Tuesday, 13 September 2011

What's So Funny?

My family don't have a family motto.  No emblem of two crossed Pixies on a hill for our family crest.

If, however, I were to instigate one it would definately be "Never Volunteer For Anything"

Sound advice for a happy life I think you will all agree: for as we know - once you have volunteered to do something once it suddenly becomes expected every time.

For those of you wondering where all of the above is going, and for those long term readers of the Pixie Pages you may care to refer back to a post in January 2010 which involved myself and Argent unexpectedly finding ourselves heavily involved in Pantomime despite veherement attempts to avoid parading on stage in funny costumes. 

Let's face it - actors are a funny bunch - chosing to dress in costumes and pretend to be someone else for a living suggests a certain attitude to the world outside that surely cannot be 100% healthy.  However, our main involvement with said event was to write and perform some humerous songs - which we did with a due degree of amusement and fun.

However, the problem with this is that now, all of a sudden - if there is any kind of special occasion thoughts turn unexpectedly towards myself and Argent with a "Hey - you guys write amusing songs, don't you?"

Don't get me wrong - aside from the vague fear of becoming percieved as a one-trick pony I quite enjoy writing funny songs, and any kind of musical interaction with my long-term friend and co-conspiritor Argent is always worthy of a Sunday afternoon or two - but writing an amusing song is not as easy as you might think - so here, for those of you thinking of writing and performing in public, are a few tips.

#1: It's not sufficient just to nick someone else's tune
If you are intending to do a humerous re-write of a popular tune it's no good just stealing the chords and hoping that people will get the joke.  Ideally you need to pick a song that has similar sentiments to what you are trying to say.  Additionally if you can use parts of the lyrics or scansion to help the audience realise that you are doing a skit song people will realise what is going on.  As with my posts "The Long And Boring Song" and "Chartered Accountant" - both use elements or ideas from the original - meaning that you get the payoff of the audience already on your side.

#2: It has to be funny
This is much harder than it sounds.  The jokes shouldn't be too clever or obscure, just a quick silly line to make people smile - if you can squeeze something in about the person or thing being celebrated then all the better.  Anyone can write new lyrics to a few chords - you could pretty much put this paragraph to any popular song if you tried hard enough, but that wouldn't make it funny or clever.

#3: You have to practice
Contrary to popular belief two people can't just turn up together with guitars and play expecting it to sound any good.  Programmes like Fame and now Glee have led entire generations to believe that you can just all stand up enmasse and harmonize - not true.  Even starting and stopping at the same time requires practice, let alone complex things like singing the right lyrics, harmonizing, changing to the right chord etc. 

#4: Know your audience
There's no point stealing some obscure Leonard Cohen B-side if you're playing to an audience of twelve year olds - the song has to be popular enough that most of the people in the room will get the joke

#5: Be extremely musically talented
Of course the real experts can go much further than all of the above. Proper musicians, like comedian and presenter Neil Innes can, if given a brand of music that is sufficiently well known, parody on a much wider scale - taking general themes from a band rather than individual songs and still producing something funny and recognisable and yet also unique


Gorilla Bananas said...

I actually thought I Must Be In Love was good enough to be a real Beatles song. Unlike the other Rutles songs, it doesn't seem to be a spoof of a particular Beatles song.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

GB - i think there are several in The Rutles that take the sound rather than the specific song "Number one", "Between us", "Let's Be Natural" etc

Some of them i actively prefer to the originals :)

Titus said...

Brilliant! Oh, I loved the Rutles. And fancied Eric Idle a bit...

The Bug said...

LOL - that was a funny video. There's that one of the woman singing a song to Memory - it's a great take-off on menopause. But the one you posted is funnier :)

Argent said...

I quite like the Ruttles but haven't heard then in ages. I quite agree with your song parody rules too.

Lydia said...

Hah! #3 is the one that made me really laugh. You are so right about kids' expectations of instant bursting into song that becomes a viral youtube video in one day! A little girl down the street started talking about becoming famous when she was around eight. To her credit, she is now a lovely junior in high school who has been in many school productions (see Jacki in my fb friends). She probably won't become famous but she is walking the talk at least by practicing and performing.