Folk-Rock Parody Groups Gain More Laughs as Popularity Grows

By Jacel Egan

Radio City Music Hall is packed with antsy fans, waiting for the show to begin. The room is dark and filled with chatter, excitement in the voice of each attendant. Suddenly, blue lights illuminate the stage, and a techno beat starts to vibrate the walls.

“Too many dicks, too many dicks, not enough chicks on the dance floor…” sing Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords as they emerge on stage in their homemade robot costumes. In between rocking out on their synthesizers, the duo attempts to do the robot dance.

Promotional picture of the Flight of the Conchords going grocery shopping in suits of armor. From instantriverside.com

Promotional picture of the Flight of the Conchords going grocery shopping in suits of armor. From instantriverside.com.

Their first act is cut short, however, when Bret accidentally knocks his toy piano over, sending it crashing to the floor with keys flying in all directions.

The crowd looks around with faces expressing their confusion and wondering if this was part of the act. Jemaine laughs and takes off his costume, grabbing his guitar and saying, “Well then, I guess I’ll just have to wait for Bret,” in his New Zealand accent. Audience members erupt in laughter.

The Flight of the Conchords has dubbed themselves as “formerly New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo accapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo,” and uses a combination of witty banter and singing to tell the story behind their observations. This genre of new entertainment called folk-rock parody, which combines the best of standup comedy and music, is growing vastly in popularity over the last few years.

Flight of the Conchords performing at the Orpheum Theatre in CA during their summer tour in 2008. From latimes.com.

Flight of the Conchords performing at the Orpheum Theatre in CA during their summer tour in 2008. From latimes.com.

“Music and comedy are obviously two mainstream forms of entertainment,” sophomore Brittany Gallagher, a concert attendee, said. “Performers who are able to use both open themselves up to a wider audience. This new genre, I think, gives comedy a fresh perspective. It’s a different way to make us laugh. The songs get stuck in my head – I know I’m more likely to remember a musical comedy standup act than a regular comedy set.”

Other parodists that have included tunes to their comedy are Stephen Lynch, Weird Al Yankovic, Tim Minchin, Lewis Black, George Carlin, and Tenacious D, who are the inspiration to Marist’s own musical parodist Vinnie Pagano.

“The combination of comedy and music just makes sense,” Pagano, a junior, said. “Who do you know that doesn’t like comedy and/or music? Comedy music in general I feel catches people more off-guard because when you hear a sweet melody accompanied with filth, or vice a versa, the element of surprise along with the lyrics usually gets quite a few laughs. Another way to look at it is: if you don’t think the lyrics are particularly funny, but you like the melody or singing, you still get your entertainment. Kind of.”

Vinnie Pagano performing at the Joker's Wild Comedy Club. From facebook.com.

Vinnie Pagano performing at the Joker's Wild Comedy Club. From facebook.com.

Pagano originally became interested in musical comedy to do parodies, but realized that monetary restrictions hindered him from buying the rights for the songs he made parodies for. He still writes and performs, but CD recordings and selling them for profit is against the law since he doesn’t own copyrights of the music. Still, he has somewhat of a cult following at Marist, having almost 400 followers on his Facebook fan page.

“It [not owning music copyrights] is also better in some ways because it challenges you to create your own music,” Pagano said. “But regardless, there are many ways to parody a song. You can take a popular hit and just make it about something political or random, in which case the original song’s lyrics have no relation. Weird Al tends to take the similar idea or even title of a song and twist it around to mean something else. There are just so many ways a person can do it!”

Vinnie Pagano during a photoshoot, singing to a cat named Austin. From facebook.com.

Vinnie Pagano during a photoshoot, singing to a cat named Austin. From facebook.com.

Pagano feels that parody has always been popular, especially with the boom of the Internet with Myspace, Facebook and Youtube.

“It’s become incredibly easy to find out the top ten most popular songs almost instantaneously with having to listen to the countdown on the radio,” Pagano said. “The whole key to parodying is doing it to songs that have wide recognition. With Youtube, anybody is capable of recording themselves either playing or just singing along to a popular tuen with their own new lyrics. Weird Al Yankovic, who received recognition in the mid-late 70s, has really made an impact and is still going. He has his original songs, but his parodies are what make him the current king of this genre.”

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