The best serious songs by comedians

No laughing here – this is serious music by serious people

Comedy and music have always sat well together. Rockstars love a bit of banter between songs and no stand-up who can play the guitar can ever resist proving it, but it’s not that common to see someone from one world jump completely, un-ironically, into the other. 

As Bret McKenzie spent the better part of 2022 trying to convince everyone to take him seriously for his Songs Without Jokes tour (the clue was in the title), we look to the other funny men and women who have tried singing without their tongues in their cheeks. These, then, are the best serious songs by comedians. No laughing allowed. 

Jamie Foxx

Jamie Foxx - Unpredictable (Video) ft. Ludacris

Starting off as a stand-up before getting into acting, music was actually Foxx’s third career jump. His debut, Peep This, went nowhere, but 2005’s Unpredictable (featuring Kanye West, Ludacris, Snoop Dog and Mary J. Blige), went straight to No.1 in the US charts. Three more albums of AAA smooth R&B followed, as did a Grammy (and an Oscar…).  

Steve Martin 

Steve Martin, Steep Canyon Rangers - Pretty Little One ft. Edie Brickell

Can you ever really take the banjo seriously? Comedy legend Steve Martin confused us all by sticking ‘King Tut’ on the end of Rare Bird Alert – a genuinely great, completely serious, bluegrass album that also featured Paul McCartney. Martin’s work with Edie Brickell and the Steep Canyon Rangers makes a strong case for his music career. How’d he get so funky?

Donald Glover

Childish Gambino - This Is America (Official Video)

Remember when Donald Glover was mostly known for being Troy on Community? Probably not, since he went on to make Atlanta – as well as becoming one of Hollywood’s true renaissance men as a writer, director, producer and actor, as well as the mastermind behind Childish Gambino. 

Will Smith 

Boom! Shake The Room (The Street Remix) (Revised Version)

All those jokes about “Will Smith’s biggest hit” were flying after last year’s Oscars, but it’s all too easy now to forget just how big the artist formerly known as the Fresh Prince once was – with ‘Parents Just Don’t Understand’, ‘Summertime’, ‘Boom! Shake The Room’, ‘Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It’ and ‘Miami’ breaking records in the 90s, and all still slapping (sorry).

Jason Schwartzman 

Coconut Records "West Coast"

Before Rushmore, Schwartzman drummed for Phantom Planet and turned up in the video for Puff Daddy’s ‘It’s All About The Benjamins’. Forming his own one-man band, Coconut Records, in 2007 (the same year he played Ringo Starr in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story), Schwartzman has now put out three albums of woozy Wilko-hued indie. 

Bo Burnham 

That Funny Feeling -- Bo Burnham (from "Inside")

Like everything Bo Burnham does, it’s hard to work out where the blurry lines of comedy, music and existential terror really land – but at least half of 2021’s sit-down stand-up special Inside is deadly serious. Not least ‘That Funny Feeling’, a song about disassociation that’s now become one of the era’s most painful alt-anthems (since covered by Phoebe Bridgers).

Tracey Ullman

Tracey Ullman - They Don't Know

Before she helped give the world Rik Mayall, Miriam Margolyes, Lenny Henry and The Simpsons, Tracey Ullman made a career out of musical parodies. Quickly evolving to proper covers, her Shangri-La remix of Kirsty MacColl’s ‘They Don’t Know’ still feels definitive – peaking at No.2 in the UK charts in 1983. 

Tim Minchin 

The Absence Of You by Tim Minchin (Official Video)

Not one to be pigeonholed, Tim Minchin released Apart Together in 2020 as a mournful rock opera – right after finishing a blockbuster musical comedy tour, starring as Friar Tuck in the rubbish remake of Robin Hood, and celebrating a 10 years of his songs wowing the West End in Matilda The Musical. ‘The Absence Of You’ is just deeply, deeply, not funny at all.

Hugh Laurie

Hugh Laurie - Louisiana Blues

What did Hugh Laurie mean calling his debut jazz album “Let Them Talk”? That comedy is for other people? That the critics could say whatever they wanted about the bloke from Blackadder singing the blues? Passion project or not, Laurie certainly knows his way around the Great American Songbook – helped on two solo records by the likes of Tom Jones, Dr. John and Taj Mahal.

Creed Bratton

Creed Bratton- More Than You Know (Official Video)

Maybe knowing Creed from The Office is a real person ruins the joke. Then again, it’s entirely possible to imagine Bratton putting out 12 psyche rock albums since the late 60s and still working at Dunder Mifflin. 

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