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Thursday, February 1

Comedy Songery

One of the things about MySpace is that people start asking you to be their friends. I have a rule. I will only approach someone to be a friend if I have a link with them in real life. Equally, I'll only take on a MySpace friend if either I know them, know one of their real friends, or if they look particularly interesting.

I frequently reject new friends.

Today, I accepted Mokya, who are an Irish spoof pop band. Well, they make spoof pop music. I listened to one of their songs and it was good. There is a problem with doing what they're doing, and it's the fundamental problem of musical comedy.

Firstly, when you write a song it needs to have substance as well as style. This is particularly true of comedy songs, where laughs only come from substance. In comedy the style can also make laughs, but the style is part of the comic substance, so let's just call it substance too. In pop songs, there's a lot of repetition. Unlike other sorts of song, this tends not to dilute the substance, since pop is about simplicity and repetition. Fair play to it. Of course, a bad pop song's chorus might not bear hearing more than once, even within the same song. A good pop song's chorus might be so good that you don't want to stop hearing it. This is the basis of the catchy tune, which gets your brain addicted to its sound so much that you end up singing it to yourself.

So, someone writing comedy pop has a problem. The pop song is about repetition, but in comedy, once you've heard a joke, it's seldom funny a second and third time. You can add substance to it, by exaggerating later performances. If the chorus is made of particularly strong words or imagery, or if the chorus changes its meaning as the rest of the song's resets the context, then it will bear repeating. However, overall, the comic song can die when its chorus stops being funny. So, comedy pop. Difficult.

The final thing about song-writing is down to length of song. The 2 and 3 minute pop song is a nice bite-sized time. Other styles of music require longer songs. Big production numbers in musicals want to be longer than a couple of minutes. Artists like Pink Floyd would have been desperately constrained with shorter times to play with, and only Weird Al Yankovic can perform the classic Bohemian Rhapsody in less than its allotted 6 minutes. Weird Al does it as a polka at double speed. There's a case where style is the substance - it's bloody hilarious hearing the whistlestop-tour of the music in an up-beat polka stylee. It stays funny.

The pop song 2 minute format would, therefore, make an excellent opportunity for the comedy song, since it's hard to keep something funny for too long - it soon wears thin. However, in those 2 to 3 minutes, you need to keep changing the joke. Have a progression. Swap repetition for something which surprises the audience, or make the repeated thing well and truly unbelievable to the ear.

It's bloody difficult.

Mokya are not playing their music to a live audience, so in some ways it's not a big problem. The music itself sounds nice and you can switch off and still enjoy it. However, for me, a comedy song cannot be switched off to. It has to grab you, make you laugh and then take its curtain call before you've gotten bored of it.

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