Not too many readers know this about me, but I spend a fair amount of my time offline and on stage. I've been a musician for years, but in my experience it's much harder (and therefore much more rewarding) to make people laugh than to make them feel all kinds of fluffy emotions like love or heartbreak. My Baby's Gone is kind of played out at this point, thank you to pop country for that.
So I married both my loves (playing music and making people laugh) with a healthy dose of narcissism and started a guitar comedy outfit. We're getting pretty good as the shows pile up, but you can't know where you're going unless you know where you're coming from, and the following five artists still trump everything and anything I've done so far. And, if any of you five are reading this, I'm available to open shows. Just sayin'.
JOHNATHON COULTAN – FIRST OF MAY
Most people have never heard of Jonathan Coulton outside purist nerd culture – he's best known for writing the song “Still Alive” for the credits of the hugely popular video game “Portal”, but he's also an accomplished stand-up guitar comedian. His background as a computer programmer and graduate of Yale University's math program makes him suited to write about those topics in his music (“Code Monkey”, “Mandelbrot Set”) but it hardly stops there. He's written love songs about mad scientists (“Skullcrusher Mountain”), local ho's (“The Town Crotch”) and even children's birthdays (“I'm Having A Party”), not to mention an evocative acoustic arrangement of Sir Mix-a-Lot's epic hit “Baby Got Back”, but for me this one takes the cake (which is, evidently, A Lie *nerd reference*). Because really, is there any better way to celebrate the warm weather when young men's thoughts turn to love than spreading out a picnic blanket and getting it on the way nature intended? I submit there is not.
STEPHEN LYNCH - D&D
Stephen Lynch is Adam Sandler on stage. No, really – the West Michigan drama graduate was tapped in 2006 to play Sandler's iconic role as Robbie Hart in the Broadway musical based on “The Wedding Singer”, but his comedy style lends itself well to the Sandler fanatics out there. His songs are a bizarre marriage of a powerful, dynamic voice and a fourth-grader's sense of toilet humor. Fans love his irreverent take on topics ranging from his relationship with his best friend Mark Teich (featured on the left in the video), the ins and outs of dating a Nazi (“Little Tiny Moustache”), religious musings on what the devil is really like (“My Name Is Satan”) and how much it must suck to be Jesus' brother (“Craig Christ”), and even the pain and devastation of fathering a deformed child (“Ugly Baby”). Suffice to say that, if you're attending one of Stephen's many, many shows throughout the year, you'd better leave your political correctness at the door. His ode to Dungeons and Dragons might strike a little too close to home for a guy like me, but thankfully, all those years of bullying have given me a thick skin. And Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but that's neither here nor there.
FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS – BUSINESS TIME
You'd think a band that bills themselves “formerly New Zealand's fourth-most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo” would be a little less well-known, but the fact is after years of touring, a radio show on the BBC and a TV show on Comedy Central, these charismatic Kiwis are about as well-known as guitar comedians are likely to get. As the only duo on this list, they bring something unique to the stage: I can tell you from experience that two guys writing is better than one guy writing (much as “two minutes in heaven are better than one minute in heaven”). Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement's writing might not be as clever as Coulton's or Lynch's, but their onstage presence and chemistry are unbeatable. Whether they're celebrating the ultimate victory of machines over man (“The Humans Are Dead”), spinning bedtime stories for children (“Albi The Racist Dragon”) or dealing with the troubles of our times (“Issues [Think About It]”) it's pretty clear nothing can keep this dynamic duo down. Not even being abysmally bad in bed, if the women in the front row of that show are any indicator.
ROB PARAVONIAN – CANON IN D
What's really funny about this tribute to the Nine Hundred Songs That Share The Same Chord Progression is that Rob Paravonian complains Pachelbel was a “one hit wonder” and then never released any more music. Okay, he released some, but not a hell of a lot – believe me, I checked. You see, as a musician I can genuinely relate to this song on a deep, personal level. The more you play covers in bars, the more you start to notice the patterns Paravonian pointed out: his montage barely scratched the surface. But for this reason, I'll admit I spent weeks sending this video to every musician I knew. They all agreed, predictably. So does Rob Paravonian really count as a guitar comic, or is he just another internet sensation that we'll never hear from again? Only time will tell – though I can wholeheartedly say I hope not everything he does from here on in consists of the same four chords.
BO BURNHAM – MY WHOLE FAMILY
Now this is the power of the internet at work. Bo Burnham is, quite literally, nobody – from nowhere. Until he discovers YouTube and starts posting hilariously tongue-in-cheek songs that give us an insider's look at a KKK Barbecue (“Cook Out”), provide an easy-to-understand explanation of mathematics that rivals Jonathan Coulton (“New Math”) and even invites us into a support group for Santa and Tony the Tiger, among others, to vent their frustrations (“Rehab for Fictional Characters”). It's genuinely pleasing to see a kid so young (he's 18) be as self-deprecating and honest even as he's making me giggle like one of his classmates – plus, he's a hell of a piano player. This might be the most controversial entry on this list, because Bo's stuff is very much an acquired taste, but thanks to the power of YouTube (twenty million hits to his page at last count) it looks like people the world over are jumping on that bandwagon. Now if only I could figure out how to make people's jokes about me into a six-figure salary – from the comfort of my freaking bedroom.
JON LAJOIE – EVERY DAY NORMAL GUY
I nearly forgot this guy, but thankfully my buddy Aizen called me on it before I sent this article to Van Der Sweet to be posted. By now everybody with an internet connection knows of Jon LaJoie, the visionary musician who brought us “Show Me Your Genitals”. The man's a poet on par with Cohen or Dylan – who else but a genius could bring us lines like “I can't have sex with your personality / and I can't put my penis in your college degree”? Okay, maybe he's not everybody's cup of tea, but you can't deny that the prepubescent in you giggles at his potty mouth and the disenfranchised adult in you genuinely relates to songs like Everyday Normal Guy. That's sort of the point, isn't it? Besides which, he scores high in two of the major selling categories on the Alex James scale of cool: he's Canadian, and he did a commercial espousing the benefits of Not Giving A Fuck. This man could be my soul mate.
So to all the aspiring comedians out there, I say this: yeah, you were cool for a while, but musicians are cooler – and now we're encroaching on your territory. Maybe Jay Leno should take up the tuba. Now that would be some funny shit.
Alex James is the head writer at State of Affairs, and can regularly be found hiding under your desk, recording your conversations and blackmailing you with the evidence later.
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