As you may or may not be aware, we like to have a bit of a laugh and a jape in the ATL office. It's not all about listening to serious indie music while stroking our chins and muttering under our breath. I mean don't get me wrong, none of us are Colin Hunt (thank the lord), but we all appreciate a good giggle. Music might be the main focus round these parts, but comedy is an essential cultural companion. For my part, Bill Hicks was a big influence on me in my early teens, Rigsy's hero is Graham Linehan, as declared in a previous post in this blog, and Paul McClean supports Liverpool Football Club, whose attempts to win the English league title provide an ongoing comedy entering its nineteenth season.
Of course, the links between music and comedy go back way beyond the widespread claims of comedy being the new rock 'n' roll that accompanied Newman and Baddiel packing out Wembley Arena back in the early 90s, but are comedy and music comfortable bedfellows or are the two best left to their own devices?
The whole "comedy is the new rock 'n' roll" thing never really got off the ground. Chris Morris and Lee & Herring had comedy shows on Radio 1, and the target audiences may have been the same, but there was nothing particularly musical about any of the comedy around at the time. Recently, however, a few acts who use music as an integral part of their performance have broken through to the mainstream and the whole debate has been kick-started. Some say yes, others emphatically no.
Whatever your opinion, it seems clear that acts such as The Mighty Boosh and Flight of the Conchords have shifted the goalposts of comedy performance a bit. The comedy song has a long tradition, and performers such as Billy Connolly, Bill Bailey, Harry Hill and Adam & Joe (to name but a few) often use music to great comic effect, but these two acts have taken it up a notch or two in terms of integrating music into their work. Flight of the Conchords' live shows consist almost entirely of their songs, which in turn provide the base element that each sketch in their radio series and subsequent sitcom is woven around. Without the songs, there wouldn't really be a show.
The Mighty Boosh use music in a slightly different way. In their one radio and three television series (so far), songs pop up as the denouement to scenes and in the odd crimp (an a cappella form quickly ripped off by none other than the Honey Monster), but while the show would suffer without the songs, it's not entirely dependent on them. Interestingly though, their live show now incorporates full band performances of many of the songs, featuring Noel Fielding (Vince Noir) on vocals, Julian Barratt (Howard Moon) on guitar, Dave Brown (Bollo) on bongos and Rich Fulcher (Bob Fossil) on keys.
In fact, the Boosh's live show could be a sign of music and comedy finally crossing over in a meaningful fashion. In a way it was like a variety show performed by a single collective, or a self-contained cabaret featuring a touch of stand-up, some sketches, live music and elements of performance art. It was the theatrical equivalent of a mash-up, and judging by the fairly packed Odyssey Arena I enjoyed it in, it's pretty popular too.
The success of these acts alone prove that comedy and music can mix in new and interesting ways, but it's a difficult trick to pull off. As for comedy being the new rock 'n' roll, it would be nice if music could produce a new rock 'n' roll itself and just leave comedy out of it - it seems to be doing ok by itself thanks very much.