Exploring Funny Song Festivals

by Bill Dyszel

If you like to write and/or sing funny songs and comedic material, there’s a whole subculture of funny song people who have their own song festivals that are worth checking out. The ethos of the typical funny song festival is decidedly different from that of the cabaret world. Funny songs fests are typically gritty, do-it-yourself events, performed in fairly informal circumstances. The up side is that the funny song crowd is an entirely different audience from the cabaret audience, so you have a chance to expand your following.

Applying & Preparation

I signed up for the New York Funny Song Festival in March. The fest itself opened in May. I filled out an online ap- plication at www.nyfunnysongs.com and paid $15, which also served as admission to one festival performance. My goal was to test out some material I was preparing for my show, The Internet Ate My Brain. When I signed up, I had no idea what to expect, or where I’d perform. I also didn’t know what would be available in the way of accompaniment, instruments, amplification, lighting, etc. I remained in the dark about most of that until arriving at the fest. Funny song festivals tend to be informal, ad-hoc affairs, mostly operated by funny songsters. They’re sweet, sincere people who don’t always think to communicate about the technical and logistical aspects of performance.

Venues and Experience

I found that funny song culture lies somewhere between the folk song world and gritty, improvised, experimental theatre. Nearly all performers there accompany themselves on guitars, ukuleles, or digital piano. The rest use tracks. You can presume that, if you perform at a funny song fest, there will be a method for playing tracks, although you may need to bring your own audio player. I used a professional digital audio player, although many people played tracks from their phones, and others used iPods. The audiences were warm and friendly, mostly made up of other funny song performers from all over the country.

I also discovered that there are other funny song festivals, one of which was in Wheeling, IL the week after the NY event, called FUMPfest (www.fumpfest.com).That one took place in a hotel ballroom and seemed like a small version of ComiCon, the comic book convention—very geeky. I did run across a few people who did both the NYC and Chicagoland funny song fests within a week of each other. These folks travel from one funny song event to another, doing their funny song routines whenever they can get a chance.

What Not to Expect

If you’re expecting to hear songs with the sophistication of Cole Porter or the delicacy of Jerome Kern, you won’t find much of that at a funny songs fest. The funny song world leans toward random material and a healthy dose of vulgarity for its own sake. If you lean toward the classic elegance of the American Songbook, you’ll be warmly welcomed at a funny songs fest, but you might feel like a fish out of water. Nevertheless, if you’re ready to sing to tracks or accompany yourself, and you want a venue where you can do pretty much anything, it may be worth your while to check out funny songs fests.

−Bill Dyszel

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