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Sex & Low Beach
“Pregnant women are smug / Everyone knows it, nobody says it / Because they’re pregnant / Effing son of a gun / You think you’re so deep now, you give me the creeps / Now that you’re pregnant.”
Well, they’re just telling it like it is. Musical comedy duo Riki “Garfunkel” Lindhome and Kate “Oates” Micucci have been producing truth-telling tunes like this through their LA-based band, Garfunkel and Oates, since 2008. Micucci plays ukulele, Lindhome plays guitar, and the two sing their original songs in both unison and harmony. The pair writes on topics such as “Sex With Ducks” and having a “Gay Boyfriend.”
Comedic songwriting has become popular in the past 20 years, from the success of artists like master of parody “Weird Al” Yankovic to recent Internet sensation Bo Burnham. Political satirist Tom Lehrer was one of the founding figures of musical comedy; he wrote songs in the 1950s and 60s, possibly the most famous being “The Elements.” Thereafter came comedians like Steve Martin, who played banjo in his live act and performed songs on Saturday Night Live in the 1980s.
Musical comedy in the 21st century has become an even more widespread and respected form of comedic writing, one with which groups like Garfunkel and Oates now have a great deal of experience. “Writing comedy songs, it’s not easy, but it’s like a puzzle,” says Micucci. “I love that challenge of figuring out how best to get the point across.”
“Sometimes [the song topic] will be something political, but most of the time it’s just something that happened to us,” adds Lindhome, explaining Garfunkel and Oates’ writing process. “The brainstorming process is a lot longer than the writing process.”
Micucci points out another important part of the creation process: “What melodically is the funniest way to think about it?” is the primary concern when writing on a new topic. “Should it sound like a Broadway musical or more like a ballad?”
“[Music is] just another voice, it’s just another way of expressing things,” says Lindhome. Columbia’s own musical comedians concur. “There are specific comic ideas that work very well in song, and perhaps not quite as well in a one-liner or a stand-up set or a sketch,” explains Eli Grober, a senior in Columbia College who is co-president of Fruit Paunch, an improv comedy group on campus, and editor in chief of Columbia’s humor magazine, The Jester. Eleanor Bray, a junior at Barnard and a member of Control Top, Columbia and Barnard’s all-female improv group, adds, “I think when musical comedy works (and oftentimes it doesn’t), it can make something so much funnier than it would have been because it is so unexpected and impressive.”
Comedic songs, often have a specific structure, one about which Bray learned in a musical improv class at the Upright Citizens Brigade. “We learned a few different forms of songs to help us structure our improvised songs: verse-chorus and tagline songs,” she explains. “Verse-chorus is what it sounds like: start with a verse, sing a chorus, sing a different verse, sing that same chorus (a good example of this is ‘Let It Be’ by the Beatles). A tagline song has a line that you repeat in your first two verses, either at the opening of the verse or the closing, a bridge that shows some sort of change in emotion, and then a last verse with that same tagline (a good example of this is ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ from The Wizard of Oz).”
Both Bray and Grober cite Saturday Night Live comedy rap group The Lonely Island as a favorite musical comedy act. Grober is impressed by “their ability to merge musical comedy and sketch.” Bray is even in her own rap group with her sister and friend that she says “likes to take what people like about rap, and turn it on its head. If you consider most rap songs to be about money, cars, drugs, sex, women, etc., then what wouldn’t you expect people to be rapping really seriously about?” The group’s first single, “yUmMi3 yUm,” is, as the title suggests, about food, which the ladies treat as if it were, as Bray puts it, “as hardcore and thug as doing a lot of drugs or owning a lot of fancy cars.” The three rappers spend the video in a bathtub of Froot Loops or spitting rhymes over nachos and Chinese food.
Garfunkel and Oates put out almost all their music in the form of online videos, sometimes as “Couch Sessions” and sometimes as part of their miniseries on HBO GO. The pair can be seen playing to the camera and to each other during their songs, which adds substantial comedic effect. “I think it’s really important, because I think it’s our best way to connect with our audience,” says Lindhome. “That seems to be the best way to do it.” She also points out that “recording is very time consuming, it takes much longer. This is just a quick and easy way to get our material out, basically for free.” Micucci adds, “It’s really, really exciting to be able to write something and then just immediately put it out into the world.”
The Internet has been similarly crucial for the work of Bo Burnham, a 22-year-old comedic prodigy who rose to popularity after YouTube videos of him performing his songs became went viral. Interestingly, both Burnham and Garfunkel and Oates had similar starts in the musical comedy business: Both uploaded videos of their songs to YouTube with the intention of sharing them with family and friends, only to have them become hugely popular with the public in a relatively short span of time.
The Internet has certainly aided in the spread and popularity of musical comedy. The medium, according to Micucci and Lindhome, appeals to many different demographics and age groups: “We are constantly surprised; we have people who are high school and college kids who are super into [our music], up to people in their 80s at our shows. There really is a really wide range.”
“We literally have no idea who our audience is. It’s just anyone who digs it,” adds Lindhome.
Micucci points out that comedy and music are inherently linked. “When you’re performing, [waiting for] the next part of the song is same as waiting until the next part of the joke,” she says. “Even stand-up comedy, it’s so musical, and so rhythmic—you have to wait for a joke to hit correctly. It has rhythm.”
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