Dave Chappelle said in his film Block Party, “Every comic wants to be a musician. Every musician thinks they’re funny.” It’s an accurate statement that has been true since the early beginnings of both comedy and music. People who follow comedy are most likely familiar with the instances where comedians pay tribute to their musical idols, like Billy Crystal’s homage to the jazz musicians he grew up around or George Carlin’s bit about why white people shouldn’t be allowed to play blues. But what is probably less apparent are the times when musicians use song honor the comedians who influenced them. Here’s 5 popular songs inspired by comedians.
For a band who named themselves after the dildo from Naked Lunch, humor has always been an important factor in Steely Dan’s songwriting. However it wasn’t until 1973’s “Show Biz Kids”, the first single off the album Countdown to Ecstacy, that they decided pay direct tribute to one of their favorite comedians, Lenny Bruce. To do so they had the female background singers loosely pronounce “go to Las Vegas” to sound like “go to lost wages” in reference to the bit in which Bruce did the same.
Despite being often grouped with all the other “one hit wonder” bands of their time, Men at Work actually had a few hit songs during their tenure. The biggest of which being 1981’s “Down Under” off the album Business as Usual. Men at Work co-founder Colin Hay said that the song’s lyrics, which describe a native Australian traveling the globe and the interactions with the people he meets, were largely inspired by Barry McKenzie, a character created by comedian Barry Humphries who you might know better as Dame Edna.
On 2002’s “Slip Away” off the album Heathen, Bowie doesn’t hide the fact that he is paying homage to Uncle Floyd Vivino of the famous Uncle Floyd Show, which aired in the New York market for over 20 years. He admitted in interviews that in the late 70’s he would rush home in order to catch the show and watched it as he got ready every night for a Broadway play he was performing in. How does one of the world’s biggest rock stars come to adore a cult level adult humored children’s show you ask? He was turned on to it by one of his friends who was also a big fan, John Lennon. On a side note, Uncle Floyd did his share for music as well by featuring many band on The Uncle Floyd Show, most notably Bon Jovi and The Ramones.
It’s no secret that Maynard and crew are greatly influenced by the comedy of Bill Hicks. The band has referenced the late comedian in a few of their songs and an alternative version of the artwork for 1996’s Ænima included a painting of Hicks with “Another Dead Hero” written underneath. The song “Third Eye”, off the album Ænima, is a full out dedication to Hicks. It starts with sound clips of his act and the lyrics explore his belief that psychedelic drug use expands the power of the mind. Some also believe that the song’s title is a direct reference to the Hicks line “watching television is like taking black spray paint to your third eye”.
The last song on the list, 1992’s “Man on the Moon” off the album Automatic for the People, is about as direct of a tribute to a comedian through song as you can get. The song speaks to comedian Andy Kaufman directly with the questions “Andy did you here about this one?” and “Andy are you goofing on Elvis?”. It also references certain parts of Kaufman’s career such as wrestling, the movie My Breakfast with Blassie, and his famous Elvis impersonations. Even the title of the song is an allusion to the popular belief that Kaufman faked his own death. Later on in the same decade REM went on to write the soundtrack for the aptly named Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon.