Genuinely funny choral music is hard to come by. You can find clever and witty thing, or pieces where a single joke is stretched out to three minutes. Laugh-out-loud choral music is a little trickier.
And that’s probably ok, because it’s surprisingly hard to do effectively.
When I started directing AcaFella, a men’s group in Grosse Pointe, they were patterned after a well-known collegiate a cappella group that is known for being funny. AcaFella put “funny” front and center in their performances, and like their inspiration often suffered musically for it.
The music must come before the comedy.
It took me four years of work to convert them from a comedy group that sings into a singing group that is funny.
Even now with the Rockford Aces, there is always the risk that in attempts to be funny, my students will forget to pay attention to intonation, tone, rhythm, etc. Every year we sing the classic “Christmas Medley” arranged by Richard Gregory, and every year I have to remind the Aces weekly that if it’s not in tune, who cares if it’s funny?
Jones led one of the most remarkable and singular bands of the 20th Century. His approach was utterly unlike anything else.
Here is one of his best known pieces, Cocktails for Two.
Note the precision of what the band does. It’s hilarious – but only because it is done impeccably. If the approach were lazy, it just wouldn’t work.
Speaking of Jones on the DVD box set “Spike Jones: The Legend,” “Weird” Al Yankovic says this:
“To do what Spike does requires an incredible amount of preparation. People sometimes don’t understand that just ‘cause it’s funny…all the elements are still there; in fact, you have to be more talented to do what Spike does than a normal kind of band or studio musician. It’s very well-prepared and planned silliness.”
And in case you think that a vocal group can’t achieve this level of musicality inside the comedy, I present exhibit A. The same song, as performed by The Real Group.
As a lifelong Tom Lehrer fan, I wish there were more truly funny music for choirs to sing – the kind of music Leroy Anderson would have written if he wrote for choirs. It’s a great lesson choirs need more opportunities to learn – that a truly excellent funny performance comes from preparation.
That any kind of excellent performance comes from preparation.