It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry

Songwriter country teems with lonely hearts. We know. We read your words of agony and loss month after month when judging the lyric contest. We hear tales of unrequited love, adultery, bad grades, and emotional wounds that have lasted ages. We hear elegiac songs about dead pets named Wiggles, and listen to murder threats delivered in rhyme. It takes a toll on our judges. One poor soul recently cracked up and had to self-medicate with bath salts after an all-night judging bout.

We love sad songs – don’t get us wrong. Our record library is lined with the complete discographies of Leonard Cohen, Townes Van Zandt and Morrissey – sad-sack songwriters whose music should come with a warning label and SSRI prescription. But we also appreciate tunes that crack with real humor from time to time. And we get these, too, for our lyric contest. We’ll never forget “I’ve Got A Crush On Sarah Palin, I’m Gonna Rock Her Like Van Halen.”And the lyrics for “Grab Your Balls, We’re Going Bowling!” (which may or may not fall in the unintentional comedy department) still hang on the wall of our Intern lair. “Deeper Shade Of Red,” a song submitted recently by one Jim McKay, explores the varying degrees of redneck-hood. “All my friends are between jobs/I just don’t go to work … That makes a deeper shade of red.” Indeed.

In this special “comedy” issue, we raise a glass to the performers who make us laugh in rhyme. Our cover subject, Late Night host Jimmy Fallon, has left millions of Americans in stitches with his parodies of famous rock stars – and seen his own star power catapult as a result. The Tebowie meme, a combination of Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie and quarterback Tim Tebow, was one of late night television’s brightest moments last year. And Fallon’s impression of Neil Young performing the theme song to “The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air” turned a lot of heads, including that of Neil himself, who discussed Fallon’s impression when we interviewed him for our 2011 cover story.“I’d like to see him do [the current version of] me now,” Young said. When told this by AS, Fallon says the challenge is on.

The comic’s new album, Blow Your Pants Off, features parody songs from his show, and a few new ones he wrote with a high school friend. Fallon wrote “Cougar Huntin’”with country singer John Rich, who tells AS that Fallon has the chops to write professionally on Music Row.

Also featured in this issue is Tenacious D, who discuss their influences in the realm of comedic rock, citing Spinal Tap as the first example of “aggressively stupid” writers. Several songwriters take part in our comedic roundtable, including Dan Bern, whose songs offer incisive social commentary with a shot of laugh-out-loud humor.

Of course, some songwriters can write tunes that live on the razor’s edge between humor and sadness – and still throw in an emotional truth or two. The more skilled among us (John Prine, Warren Zevon, David Berman) can even do it within the same line.

“Humor may be one of the best delivery mechanisms for the truth,” Kinky Friedman tells us. “It really is about sailing as close to the truth as you can without sinking the ship.”

Author: Caine O'Rear

Caine O'Rear is a writer and editor based in Mobile, Alabama. He is the former editor in chief of American Songwriter Magazine. Follow him at

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