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If a comic plays a silly ditty and there’s no one there to hear it, is it funny? Despite the successes of high-profile projects such as HBO’s The Flight of the Conchords, the cool of sonically inclined personalities such as Reggie Watts and the popularity of online clips, live comedy music can seem a bit neglected in the New York scene. It has no dedicated venue and fewer ongoing performance outlets than stand-up, improv, sketch or even storytelling. It pops up in burlesque and variety shows, but rarely constitutes an entire evening’s entertainment. So how does an art form that has propelled the likes of the Lonely Island to stardom get its due in clubs around town and gain a bit of visibility in the industry at-large?
Smart, dirty songstress Jessica Delfino asked herself the same question. Though she was the only person she knew wielding a guitar when she started performing original comedy songs ten years ago, she’s now part of a larger, uke-strumming and harp-plucking crowd. “There’s a big community of comedy musicians in New York, but we’re dispersed,” says Delfino. “We don’t even have a clubhouse.” In an attempt to both celebrate the collective, show off its talents and educate its members about professional advancement, Delfino devised the NY Funny Songs Festival.
A series of events that spans four nights and takes over half a dozen venues, the NY Funny Songs Festival collects some of the best local comedy musicians in a series of showcases meant to highlight their individual talents. “Books N’ Hooks,” for instance, caters to those writers with literary whims, such as nerdcore guy Schäffer the Darklord; “A Night of Dirty Songs” features blue tunes from folks like Ben Lerman and Delfino herself; a few shows make way for bigger names such as Rob Paravonian; the massive “50 Funny Songs” puts just about everyone on the scene in one room and gives them a few minutes of time apiece. There are also parties, an industry panel and an evening of awards. When asked about the last of these, Delfino admits that she’s randomly selecting winners for each category out of all the online submissions she receives. “It’s not to be taken seriously,” says Delfino. “It’s just to say, ‘Keep going, little butterfly! Maybe there’s a chance you’re not wasting your life completely!’ ”
Clearly, Delfino understands that one festival won’t change the opinion of either locals or executives who may not have an interest in what she calls “jokes told to a beat.” But with more events to provide visibility for this performance niche, success just may trickle down. As Paravonian puts it, “I’m excited to see all these people who specialize in [comedy music], who are fighting the same fight to show people it is as valid as stand-up or improv. And as more music people succeed, I’m happy, because then there are more established acts to help explain what I do.”
The First Annual NY Funny Songs Festival takes place Thu 7–Sun 10.