Roy Janik (zinereem) wrote,
Roy Janik

novelty music 101

I wrote something for the Call Letter last night. It's a serious breakdown of different types of novelty music. I suppose I should have tried to make it funny, considering the subject matter, but there was simply too much to talk about.

by roy janik

Howdy. I'm Roy, the host of Nummy Muffin Cocoa Butter, the novelty music show. Novelty is a catch-all term for anything considered nutty / zany / kooky / crazy / wacky / weird / absurd or just plain funny. Most people, when cornered and asked to list some examples would probably mention something by Weird Al Yankovic or perhaps "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer". But it goes much deeper than that. Believe it or not, there is a veritable cornucopia of novelty music out there, in many different flavors and styles. Come with me now on wings of fancy and together we'll examine the depths of this magical kingdom of comedy.

There are about 5 distinct types of novelty artists: the normal guy/band, the career comedian, the high school kid with a tape recorder, the
dementoids, and the weirdies. Please note that these are completely arbitrary categories that I just made up just now, but it should give you some idea of how it all breaks down.

The normal guy/band plays "serious" music for the most part, but has one or two "crazy" songs or covers to lighten the mood during
shows. They probably would also take offense at being labeled a novelty artist. A prime example of this is poor old Bryan Bowers. He's a master of traditional autoharp music, and yet he'll forever be remembered for "The Scotsman", a bawdy tale of a drunkard who gets a ribbon tied around "what lies beneath his kilt", if you catch my meaning.

Career comedians consist of stand up comics who venture into the realm of music (Steve Martin and Tim Cavagnah spring to mind), and
sketch comedy troupes such as The Upright Citizen's Brigade, The Immortal Human Skin Cells, and Lester McFwap's Carnival of Vomit. Music may not be their main focus, but they do it damn well.

High school kids with tape recorders are like the avant-garde of novelty music. If anything was ever raw, it's this stuff. Usually you've got
one or two kids who barely play instruments (if they play at all), know nothing about sound quality, but who have a funny idea they want to share with the world. More often than not, they pull together one song, release it, and are never heard from again. Still, some of my all- time favorite songs come from this subgenre, including the Beastly Boys' "Squirrels" and Three Guys from Hollywood's "Frozen Embryos". You can find this kind of stuff in abundance

The dementoids are the mainstay of novelty music. These are the actual artists whose entire lives revolve around funny music. Parodies,
covers, childish limericks, fart noises… whatever, so long as it’s funny. Laughter is king, taking precedence above image, audio fidelity, or political correctness. This is also where you get into meta-humor… a strange world of geeky songs, songs about geeks, songs about novelty music shows (like mine), or songs about other comedy musicians. The Great Luke Ski is the king of this type of dementia.

Finally, there are the weirdies: those on the fringe of music, who for the most part don't even realize that they're being funny. We're talking
about schizophrenics like Wesley Willis, singing congressmen, egregiously bad religious bands, and Tiny Tim. Their music is either horrific, hilarious, or both. It's hard to tell which.

The point of all this rambling is that there's a lot of stuff to explore in what initially seems to be a limited genre. And that's just scratching
the surface. We didn't even talk about Canadians, folk musicians, filkers, rappers from Wisconsin, or morning-show DJs.

We'll have to save that for next time.
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