Comedy Bands: How Far Can they Go?

mojo-photo-fotc.jpgThe New York Times thought they were pretty funny: New Zealand’s “fourth most popular folk-parody duo” Flight of the Conchords are taking their HBO show about being, well, wildly unsuccessful, on a wildly successful tour, and they just played in New York to an appreciative crowd. The TV show, while not exactly a breakout hit, ratings-wise, was pretty much the second-best thing on HBO last year, both for the hilarity of their song parodies (“Bowie’s In Space,” anyone?) and for the low-key quirkiness of their heavily-accented banter. So, it’s a good show on TV, but isn’t there something a bit awkward about parody songs plopping down into the real-life rock context of an actual concert hall?

After the jump: What happens when the highest-charting death metal band of all time is, um, a joke?

Of course, Spinal Tap, the apex of parody-rock, have had a successful live career, although I’ve often suspected a lot of the audience just thinks they’re watching a real heavy metal band. LA’s Steel Panther and Adult Swim’s Dethklok (the hightest-charting death metal band of all time!) fit in there as well: are audiences laughing with them, laughing at them, or just making devil-horn signs cause they rawk? Semi-parodic geek rock is generally more tolerable, like Bloodhound Gang or They Might Be Giants. But then there’s The Dan Band, whose shtick of covering tracks originally sung by women for the amusing gender-inversion factor gets old in about a nanosecond, and Tenacious D, whose take on overwrought rock-star self-indulgence is even more overwrought and self-indulgent.

As amusing as Flight of the Conchords (the show) is, Flight of the Conchords the live band still seems like an iffy proposition. Is there a limit to how far comedy rock can go, a kind of physical law of joke bands that states “balancing humor and musicianship requires both to remain below a certain level or the equation becomes unstable”? Or am I just a fuddy-duddy who needs to loosen up and go out for a night of chuckles? Riffers, tell us: is live comedy rock worth the ticket price?

Photo used under a creative commons license from Flickr user Lesliemperry.


The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.