Comedy Bands: How Far Can they Go?

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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.

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