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Joke Music

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If you're a fan of Tenacious D, you probably heard recently that they're finally coming out with their 3rd album this year. It's a great time to come out with new material, as the success of Flight of the Conchords and Lonely Island have propelled the world of parody music to new heights. It's the right time to continue the popularity of the medium. Has there ever been a greater time for joke music than the last ten years or so? If there is a golden age for this type of thing, then it's got to be now. The whole genre has taken a peculiar evolution and split into different beasts so that it may exist both in the straight music world and along the comedy circuits. It's also evolved from the point of parody into more of a self-deprecating celebration of genres, where the butt of the joke isn't the style or band they're mocking anymore, but the performers themselves. If we want to talk about the history of musical comedy, there's always the Vaudeville tradition of variety shows that featured comedy and music in some acts, but much of the explosion seems to have come in the last 30 years, with rapid growth in the last 10. The biggest of which is, of course, the ever present and immortal “Weird Al” Yankovic, who got famous for parodying Michael Jackson's “Beat It” with “Eat It” and achieved modern sales success for parodying Chamillionaire's “Ridin'” with “White & Nerdy.” The interesting thing about the through line from Weird Al to today is the difference in the intent of musical comedy. Weird Al has always been a parody machine, whose style fits in with the comedy of the day like Airplane! It was a comedy based on cleverness and warping familiar hits into absurdity. Although Weird Al has stayed with us this entire time, as sharp as ever, he's joined in his category by the modern big names: Flight of the Conchords, Lonely Island and Tenacious D. These are bands that work in different genres (folk, pop and rap, and folk metal[?]) but all within the same sketch comedy style, where the premise of the very song is the joke and not necessarily making fun of anyone but themselves. There's a sincere appreciation for the music they're aping, and even when they highlight the weirdness of it, they still come off as complete fans. It's a reminder that parody doesn't always have to stick it's nose up at something. The weirdest sensation is when they manage to make something that's just a good song even without the jokes. Remember when “I'm On A Boat” caught fire and how surprising it was that it was actually kind of infectious to listen to? Musical comedy is able to exist in the concert world with other musicians, which is why Tenacious D is playing Sasquatch Music Festival, or even in the small stand-up comedy club circuit with acts like Garfunkel & Oates or Demitri Martin or Stephen Lynch. There's a variety and popularity in the here and now for funny music that either wasn't around or was less visible. I don't remember a time when there were this much active and high quality musical comedy available (maybe that's because I don't consider Bloodhound Gang a comedy group.) But from the big names on down, it's never been easier – and more exciting – to marry two sensational mediums.

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