John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Band and incorporating it into his early stand-up work. He later transitioned to a full-fledged musician, touring with various blue-grass groups and releasing albums.
More contemporary comedians are using music to reinvent comedy and keep the genre fresh. Conan O’Brien, after the late night scandal that won’t be named, went on a musical rampage ending his stint on The Tonight Show with a performance of “Free Bird.” During his absence from television he had a nationwide concert tour that featured him perfuming various versions of popular radio songs. Reggie Watts, who opened on O’Brien’s tour, has been making a name for himself within pop culture as both a comedian and musician. He incorporates improvisations of free style and a cappella songs into his routine.
It’s easy to see what music brings to stand-up comedy, adding more imagination to the genre. But comedy also adds to music by simply making the listener laugh, something not commonly associated with listening to music. When combining genres, it’s all about expanding the potential of creativity.
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About the Author: Currently working on my B.A in Film Studies at CSU Sacramento full time, working part time, and playing the rest of the time. Began my love of comedy with Gene Wilder, and haven't looked back. Tweet me @steviewho