On the third floor of the Asian Arts Initiative, a warehouse on 12th and Vine, there is a mock music festival going on. The third floor is littered with vendors selling Twin Peaks patches, hot pockets and caricatures. The stage is dead center, as a crowd of 30-somethings sip beer and prepare to laugh.
Welcome to Flannelpalooza Chuckoachella, Philly’s first-ever indoor joke band music festival. Around ten bands played ranging from the absurdist to the clever to the glammed-out-party-joke band.
The joke band has always held an odd place in my life. It was something I thought you should never do, unless you were Ben Folds, Bo Burnham or Weird Al. I thought it was an easy shtick, something halfway between real music and real comedy, and kind of missing both. But after last night, I am realizing that there is a formula. There is a way to make it work.
So with out further ado, Billy Penn presents this how-to guide for creating your own “joke band,” based on our night at “Flannelpalooza Chuckoachella.”
Rule 1: Shtick like you mean it
At Flannelpalooza Chuckoachella, there is a prix fixe of shtick. But for your “joke band” you have to pick your shtick wisely. Shtick is a fickle friend. You may want to:
- Wrap flannel around your waist, rip the knees of your jeans, strap up the Converse and get your grunge voice growlin’ parody “Creep” covers.
- Craft stripped down pop gems about how your dog is a better companion than most people, lyrically profess your love for eight hour Netflix binges, and write a farewell ode to your sweatpants.
- Tell the audience that you have prepared a whole album, but you have only been allotted six minutes to perform so you will only be playing the beginnings of all your songs.
- Play bluegrass.
- Do a guitar solo with just your voice. The onomatopoeia is “Wheeeee whee wheee.”
- Forget how to play accordion half way through your set. “That’s all I practiced, I didn’t think that we would have this much time.”
Rule 2: Your band name should be fun to say
Joke band names should reference either a body part, food, flannel, leather, motorcycles, your dog, your ex-girlfriend, Dame Judi Dench, or prescription behavioral drugs for children.
But that is not enough. A joke band name lives and dies on how much fun it is for your lips and tongue to say it. Use alliteration. Repeat vowel sounds. When you say your joke band name on stage people should be astonished that two or three words can be a mouth symphony.
Rule 3: Rhyme, most of the… time
Harsh truth for the joke band: the prevailing joke is just that the songs’ lyrics rhyme. Pick a banal moment from your life, like your girlfriend shaving your beard “I’ve been shaaaaved by a woman,” if you can create lyrics that rhyme for the entirety of a two-minute song. Your joke band is a success. No questions asked.
Like the Netflix bingeing song by Useful Rooster, “That’s my show, that’s my show/gonna watch it 8 hours in a row.”
Or, again, singing about a woman you know who has a very “dirty mouth,” if it rhymes it’s sublime. “Pee pee poo poo piss and shit/I’ve never met a woman who talks like this.”
Jokes work on the basis of the defied expectations. So, if in your joke band you start your song and the audience is like, “Why is he singing about his sweaty pants?” and then the song just continues to be a song, it will work, the audience’s expectation for what a song is supposed to be about will be dashed.
Not to get too heady, but that is the operating theory of the joke band.
Rule 4: If it’s Southern rock, show some leg
Just a general rule of thumb.
Rule 5: Stage banter is key
In a joke band you need to be that people know that you are joking. Reach out. Let them know that you feel “a little sad and dorky up here.” Talk about the fact that you have, in fact, made out with another person. Tell the audience how well they are doing.
The banter establishes a space where everyone is laughing, you are not the joke, you are making the joke.
See? Big difference.
Rule 6: Sing beautiful joke songs about the sublime and/or ridiculous
When people in the audience start to realize what you are doing their beer-drunk chatter may turn into light laughter. Just keep singing, the joke gets funnier that longer the song is. Keep going, honestly, they’ll get it soon enough.
Rule 7: People need to hear you
Personal conclusion/opinion: jokes are better than irony. If you are doing a Southern Rock or R&B send up. Don’t rely on the genre alone to win you laughs. No matter if you fall to the floor, your heart palpitating with with your Gibson SG’s high-pitched wails, your song about a killer one night stand should at the very least be audible.
Your lyrics will not always register with everyone in the crowd. So just make sure they hear the important parts. If you are singing about how you want to be “Friends,” hit “Chandler” especially hard.