Peeks head around corner.
Looks to see if anyone is listening.
Clears throat, takes deep breath.
Weird Al isn't funny!
Oh God, that's going to get me a shitload of hate mail, isn't it? It's like the last hot music take to come off the grill. At this point, I'd probably be better off arguing that Coldplay is better than Radiohead or writing an anti-Beyoncé think piece. No critic that I can tell has dared question the sanctity of His Weirdness, probably because doing so only makes you appear like a joyless twat.
But I'm not! I might be a twat, but I am plenty joyful, I swear! And like everyone else, I grew up on Weird Al. When you're a kid, there's nothing funnier than a guy with a goofy voice replacing the words in a popular song with different words that sound vaguely the same. And I still support the idea of Weird Al. We're always going to need someone to take the piss out of pop-star self-seriousness. But does he make me laugh? Not since junior high.
It's not even about Al, really, but his chosen idiom. They say puns are the lowest form of humor. In truth, it's musical comedy. Whenever a comic pulls out a guitar—or an accordion—my body involuntarily curls into itself. Again, I am not a man devoid of mirth. Warren Zevon's gallows wit is precisely what makes him one of my favorite songwriters, and my disproportionate love of the Darkness from the fact that no one can tell if their reheated glam-metal act is serious or not. When it lapses into "joke band" territory, however, in almost all cases, it's just bad music propping up bad jokes.
Like most everyone else, I discovered the duo of Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie—"the fourth most popular digi-folk novelty act in New Zealand"—through their eponymous HBO series. Where This Is Spinal Tap was a send-up of rock 'n' roll at its most ridiculously extravagant heights, the Flight of the Conchords television show depicted the absurd bottom, when the pursuit of the rock-'n'-roll dream renders you so broke you're considering buying second-hand underpants. In its two seasons, the pair struggled to launch a music career out of a cramped, one-bedroom New York apartment, with an inept Kiwi bureaucrat as their manager, an obsessed stalker as their only fan and a financial situation so precarious that the purchase of a new teacup threatens to put them on the streets.
It was ultimately a show about creative ambition chaffing against harsh reality, and as the saying goes, it's funny because it's true. They mined the inherent silliness of struggling for art in a way that suggested the real Bret and Jemaine know the hardships of the fictional Bret and Jemaine intimately.
That struggle—to live the dream while also living everyday life—wasn't just reflected in the show's narrative but in the songs that surrounded it. They try to be sex machines ("Business Time") while "tripping sensuously" over their pants. They try to be gangsta rappers ("Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros") but are much too polite. They try to be Marvin Gaye ("Think About It") and Pet Shop Boys ("Inner City Pressure") but can barely afford to buy a bag of muesli. They try to be Bowie ("Bowie") and, well, they actually pull off a reasonable facsimile. With Flight of the Conchords, there's an embedded honesty you're not going to get from, say, Tenacious D. It also helps that the songs are catchy enough to keep coming back to even after the jokes wear off.
And, you know, maybe they're just flat-out funnier than everyone else, too. Sorry, but I prefer deadpan raps about drinking tea with nana than the broad strokes of most other musical comedy. Well, "Dick in a Box" is still pretty good. But, you know, the Lonely Island isn't really real. Bret and Jemaine are.
SEE IT: Flight of the Conchords plays Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St., on Friday and Saturday, June 24-25. 8 pm. Sold out. All ages.