Whether or not Lady Gaga’s weird motorcycle hybrid album cover thingy was meant to be funny is entirely open for debate, but either way, the finished product is pretty hilarious. Apart from other examples of God-awful album covers (of which there are plenty), the whole thing got us thinking about musicians who are genuinely funny – often unexpectedly so, like Gaga herself, who has often displayed a pleasantly self-deprecating sense of humor in interviews. Read our selection after the jump. For the sake of this post, we’ve excluded actual comedians who also play music – so no Flight of the Conchords, The Mighty Boosh, etc. But even then, there are plenty to choose from.
For a man with a reputation as a bit of a latter-day Leonard Cohen, his songs gorgeously melancholy and lovelorn, Jens Lekman can be startlingly funny. He’s got a way with an unexpectedly hilarious couplet (take, for instance, “When people think of Sweden, I think they have the wrong idea/Like Cliff Richard, who thought it was just porn and gonorrhea,” or “She said it was all make-believe/But I thought she said ‘Maple leaves’/When she talked about the fall/I thought she talked about Mark E. Smith”). Live, he’s a consummate raconteur, illuminating his songs with anecdotes that are full of self-deprecating humor.
Any roundup of funny musicians would be woefully incomplete without Jarvis Cocker, the man who’s done more than pretty much anyone in the last couple of decades to bring wit and sparkle back to music. Like Lekman, his lyrics are smattered with the occasional laugh-out-loud couplet (“I met her in the museum of palaeontology/And I make no bones about it”). And if that line wasn’t a hint, he doesn’t take himself too seriously – as demonstrated by the above appearance on Da Ali G Show, which was genius.
What, that guy with the beard from Grinderman? Surely not? But if you’ve ever seen Dirty Three, Ellis’s other band, you’ll know that his trademark on-stage monologues are a vital part of the show – Ellis often wanders to the microphone to provide long, rambling, and frequently hilarious introductions to the band’s songs.
No one does acerbic, misanthropic wit quite like the frontman of Future of the Left and, formerly, mclusky. He’s one of the funniest interviewees around, his song and album titles are priceless (“My Pain and Sadness is More Sad and Painful than Yours,” “Without MSG I Am Nothing,” “Random Celebrity Insult Generator,” “Dave, Stop Killing Prostitutes”), and so are his lyrics (Our all-time favorite lines include: “Think of death as a medium-sized yellow robot/That should help” and “I’m fearful, I’m fearful, I’m fearful of flying/And flying is fearful of me”). But it’s in the live arena that he really shines – particularly if any poor fool decides to heckle him, as the above video demonstrates from about 2:15 onward.
Mark E. Smith
And speaking of Mark E. Smith, The Fall main man has been one of the most bitingly funny men in music ever since his constantly changing band of misanthropes first emerged from a Manchester pub in 1976. His autobiography Renegade: The Gospel According to Mark E. Smith is one of the funniest rock ‘n’ roll memoirs ever penned, and Smith’s legendarily grouchy interviews have illuminated the pages of rock magazines for decades.
His status as punk’s Antichrist-in-Chief has long overshadowed the fact that John “Johnny Rotten” Lydon was (and is) hilarious. The sort of earnestly outraged interviewers that the Sex Pistols used to attract played right into his hands, allowing him to play up to his image while indulging his legendarily sarcastic sense of humor. He’s still doing it, and people are still letting him get away with it.
If Mark E. Smith’s book is one of the world of music’s grumpiest autobiographies, then Kristin Hersh’s Rat Girl is one of its most vividly honest. It’s hard to imagine that a book that catalogues an ongoing struggle with a car accident, bipolar disorder, a suicide attempt, homelessness, and an unplanned pregnancy could be funny, but funny it is -– riddled with the same unexpectedly goofy humor that characterizes her blog entries and her ever-entertaining Twitter feed. Among other things, Rat Girl captures the sense of how perversely, stupidly, absurdly funny mental illness can be, and how at times all you can do is laugh at what you’re going through. It beats crying hands down. (And as a commenter on this video says, “The way Kristin switches from relaxed, almost stand-up comic to intense, brilliant musician is one of the joys of this world.” Quite.)
Whatever you think of his music (in our case, not a great deal), and whatever your position on the “John Mayer is actually a racist lunatic” controversy catalyzed by his remarkably ill-advised Playboy interview last year, his TV show was pretty funny. And anyone who’s prepared to dress up as a bear to interview his own fans anonymously deserves some sort of respect.
One of the blues’ great showmen, Buddy Guy was doing flamboyant, ribald humor before most of today’s performers were still in diapers. Apart from his pioneering guitar techniques and arresting stage presence (We once saw him disappear off stage and reappear on a balcony, soloing all the while), he’s one of the funniest performers around -– even today, at age 74, nearly half a century after he started recording. And “Hoochie Coochie Man” is one of the most endearingly dirty songs ever recorded (to wit, “One leg was in the East/One leg was in the West/I was down in the middle/Just trying to do my best!”)
Sure, he probably doesn’t mean to be funny. But the gun-totin’, wildlife-shootin’, right-wing Nuge is one of the longest-running jokes in rock ‘n’ roll. He hates Obama, loves the NRA, stands up for good, old American family values and, um, tried to marry a 17-year-old girl from Hawaii. He once told a UK journalist that the US’s failure in Iraq was “not to Nagasaki them.” He also managed to evade getting sent to Vietnam, perhaps in the anticipation that someone might “Nagasaki” him. He’s written two books, entitled God, Guns and Rock ‘N’ Roll and Kill It and Grill It . Honestly, he has to be some great postmodern trick played on us all. Right? Right?