Writing funny songs – should the cat barf go before or after the chorus?

Comedy tunes are fun to foist on an audience ’cause you can only do so many Adele covers. Here are a few tips for writing your comedy relief.  (Before Adele lovers load up their weapons, let me tell you that I hope she finds happiness and writes songs that don’t make me hightail it to the nearest liquor store.)

Songwriting basics

Write down ideas as they come to you. I always have a small notebook with me. You can record on your phone or computer, too — any way to remember those great thoughts as you get them, even if they don’t seem so great at the time.

When you’ve got the space and time to write, pull out that notebook and take some ideas out for a spin. Present your ideas in a clear form. Use other songs as guides. Don’t edit when you first write. You can polish your songs later.

 Look at other funny songwriters

I’m a big fan of Weird Al Yankovic. You could try writing new words to an established song, like he does:

He looks pretty good for a middle aged guy. I could never pull off a bikini like that.

 Write what you know

Sometimes real life is funnier than anything you could make up:

Consider different types of humor

Exaggeration – if it’s funny when it’s small, it’ll be funnier when it’s big. Although it’s based on a true story, a little exaggeration makes Dave’s song funnier:

I love the glee on the baggage handler’s face as he tosses the guitar.

Surprise – “Your mama scares me” is the surprise line in this one. Now pretend you don’t know that and watch this:

Parody – Weird Al is the king.

Satire – “I Wanna Be a Straight Guy” is one of my songs. Just look at me – clearly, it’s satire although that didn’t stop one woman from sending me a page-long diatribe scolding me for “wanting to be a guy.”  Um, yeah.

The audio isn’t great. You can catch all the words if you turn it up:

Things to remember

Build up to a punch line – Lisa Koch doesn’t give you the first funny line until she’s lured you into thinking it’s a serious song:

Use vocal sounds – this song of mine uses a few sound effects. It’s always fun to hack up a hair ball in the middle of a song:

Use sound effects and props —  here’s Carla Ulbrich in “If I Had the Copyright.” She used to actually sing the four letter word, but found it was funnier (and probably saved her from losing a few gigs) if she censored herself with a noisemaker:

Watch your intros — if you introduce a song by saying “Here’s a funny tune,” you set yourself up for failure. If you treat it like a serious song and just do it, the surprise will make it funnier.

 Want more help?

Find a teacher. I teach songwriting in several places :

Ottawa, Ontario — I teach privately and at a city recreation center. Contact me here for private instruction and get more info here about rec center classes.

Durham, NC — this summer I’ll be at the Durham Arts Council and High Strung Music.

Various festivals — when I’m booked to perform at a festival I sometimes teach a workshop too. Contact me here if you want to know more.

 Want to laugh some more?

You can hear more of my funny tunes here.  The list includes some serious songs because I like to confuse my audience.

When all else fails, balance the guitar on your head.

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About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
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6 Responses to Writing funny songs – should the cat barf go before or after the chorus?

  1. JD Doyle says:

    Very nice. Do you have any comments on “topical humor”….I mean, that hilarious song about Santorum may have a short shelf life. Those political or fad songs may work for live gigs, but perhaps not for your CD, which will be around for—-ever.

  2. Rachel says:

    You know I never considered NOT say ‘this song is a funny song’ because I would say that not because i think I’m hilarious (insert huge ego here) but because that’s what it’s meant to be, you know? Makes sense, really! I might spin a serious story before a song instead. Thanks!

  3. Pingback: Include music in your New Year resolutions | Jamiebobamie

  4. duct says:

    Hmm it seems like your site ate my first comment (it was extremely long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I submitted and
    say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I as well am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to everything.

    Do you have any tips for first-time blog writers?

    I’d definitely appreciate it.

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