How to Write Funny Songs

Yesterday I was honored to be the co-presenter of “Let’s Write Funny Songs” with noted comedy-songwriter CARLA ULBRICH. This was at a day of workshops presented by PASA at Terry Merriman’s gorgeous dwelling in the woods of Chester County, PA. Thanks Terry (and Rob)! 

Carla had some great ideas to impart, and she led us in some improv exercises such as spontaneously and collectively creating limericks and rhymes. 

Carl and I both had handouts. Mine was a page of tabloid headlines involving Bigfoot, George Bush’s romance with an alien, and a gal with four legs. The second page was: 


FOR IDEAS: Read, check the news—especially tabloids! 

TITLE: Work with a good title. Shop Until You Drop, Poodles from Hell, You’re the Reason God Made Alcohol, She’s Havin’ Bigfoot’s Baby 

DETAILS: Lists are funny. Listing things that piss you off works, especially if it’s long enough but not too long. 

Regional details can work well and get you work. What I mean: 

            My explaining Sleeping Child Hot Springs in Darby, Montana, made two Wilmington friends nauseous. So I wrote “Hot Springs” with details of “teeny tiny callouses of other people’s feets/Man the whole damn place was a rack of floatin’ meat,” which led to a singalong-able refrain (always a good thing) “HOT SPRINGS, hot springs/Fulla dead things.” 

Very popular in MT, covered by others, got on Dr. Demento; and led to meeting Col. William Royal of Warm Springs, FL, who lived at and dove in Warm Mineral Springs, south of Venice, when I played with his Grammy-winning son the fiddle Willie Royal. Led to lunch with Bill & Willy and autographed copy of his book The Man Who Rode Sharks (he did, and in addition pulled up the oldest—13,000-year old—human skull in North America, from the springs). 

Florida, Montana: 2 good places to play 

            A great title came from a cartoon book I saw in a bookstore, Poodles from Hell, by Matt Groening, I think. Coincidentally, the Sarasota Herald Tribune headline read: “Statuette Thefts Rock South County.” Over 200 lawn ornaments stole, blah blah. Aha! WHO would have temerity and cruelty enough and be able to get in those gated communities. An inside job, for sure. Inside were? Old people? Nah. Their poodles? For sure! Poodles from HELL. 

            “Regionally-appreciated details” (last time I checked): Mention the Piggly-Wiggly market, and ”Grandma got all gussied up/Took the Senior Shuttle to bet the pups/ In Tampa Bay at the Old South Dog Track.” And “there on her tiny patio/White pebbles by her radio/she drops her racin’ form and dabs her eyes.” I can see that patio now. Those pebbles. A gecko skitters. “Poodles from hell/Made off with my flamingos/While I was playin’ bingo at the church.” 

            Closer to home, but it had traction in Woodstock, too: a chicken Romeo and Juliet when Manuel and Nacho, two (very short) lads from Chichicastenango in Guatemala (I am proud to have gotten Chichicastenango into the song), lurch around a turn in Millsboro, DE, and a cage falls off, leaving two dazed chickens free but DOOMED. Briefly they bond, but when the dog eats them, they must “Fly Toward the Light” on chubby wings. Which is a PARODY of uplifting near-death experience palaver which I hope is true but in the meantime it’s fun to mock. 

            Details here include that town’s name (not going to type it AGAIN), and chicken lingo. They fought not to “end up finger-lickin’ good”; “threw their lot together like birds of a feather/Fair weather and fowl they stood.”


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