Comedian Jimmy Fallon released his second album of comedic music, Blow Your Pants Off, on Tuesday.
Since Fallon joined Saturday Night Live in 1998, he has been known for his acoustic parodies and special musical guests. Musical comedy is such a hilarious tool because it allows comedians to reframe jokes and play with their timing.
Music spins jokes in unexpected ways, and the album catches all of these. Fallon’s viral videos of “slow jamming the news” with NBC anchor Brian Williams and President Barack Obama are so hilarious because these guests report dry political news with Fallon’s slow, sexy R&B commentary; it’s also hilarious to hear Fallon try to sound like Barry White.
Similarly, the album's track “Neil Young Sings ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’” features Fallon singing Will Smith’s rap as a Western blues song with acoustic guitar and harmonica. The rap, originally meant to describe a facetious kid from West Philly, is hilariously reimagined as a Western man’s somber reflection on being lonely and displaced from home. Fallon also impersonates Neil Young, poking fun at how seriously Young seems to take himself as a singer-songwriter. Humor comes from the unexpected or contradictory, so mismatching the style and the content make the musical acts funny.
Music also exaggerates humorous techniques by playing with the timing and rhythm of jokes. Pausing, or including a “beat,” builds suspense for the punchline or lets the audience recognize and react to the joke. On the track “New French Girlfriend,” Fallon jokes about French women by stretching musical phrases and delivering the punchline at the end of every line. For example, he sings, “She ma-ade me gro-ow... a thin mustache” and abruptly stops singing but strums along, allowing the joke to hang in the air. Music allows for unlimited possibilities to take advantage of comedic timing.
Finally, musical comedy is so successful because music itself is addictive and sharable. Often, comedic music is as catchy as any other pop song. These earworms are easier to share, too, because it’s easier to sing a funny melody than to repeat a traditional stand-up routine to a friend. In the same way singing “Call Me Maybe” is easier than reenacting monologues from Modern Family, musical comedy is easier than sharing plain comedy (unless you are sharing the original video clip).
Fallon knows that music is just another instrument for humor. By telling a joke in an unexpected way or stretching humorous techniques such as timing, comedians take advantage of the extra laughs that music can bring.