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Writing for singers or comedians - same process, different form


oldgitplayer

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Whenever I watch stand-up, I can't help thinking how similar the writing process must be.

Both forms usually are an observation of others or of our own experience.

Both require an understanding of live delivery of the form and how it may entertain.

Wit in comedy is for the large part a play with words / timing etc. As in the song.

 

The writing can be done solo, or two or more people bouncing ideas back and forth.

 

The traditions of the British Music Hall combine comedy and song. I wouldn't want to try it however.

But despite this, I like a bit of wry wit in popular song - not the laugh-out-loud variety, just a subtle ah-ha.

 

Is there anybody out there with a 'funny' song in their catalogue? :) to :lol: or just a simple ;)

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I've written a few comedy songs, mostly for the two musicals I've worked on.

 

At some point in my exploration of songwriting I realized that there is a direct correlation between the form of a joke -- premise/set-up, development, punchline -- and a good song.

 

"My funny Valentine, sweet comic Valentine,

you make me smile with my heart..." (premise)

 

"Your looks are laughable, un-photographable,

yet you're my favorite work of art..." (development)

 

"Is your figure less than Greek?

Is your mouth a little weak?

When you open it to speak, are you smart?" (more development)

 

"But don't change a hair for me.

not if you care for me.

Stay little Valentine, stay..." (set up for the punchline)

 

"Each day is Valentine's day." (punchline)

 

That's just one example.

 

Not all songs follow that form as clearly, but there is, I think, some vestiges of it in most songs. An added feature of the song is that the music is also telling the story (or the "joke"), so some of the development comes thru the melodic and harmonic structure.

 

LCK

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I've written a few comedy songs, mostly for the two musicals I've worked on.


At some point in my exploration of songwriting I realized that there is a direct correlation between the form of a joke -- premise/set-up, development, punchline -- and a good song.


"My funny Valentine, sweet comic Valentine,

you make me smile with my heart..." (premise)


"Your looks are laughable, un-photographable,

yet you're my favorite work of art..." (development)


"Is your figure less than Greek?

Is your mouth a little weak?

When you open it to speak, are you smart?"
(more development)


"But don't change a hair for me.

not if you care for me.

Stay little Valentine, stay..."
(set up for the punchline)


"Each day is Valentine's day."
(punchline)


That's just one example.


Not all songs follow that form as clearly, but there is, I think, some vestiges of it in most songs. An added feature of the song is that the music is also telling the story (or the "joke"), so some of the development comes thru the melodic and harmonic structure.


LCK

The lyrics are clever and funny -- but wedded to a lovely, bittersweet melody... it's an irresistable combination. I'd always loved MFV but my appreciation for the song was increased when, early in his career, then-still-angry-young-man, Elvis Costello (How can it be that he's now a grand old man of song? LOL I feel so old. ;) ) did a cover of it and gave a 45 of it away at at least one of his shows (c. 1979 or '80)... my appreciation for the singer also deepened, as his sensitive reading revealed a side to his vocalism that had barely even been hinted at before.

 

 

I like to work amusing and clever bits into my lyrics when I can -- even in songs that aren't themselves funny -- but I've also written some straight up humor songs as well as a number of satire songs. I've even written a parody song or two (although not Weird Al Yankovich-style -- more like drawing 'inspiration' from the musical style and construction of the target)... some pals and I did a parody of that (pretty horrible, to my mind) 80s new wave pop song, "Sex (I'm a)" which, itself, has provided the mold for several equally innane follow on songs from latter day trollop-pop artists. I can't say ours (which I believe we titled "OC Girl" and which may have been played a couple times by Rodney Bingenheimer, bless him) was a particularly good song -- even as parody -- but it was pretty good therapy for two guys and a girl who were sick of the constant play given the Terry Nunn Berlin song.

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Thanks Lee - Your comparative analysis is useful. i.e.

Premise / development / setup for PL / punchline.

 

I'm not adverse to the use of formulas that have withstood the test of time. (the sonnet has been out to trot for a goodly while now)

It leaves me greater freedom to focus on the content.

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Thanks Lee - Your comparative analysis is useful. i.e.

Premise / development / setup for PL / punchline.


I'm not adverse to the use of formulas that have withstood the test of time. (the sonnet has been out to trot for a goodly while now)

It leaves me greater freedom to focus on the content.

 

 

I'm not saying all songs have to have that formula, by the way.

 

Tom Hanks did a very funny bit in the movie Punchline, where he played a wannabe comedian. His stand up routine started with him mocking people who call themselves hair "stylists," then went off on several tangents, where he became more and more angry at stupid human behavior. Then ended with him saying something to the effect that he doesn't hate anyone.

 

"I'm not a hate monger." (beat) "I'm more of a hate stylist..."

 

It's that kind of thing that I like to try for in my songs, where you start with an interesting or provocative idea, develop it, and then let it come full circle at the end.

 

LCK

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Funny songs...hmm...some of my songs are funny...more so the earlier ones I did...or they're just weird songs maybe, not so funny. I just wrote them the same way I did the less-weird/funny songs...I kinda like to combine weird lyrics with not so weird or funny melodies / instrumentation. I think that can be more fun than just writing a "serious" song or blatantly comical song.

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Funny songs...hmm...some of my songs are funny...more so the earlier ones I did...or they're just weird songs maybe, not so funny. I just wrote them the same way I did the less-weird/funny songs...I kinda like to combine weird lyrics with not so weird or funny melodies / instrumentation. I think that can be more fun than just writing a "serious" song or blatantly comical song.

 

 

I have listened to quite a few of your songs, and my mental category (sorry but I can't seem to unplug that brain-app.) filed them as, 'Quirky' (which is in my book complimentary).

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Of course - the writer of comedy and the writer of funny songs are often the same person.

This example goes back about 20 years before he became America's most well-known doctor.

 

[video=youtube;6riY-103vbc]

 

(Apologies to all those in the US who may not be amused)

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Comedy and Songwriting are two different art forms. The success in comedy occurs when you belittle someone or something. Songwriting is much wider in its reach.

Songwriting IS much wider in scope but if you think comedy is only about "when you belittle someone or something" then you obviously don't watch/listen to the same comedy as I do.

 

As for the OP, I haven't counted them but I'd guess probably around a quarter of my songs have a comic element in them. I don't seem able to do "laugh out loud" but I think I can do low wit spliced with a dash of irony. Then again perhaps I can't as it seems a good number of listeners don't pick up on it. :lol:

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Is there anybody out there with a 'funny' song in their catalogue?
:)
to
:lol:
or just a simple
;)

 

Despite my unrealized dream of one day writing for/participating in a sketch comedy troupe, I've always shyed away from humorous music. I did have a song once about an imaginary overweight girlfriend which always managed to elicit laughs (but then I began to date a girl who was fuller figured, so I never played that song again). Other than that, I've always maintained a mental partition that lyrics are for darker matters and my attempts at comedy are for other writing.

 

Contrary to his reputation, I always thought Morrissey was good at incorporating humor into his lyrics. Check out the Smiths' "Frankly Mr. Shankley" for some brilliant, nearly laugh out loud funny, lines.

Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, there are a number of "serious" artists I've seen who have (intentionally) made the audience laugh with their lyrics: the Magnetic Fields, Baby Dee, Momus... off the top of my head.

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