Some purists believe that all you need for good comedy is a comedian, an audience, and possibly a microphone. There was a time where musical stand-up was frowned upon, considered a cheap party trick, or a throwback to the music hall or variety days.
Given the relative success of musical theatre, has musical stand-up fared as well? Is it hitting the right notes?
If you look at the selection of stand-up DVDs in your nearest garage, you won’t find many musical comics in there. Musical stand-up sometimes suffers from copyright issues, as a staple of many acts is to rewrite well-known songs. This generally reduces the ability to release DVDs or albums.
That’s not the reason, though.
To hit the mainstream big time, you need to be doing something everyone can relate to, and you need to be good at it. In musical terms, this means you need to be the equivalent of a rock star, but one everyone likes – David Bowie? Paul McCartney? How many of those are there?
The problem is that musical comedy works best when it’s surprising, which means avoiding the mainstream, which in turn seems to make it a rare breed of musical comedian who can break through into very broad appeal. Name one. Victoria Wood, perhaps?
So is musical comedy dying out? Absolutely not!
Musical comedy is alive, well, weird, fascinating, loved and despised. The delight of it is in seeing it live, and there are plenty of great acts out there working their kind of audiences in the most awe-inspiring of ways. You only need to look for them.
While the likes of Tim Minchin may be found on Netflix, and while the disgustingly talented Bo Burnham can be found all over YouTube, the gems of musical comedy are near you, in the clubs and Arts Centres.
With the likes of Mitch Benn and Steve Gribbin creating biting satire, Richard Morton and Rob Deering beating up old classics and radiating comic spirit, and with genuine vintage musical genius Earl Okin making funny into jazz, there’s a lot to enjoy.
The Musical Comedy Awards have their final this month and have managed over the last few years to discover and nurture a lot of new talent in the musical comedy scene. It’s hard to find many of their acts who fall into the same category. Even the instrumentation is pretty non-standard. Expect a ukulele to be followed by an accordion or even someone doing loops and beatboxing. There is no norm, and that’s the charm of it.
We love musical comedians. While there’s no special register for them to sign up to, you can find a list of musical acts here. And do check out the Musical Comedy Awards linked to above – you’re guaranteed a good night out at their events.