The deck is stacked against musical comedy—an act born, more than anything, out of a need for novelty. There are plenty of examples of musical comedy gone horribly wrong; for every Flight of the Conchords, there are countless open mic-ing duos, possibly from New Zealand, rapping about how “It’s Business Timeframe.” As the forever popular site StuffWhitePeopleLike.com put it: “…when you have jokes that aren’t that great and music that isn’t that great, you can mix them together and create something that will entertain white people.”
But it can be good. Seriously! The secret is to infuse the comedy with music’s best elements. In the theatrical sense, characters burst into song when mere words can no longer express what they’re feeling inside. Popular musical comedy acts like Reggie Watts, Hard ’N’ Phirm and occasionally Garfunkel and Oates couch extreme, silly and occasionally off-putting sentiments through the natural evolution of the music. As each song develops, so does the comedic point of view, building surprises in along the way.
I say “occasionally” when talking about G&O—a duo comprised of Kate Micucci and Riki Lindhome—because while they’re capable of this magical and elusive synergy, there’s little of that on Slippery When Moist. Their song “Sex With Ducks,” off last year’s All Over Your Face, disguised a pro-gay rights message inside a sweet, harmonized song that got more lyrically ridiculous as it went on (as nods to the TV show Duck Tales are wont to do). There are a handful of examples on Moist, but mostly the album has no build, no novelty and barely any harmony. Tracks merely involve Micucci and Lindhome expressing the same sentiment over and over again…through song!
Though it’s cycled the internet since November 2010, “Handjob, Blandjob, I Don’t Understand Job” is the poster song for one of Moist’s biggest problems: cleverness for the sake of cleverness. The track is about how Micucci and Lindhome never learned how to give a proper handjob, and how awkward it is to have that “lesson” in adulthood. The two trade couplets, describing how their nerdy adolescences involved zero penises in their hands. Then, rather than delve further into those recollections, the two abandon the song’s foundation and start trying to out-clever one another in describing the penis itself. “The top is the part that confuses me the most / It looks like a Silly Putty Pac-Man ghost,” raps Lindhome, followed by Micucci comparing the balls to the two critics on The Muppet Show. There’s nothing wrong with this imagery in and of itself; it’s actually quite inventive. It’s just that the rest of the song establishes an element of story, and before it develops, the song is over. Same with “Go Kart Racing” and “Google”—songs about accidental masturbation and internet-stalking dates, respectively, that get their jokes out in the first chorus and can’t quite find any new footing after that.
Moist‘s simplest songs are the most successful. On “Silver Lining” the pair speak directly to a woman who’s been soured by a bad break up. “If he never felt that way / Why would you want him to stay?” is perhaps the most subtle line of the song, but any tune with the chorus, “Get up out of bed / Right foot, left foot, moving” isn’t trying to be deft. Plus it comes after a seven-second track called “The Ex-Boyfriend Song” that literally just says, “I fucking hate you, you fucking liar.” The bluntness of “Silver Lining” is its best asset, though; it’s clear and concise, not wasting precious seconds with superfluous details or slick-though-out-of-place imagery. (When an album only totals 24 minutes, every word counts.) “My Apartment’s Very Clean Without You” is the other side of the coin: The duo sings from the perspective of “Silver Lining”’s target, about how lonely and quiet—but clean—singledom can be. There’s a sweet, deliberate build to the song, methodically adding details until the title itself shifts ever-so-slightly into vulnerable territory. It’s also the only track that involves any sort of vocal harmony, which is a shame since both women have really nice voices.
G&O don’t have to be funny to be meaningful. “Save The Rich,” their ode to the Occupy Wall Street movement, says more in the lyric “Save the rich / By doing nothing at all” than it does in the witty recitations of the One Percent’s platitudes, like shipping jobs overseas. “I Would Never (Have Sex With You)” would be a fine ode to platonic friendship if it wasn’t immediately followed by “I Would Never (Dissect A Ewe),” which is the same song, just full of science-y terms. Slippery When Moist too often swaps out comedic catharsis for cleverness, especially the plethora of “See what we did there?” moments. And given there’s music too, a medium built on catharsis, it’s all the more noticeable.