Do-Re-Mi Ha-Ha-Ha: The Enduring Popularity of Comedy Music

Dylan O’Neill looks at the prominence of comedy music and asks why it is so successful. In 1998, flatmates Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement formed Flight of the Conchords while studying in Wellington, New Zealand. From there, the two would go on to create a successful radio and television series of the same name, picking up ten Emmy nominations for their efforts in 2008 and 2009.The duo moved away from parodies of specific chart hits, as was the style of “Weird Al” Yankovic, to composing original songs that poked fun at a variety of themes covered in pop culture. Arguably, they are responsible for revitalising the comedy music genre.The success of comedy music continued as acts like the Lonely Island and Tim Minchin cracked up hundreds of millions of views on their YouTube videos in the late 2000s and early 2010s.Another prominent example within the genre is Bo Burnham. His 2013 song ‘Repeat Stuff,’ for example, offers a critique on how corporate management pushes songwriters to come up with the same four-chords songs, with the same feel-good meaning, simply for profit. While somewhat divisive as a musician, Burnham has enjoyed significant commercial success, with multiple tours in the UK and USA.This year meme-turned-smash hit ‘Man’s Not Hot’ made an instant star of comedian Michael Dapaah. Flight of the Conchords’ upcoming March show in the 3Arena sold out in minutes. It’s clear that there is a high demand for this genre of music, but why so much?Comedy music presents stand-up in a concise three-minute package. Essentially, it provides listeners with the ability to relive the experience of hearing a joke for the first time, by setting it to a memorable melody. As the subject matter can take on any aspect of pop culture, comedy music’s target demographic is seemingly limitless.
Comedy music presents stand-up in a concise three-minute package
The TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, starring Rachel Bloom, is filled with musical comedy. The series both parodies and pays homage to tropes found in musicals, with its big ensemble numbers and character-driven ballads. ‘Settle for Me,’ for example, pays homage to old Hollywood cinema and the chemistry between Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Swing Time, while at the same time mocking the predictability of the leading couple falling in love. The show has the ability to reintroduce the themes of Golden Age cinema and musicals to a younger audience, in a fresh upbeat way. Much of the appeal comes from the sense of being ‘in’ on the jokes, as the series’ winking looks at clichés feel both intelligent and familiar.Whatever the reasons, the comedy music genre has grown from strength to strength. It looks as though its popularity will continue to increase, as it reaches ever wider audiences.